It has been too long since I’ve written. Africa is still on my mind most days. A lot of times I used to try to fight the thoughts completely. I still refuse to pick up the journal I wrote in while in Africa. Looking at the pictures are difficult. I can’t read the notes from the children, or even think about Africa for any length of time. It just hurts. When I do think about Africa, I’m planning my life out to see when and how I will get back.
I took an English class this semester at the college I attend. Our first assignment was a memory essay, a paper that has emotional appeal. I thought about writing about Africa but I couldn’t at first. It seemed too intimate of a topic to put into words. Nevertheless, I couldn’t find a topic I cared more about, so I gave in. This paper took me out my comfort zone. It made me wrestle with emotions I tried to avoid feeling, but I wanted to write a paper that would put my reader in my shoes–to see Africa through my eyes. I wrote about my favorite memory in Africa at Canaan’s Children’s Home in Uganda. My paper is about how a little girl I met changed my life. I wanted to share my paper with you because I was blessed with the ability to go. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am. My hope is that God will use this paper to bless and encourage people to PRAY and to GO.
So here it is:
*Note: in order to protect the little girl’s privacy, I’ve changed her name.
A Rich Fool
The hum of the mosque seemed to drown out the noises of the night, threatening my sanity, but she didn’t seem to hear it. She walked next to me with both arms wrapped around my waist, not daring to let go for even a second. Our feet shuffled next to each other, causing a cloud of fine red dust to dance around our ankles. Her worn, tough feet proclaimed her unforgiving hardships, but mine were safely tucked away in new shoes. I was seventeen and she was only twelve, but she knew more about life than I ever would.
My feet were moving forward, but my mind fell back. My thoughts tumbled and bounced like the wheels of the old bus, and there they stopped to rest. It was day one, and night had already fallen. Masses of children crowded the bus, their haggard hands banging on the windows and their voices shouting with glee. Inside this tattered piece of metal was my sense of security. The musty, old bus with ragged seats contained my last bit of luxury from the world left behind. I pressed my face to the glass, but I struggled to see past my reflection, the shameful face mirroring the rich fool. When the doors screeched open, the masses of children grabbed hold of me and pulled me from my security into their beautiful world. It was then that I noticed her, Sarah, a shy, inquisitive twelve-year-old with a contagious smile. But as I walked with her now, that smile was hard to find.
Sarah lived at the children’s home with her four younger siblings. Her father had fallen victim to AIDS, and her striving mother had lost the fight in trying to provide for her precious children. Most people saw Sarah as strong and independent, but I saw a child who had grown up far too fast, a child with enormous dreams that I feared scarce resources would not permit.
I looked down at the sway of my long, black maxi skirt that was purchased just for this trip. Its value was now hidden under layers of red mud and baby urine from the child I had held earlier that day. Sarah’s torn orange dress was her school uniform that she had worn every day since I had arrived. I knew I would go back to my room in a short while, remove my filthy skirt, and indulge in what had become my nightly ritual of washing and sanitizing. Baby wipes, cold shower, more baby wipes, and finally hand sanitizer. But the stain of the red land would never fully leave my skin.
We journeyed on, dragging ourselves step by step closer to heartbreak. She looked up at me. The flickering glow from the lamppost outlined her ebony face just as tears began to make their escape. “You are my best friend. Tomorrow new people will come, but my best friend will not be there. You won’t be there,” she whispered softly and then she buried her face in my chest. “I’ll never forget you,” I said, “Never.” She looked into my eyes and flashed a glimpse of a smile through her tears. Sarah slipped off a small rubber bracelet from her wrist and pulled it over my hand. “To remember me,” she whispered. It was old and the painted-on words had long worn off, but it was the most beautiful gift I had ever received. Flipping through the tattered pages of my little Bible, I retrieved a family photo, and placed it in her hands. Her face lit up as if I handed her the world. Gripping it tightly, she rubbed her tough fingers around the outside of it. She studied it intensely, pointing to each face and memorizing the names that I had told her.
Reaching her doorstep, we simply sat outside and cried, both of us disregarding our acts of strength and bravery to reveal the reality of our brokenness. She was no longer a statistic, a face on a charity card, or a compelling story woven into an eloquent sermon. She was a child, a real child, and she was in my arms crying. I leaned over and kissed her sweet brown forehead, forsaking all warnings of dirt and germs. The smell of stale sweat clung to her short, curly hair, but for once I didn’t care. In that moment, my heart broke, pieces falling into two very different worlds.
The next day I would be bounding down the road in that over-sized hunk of rusted metal, with luxury and security sitting in the two seats to the right. I would climb into an airplane and cross an ocean into my world overflowing with provision and safety. But around my wrist would be a constant reminder that I was the rich fool peering into a very real world.
Thank you for reading!