“You are welcome here, Bet-ty!”

The only downside to Uganda is that it was almost impossible to blog from there. So, here is what I wrote along the way:

What a way to wake up! To this view…

And to people throughout the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School greeting me, “You are welcome here, Bet-ty!” They even say my name in a lilting, polished way– instead of the customary American “Beddy”rendition.

Tom, Jennifer, John & Paul in back; Roger, Terri & me in front (Melissa & Austin missing)

So far, I’m pretty much in love with Uganda– and our group of volunteers. I’m sharing a room with Jennifer Nantale, the Country Director of Nyaka, who looks like Michelle Obama and is every bit as poised and competent. Yesterday, Jennifer, me, Tom Kelly & Paul DeWeese (two laid-back and excellent doctors from Michigan), John Brewster (a retired, service-loving dentist from Michigan), Melissa Merritt (Paul’s lovely nurse and her son Austin), Terry Erickson (a dental technician and volunteer extraordinaire from Portland, Oregon) and her husband Roger all crammed in two vans and made the 10-hour, bone-jarring ride from Entebbe across the equator and down to Nyaka — the last two hours on unpaved roads, bouncing up and down a 70-degree ravine.

The equator demo ... and no, I didn't know!

We learned a lot of interesting facts when we stopped at the Equator Cafe for lunch, and even got a demo of the bizarre scientific habit of water swirling down a drain clockwise in the Northern hemisphere and then, just a few feet away, swirling counter-clockwise in the South. So, who knows what happens directly ON the equator?? (It sucks straight down in an ecstasy of magnetic gravity.)

As we traveled further from the capital, the towns got poorer and the squalor a bit more desperate. The countryside is a riot of green, with banana palms as far as you can see and lush fields dotted with cattle and goats. But the towns are generally one straight line of corrugated mud & tin huts painted in the bright colors of the local cell phone vendors, with big-eyed children peering out from the dark, smoky interiors and mothers clad in bright cloth bent over scrubbing clothes in a pot. This is the face of poverty, and yet somehow, the people don’t seem broken by it – they smile, they wave, or they stare at you with remote, dignified hauteur. We stopped in the last big town before Nyaka so the doctors could stock up on meds at the pharmacy, the hydrators in the group could get gallons of water, and I could get cash. Which was a lot more difficult than you might think (well, you undoubtedly would have been thinking a lot more clearly than me, since I am the only dope who didn’t change money at the airport). Seven surly cash machines in a row refused my Visa card (clearly NOT “accepted everywhere you want to be”…) until our trusty guide Sam headed me to the one bank in town whose ATM worked for me, and then I felt filthy rich @2700 Ugandan shillings per dollar. Or at least rich (and ludicrously optimistic) enough to buy a mobile modem for my computer.

Good morning, Nyaka!

We arrived just at dark, got settled into our rooms in Nyaka’s sweet guest house, and had a delicious dinner prepared by Jackson’s sister Faida. I braved a cold shower to wash the dust of the road off me, and jumped into bed — only to wake up at 7 am to the sounds of children and the smell of Nescafe. I was so excited to see the children, all of whom had walked to school from as far as 5 miles away, that I raced through breakfast and ran outside to start my one-woman PR campaign — waving, grinning like a madwoman, and shooting photos like there was no tomorrow. Thank god for digital … otherwise I would have burned through all my film by now.

The Nyaka school day begins with a beautiful assembly, with drums, singing, prayer, two news updates, admonitions, and good luck prayers for the 7th graders, who are taking the national test next week to see if they will be admitted to secondary school. What a lot of pressure! They surely feel the weight of all that is riding on that performance: their own academic future, the hopes and aspirations of their teachers, the reputation of the school and their Director, and the financial support of Nyaka donors. So far, Nyaka School has a 100% pass rate on the exams — which is markedly better than the national average, so they have that to live up to as well. It makes me nervous for them!

Breathe in, breathe out ... gym class at Nyaka.

But the kids in all the grades at Nyaka are first and foremost kids — running, screaming, jumping with joy, playing soccer, bouncing around outdoors, and smiling those bright, gorgeous smiles. They are thin, but they seem healthy and what’s more, they seem happy — in this pretty school in this verdant green country that seems so peaceful but has seen so much tragedy, conflict and loss. It makes me wonder why we in America, with all our overabundance, have so much anger, discontent and unending anxiety.

I thought I was coming to help these children who have lost at least one parent to AIDS get an education. Then why do I feel that it’s me who has so much to learn?

Nyaka is participating in the first ever Nike Girl Effect Challenge to win a portion of the funding from the Nike Foundation for the next year. They have $33,000 left to raise in 4 days… click here to help! 

33 thoughts on ““You are welcome here, Bet-ty!”

  1. Dear Betty,
    I am a bit embarrassed to admit that much of what you experienced is totally absent from my life journey, except through what I read. You continue to light little fires of inspriation wherever you go. And, please, do not agonize over a response, because the message is clear…just do it! You are a gift.
    Patti R.

    • Patti Darling, one of the reasons I love to write about the places I go is because I want to take everybody on the journey with me — specially you!! So happy you’re reading … let’s go for a walk/talk!!! xoxoob

  2. In addition to bringing hope and comfort to so many people in so many places, you also help the rest of us understand that a sixty-second report on CNN cannot convey the complexity of life in another land. There is unspeakable brutality and the smile of a beautiful child, and everything in between. We need to take more time and pay more attention, as you have been doing. Thank you, Betty.

    • Charles, thanks so much for your comment; you captured the beauty and bewilderment of Uganda perfectly! It’s inconceivable that these people who have lived through so much tragedy and loss still remain hopeful and joyful… and for the future of the planet, it’s so important that we realize how similar we all are… and how much we have at stake in helping them to survive and thrive. Really appreciate your attention to those ineluctable details, BB!! Always love hearing from you…

    • Thanks so much, Renee! I am happy to say there IS more of Uganda coming – and I hope you like them as much as I LOVED being there. I was so lucky to be able to go!
      Really love YOUR blog, Renee — and find what you write to be so moving and positive and funny — the perfect trifecta!!

    • Dear Indigo — Oh, there was nothing going to keep me from going to Nyaka! And I’m not sure if I did that much to help .. but I sure tried to be of use, and I can assure you,
      I hugged every one of those precious kids that I could. They really are SO darling!! Thanks for writing, Ms. Zen Warrior!!

  3. Great post. Your photos are wonderful Bet-ty. You’ve captured a special something with the kids – I LOVe the top one and the gym class. Also love the people walking down the road.
    More please

    • Thanks, Rosie — I love my new camera so much!! I now have to take about 20 minutes longer to upload my photos to wordpress, cuz they are very high resolution, but that’s okay. I even read
      the instruction manual in some of my endless hours on the plane — a total first!! Now all I have to do is figure out how to take movies without it jumping all over the place! To be honest, though,
      the kids and all the people are so photogenic, it’s difficult to take a bad photo … and yes! there will be more!!! xooxoxxo b

    • Dear Jackson — The only thing that would have made Nyaka any more special is if YOU, the amazingly generous and inspiring founder of Nyaka AIDS Orphans School, would have been there. I simply cannot believe what your great love for your village has wrought — what a legacy and what a gift you have given these children! Webale a million times over …..

    • I totally hear you, Danielle, and I certainly did feel as if I gained so much more than I was able to give in going to see Nyaka first hand.. AND I’m looking forward to checkout YOUR cause-blog website! Thanks so much for writing!

    • Thanks so much, Amy — you know what they say: if you want to take great photos, take a LOT of photos .. and I certainly did that! But the country and the people are so photogenic,
      it’s hard to go wrong! thanks for writing!!

  4. Love the smiling faces of those beautiful children! Thanks for sharing your experiences… and you should know that I’m one (of likely many) that is living vicariously through you. Please give hugs to those children and share my gratitude to the group members who are there with you.

    • Hi Alana!! Really appreciate your comment … and I will vicariously be hugging as many of the kids for you as possible!! My other group members were so talented and generous — and so much fun! Stay tuned for more Uganda…. xoxxo b

  5. Welcome back Betty and thanks for letting us tag along on your inspiring journey.

    A 100% pass rate over at that Nyaka School says all that needs to be said about the good work going on there. Amazing.

  6. Beautiful post. The last three sentences resonate especially. These days it seems I’m in love with the world and it’s such a beautiful emotion – and these photos express that emotion so well. Thank you!

    • Dear C — The world needs all the people in love with it that it can possibly get, and I’m so glad you’re one of them! Despite the very real and difficult poverty these children live in, their joy is unmistakeable and utterly contagious… and that’s what you see in their faces. I absolutely loved being around that — it really gave me so much hope and happiness!

  7. Betty – Whgat a trip you are on! Beautiful photos of beautiful children. While you were at Nyaka, I was with Chris Bradshaw and team in Swaziland at the international summit of the African Library Project. We visited six schools where ALP has created libraries and I have my own set of photos of happy, smiling children telling me they like to read adventure stories or stories about animals or that they want to be airplane pilots or judges one day. Such hope in the midst of so little.
    Keep writing. Can’t wait for your next post. You help me keep my mind in Africa.

    • Dear Judy — WOW! Can’t believe we were both in Africa at the same time… and how fun to be with Chris and the African Library Project folks!! I can’t wait to see your photos – let’s do coffee soon! I want to share our impressions of Africa — and help keep the joy of those children alive !
      I’ve got lots more to write about … cannot wait!! xoxoxo b

  8. Thank you Bet-ty!!!!!!! I loved your charming account of the Nyaka School trip and was so happy to see the photos.. looking forward to more photos and info. what a great thing you are doing to spread the word about the school and the people… Susan Brewster (Johns wife!!)

    • Susan — I feel like I know you by now!! I loved being on the team with your husband and we all had such a wonderful time getting to know the school, the kids, and the people of the village. I hope you come the next time, so we can hang out — you would love it there!! Give my regards to John, the Dentist Extraordinaire!!

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