Uganda Dispatch: A Welcome of Joy and Sorrow

[My mom, sister, bro-in-law, and niece recently arrived in Uganda to work with our Ugandan partners. I’d like to share some of our stories with you.]

Biola always smiles when we greet each other.  She smiles and laughs and almost dances and like a contagion it spreads to my face and all the people around us join in the small burst of celebration.  On our first day in Acholi Quarters she had clapped her hands up and laughed and we hugged and she used her little English and I my little Acholi to tell each other how happy we were to be there together.

But yesterday when I went into her home she did not smile.  She did not move, did not look up, but sat in sculpture on the concrete floor, letting a steady rain of tears speak loudly for her.  At the previous day’s celebration she had danced with all the copious joy that she brings to life, leading her fellow bead makers in displaying the beauty of Acholi culture and their pride in their recent accomplishments.  They had given my family and I a welcome that none of us will forget.

But it had been too much.  Now she could not stand, could only sit shivering on the ground, struggling to lift a bottle of water to her parched lips.

Biola came from northern Uganda when her embattled imune system began to fail.  Kampala, Uganda’s capital, offered better medical care, proximity to her son George, and hope for a better life.  When I met her she was a robust 60, still working in the rock quarry with a strength that would have been stunning from a healthy woman half her age.  And when she began making Acholi Beads I saw her innate joy boil over and splash its color all around her.  HIV, however, is no forgetful foe.  It always returns.

George called a car to come and he and his friends carried his grimacing mother down the steep, graveled hillside.  She collapsed into the back seat, resting on a shoulder, unmoving.  At the hospital last night I sat on an old, disembodied Toyota bench seat, struggling in the dim light to discern the rise and fall of her grey blanket.  Today she remains in the hospital, slightly improved but still weak.

It is a bitter reminder that despite their ascension our women remain vulnerable to the specters of their long, ragged past – disease, poverty, lack of education.  Life change does not happen quickly, community change takes years.

We are committed.

On this trip we will continue to refine our business to benefit those who need it the most – our Ugandan partners.  We will help them create a healthcare solution, ensure that their incomes are sufficient and well-used, and look towards the future with continued education in finance, health, and the value of school.

And we hope and pray that Biola will continue to spill her joy on our Acholi Beads family for many years to come.