Linda’s Amari Trip
Arriving in Uganda was a massive culture shock for me and I can vividly remember our first drive through the city of Kampala. All of my senses were saturated as we drove through insane traffic, with women dressed in bright beautiful colours, next to goats hanging out on the side of a major road, next to outdoor shop fronts with 20 different couches on the non-existent footpath, next to a motorbike with 6 crates of soft drink piled on the back and three kids on the front almost taking out our side mirror as they drove past… With the piled rubbish everywhere and hardly a fresh coat of paint to be seen, it was far from the manicured and sanitised world that I had been used to.
We took a few days to get Amari, but I will never forget meeting the kids for the first time. They were all sitting around having their lunch – beans and cassava (which is like a root vegetable ground into flour and then made into a gritty dough). They were all so shy and would solemnly look at you out of these beautiful big eyes; until you smiled and waved at them, and then their faces would break out into bright smile!
My role at Amari was teaching the recorder with Anna, using the 50 recorders that had been donated to the school from Australia. I loved being in the classroom with the kids all day every day, because it meant that not only did I start to develop a relationship with them, but they all also knew me and would feel comfortable to come up to me in-between classes. With kids, there was no need to say anything and no awkwardness because of the language barrier. One of my most treasured memories was just sitting quietly in the courtyard with these gorgeous 6 and 7-year olds, whilst they would take my hand and compare it, and inspect my rather white skin compared to their dark complexion, and would squeeze my arm and look with fascination at my long hair.
A very special moment was meeting my family’s sponsor boy Sunday, who has no arms except a small stump and finger on his right shoulder. He had the most beautiful, beaming smile and once he got used to me, he would often come and sit with me, wrapping his little stump around me in a hug. He was amazing to watch – he let nothing stop him, and would write with his feet, played soccer with all his friends, picked up his cup of porridge with his finger and balance against his shoulder to eat it, and even threw his frisbee with his foot! I visited his family at their hut, and it was so inspiring to see his strength and determination despite his poor circumstances.
Another moment that I will never forget was the first time that I watched the school assembly. There is nothing quite like the sound of African children’s voices raised in song together – such a different sound to Australian voices, and it truly touched me. The kids sang the national anthem and then sang praise and worship songs – it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and brought me to tears. The lyrics of one of the songs was “let the glory of the Lord come down” and I can remember thinking that in that moment, the glory of the Lord had already come down, and was in the hearts and the voices of those children singing to Him.
Having a keen interest in all things medical, Marita took Liv and I down to see the local medical clinic and hospital. That was one of the hardest things that I have ever seen. Although the hospital had perhaps more facilities than I expected, we learned that it was only staffed at 40% of full capacity. The medical clinic was particularly confronting, to see the lack of resources, the needles and medicine bottles lying around, the cracked mattresses, the questionable hygiene and sanitation… I felt so helpless being there and seeing simple things that we take for granted in Australia not being attended to there.
One thing that struck me during my time in Uganda was the universal nature of music, and how it transcends all barriers and connects people. Music has its own language that we could all participate in, and Anna and I had a lot of fun connecting with the kids in such a unique way. We played games with them, and took them marching around the schoolyard, and taught them songs, and annoyed the rest of the team working around the school by getting the students to blow as loud as they could on their recorders… My ears did not thank me for that, however, and I think they’re still ringing!! The giggles and smiles as they tooted and squeaked their recorders were so gorgeous though, so it was all worth the loss of hearing!
And the adults had just as much fun as the kids, if not more. We would run a staff class at the end of each day and everyone from the builders to the teachers to the cleaning ladies would come and have a go. My favourite part was when they would bring out the African instruments and drums, and the staff recorder class would gradually evolve into just a big dance party with conga lines and traditional African dancing – and even a few recorders tooting somewhat in time to the music! There was so much joy and delight in the simple fun of dancing in each other’s company!
Some of the teachers were only a few years older than me, and we developed a really special friendship over my time there. Liv, Julia and I would chat with the girls at their huts, and would help them prepare their beans for dinner, or sweep the dirt outside. We even exchanged a few song lessons, teaching them Hillsong whilst they taught us some African songs!
It was an incredible experience that I can honestly say has changed me. God had first placed that desire there, not just so I could do my part to help, but so that He could continue His work in me. He taught me a lot – about Him, about myself, about relying on Him, and knowing that when it comes down to it, despite all that we take for granted and think that we can’t live without, He is truly all that I need.
I have so many more stories and I could go on for hours, but I’m sure you all want to get home for your lunch at some point. Thank you to Graham and Kris for all their planning and leadership, to Kris and Jill for their amazing cooking, to Marita for the impact that she has had in Uganda and for the impact she has had on me, and to the rest of the team for sharing all the laughs and experiences.