So I guess I got caught up with browsing pinterest work activities that I never finished posting about Africa. And I have made at least a dozen new meals that have never been shared with my mom the world wide interweb. So I think today calls for a combo sort of a post, a festivus, a turduckin, of sorts.
First, I will start with my kid’s quote of the month, because it was adorable to the nth degree. I walked into my preschool classroom just before Thanksgiving. I have walked into that classroom every week since the start of school, and it has only been in the last month I’ve seen the light of recognition in the children’s eyes as I walk through the door. “I memember you!” They say, one of my most favorite phrases in the English language (spoken in preschool dialect).
One such student takes several extra seconds to study my face. “You’re wearing glasses!” He announces after his examination is complete (I have worn glasses every week). “Yes, I am,” I reply. He continues to watch me curiously. “Why?” He asks. “So I can see you,” I say, with dialogue from Little Red Riding Hood running through my head. “With my big ol’ eyes,” I add, pulling my glasses down my nose and peering over the top for effect.
Second, I will talk about celebration. Because New Year is about celebration. But I want to talk about celebration in Africa.
Anywhere we went in Kenya and Uganda, the children ran out of their houses shouting, “muno! muno!” which means “white person, white person,” in a sweet, endearing way. Their exuberance was unparalleled. I felt like a celebrity, with children shouting and chasing after the car. They weren’t asking for more than a wave, a smile, maybe a high five.
As soon as we got to the children’s village, the celebration kicked into high gear. The locals explained to us that in Ugandan culture, having guests to your home means you are blessed. Having so many guests is a huge blessing. Not only did the children welcome us with their traditional greeting, they also crowded around as we stepped out of the van. They danced and sang with gusto I thought was only reserved for a gospel choir.
These people knew the meaning of celebration beyond what I have ever experienced. When you have been stripped of everything – parents, family, food, country – you have known the meaning of having nothing. You understand tragedy. Children made to watch the murder of their parents, children forced to murder their parents. Starvation, the lethargy of a toddler who hasn’t eaten in days. Rape, corruption, no one to take care of you.
But the most surprising realization is when someone has had nothing, and has come out the other side, they celebrate. They raise their head from the ground to the sky, their body moving to the sound of the music. They dance as if this could truly be their last dance. They sing loudly, their voices reaching farther than you knew possible for such a small frame. They praise God and thank Him endlessly for His mercy. His mercy! Because they came from nothing into something. Into a bed, clothes, food, an education. It was the reality of 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (NLT). They thanked us for taking our time and money to come and visit them. They recognized that we sacrificed to be there. They told us they would pray for us and that they were sorry for us. We asked why. “Because you have so many choices,” they said, “You are drowning in your choices. That is hard.”
I couldn’t tell you how it felt to be pitied by someone who has had nothing. To celebrate with them. To watch first-had the meaning of thankfulness. The sense of humility that comes with the knowledge that all things could be taken away. The gratitude that comes from receiving attention, kindness, gifts.
I want to celebrate this year.