what we need

paint blown over

falls. pours. the empty bits drive away

take my shell: grimy nonsense

a muddy-burnt face. love is not

this, store it up for a screen

run it past all of us –

trainers squeak your floor.


art teacher

I want to scrape together your shatters and remould them,

working my fingers through your cracks, the places

love has been torn away from, your insecurities

burned away in the kiln of my hands. (fire of angels, fill me)

I will use my nails to scratch off the gluey false security,

let it wash away in the water, leaving paint.

You are beautiful, creative, and capable

let me help you see that.

to my future kids.

There are a few things that I want my children to understand.

Now, I don’t have any children of my own. I don’t have any plans to have any in the foreseeable future. But kids have always been a significant part of my life, and I believe that one day I will have a house that is full of loud, crazy people and pets, since I have always gravitated towards such chaos. I really really want to raise children to love things that I have come to love – not force their interest or anything, just sometimes I get really excited when I think about the possibility that one day I could share these amazing pieces of my life with them.

I want these kids to understand why swimming in the river out back of Natedewai village is amazing. The river is not always there, since it’s dependent on the seasonal rainfall, but when it is it is full of mudfishes and bugs and sand. Swimming in it this past summer was unbelievable. Floating along in the current clinging to a capped jerrycan, with eddies of latte-coloured water twisting about my limbs, the thought struck me in an almost desperate way, as thoughts sometimes do when I’m afraid I’ll forget the meaning behind them: My children need to understand this.

I want my children to understand the feeling of free air, open windows, and why riding in the back of the pickup or motorcycle is the best place to be. In the western world, climate control always has freaked me out. You move from bubble to bubble, where everything is perfectly adjusted and culture whispers that you are the center of the universe. At home, my favourite place to be was always in the way back of the pickup, with my hands to the sun and my hair being thrashed about my face in the breeze – NOT perfectly straightened and sculpted to look a certain way, free to just be. They have a saying in Uganda: “be free”. Not just “feel free”, the way Americans say, BE free. That really makes me happy, for I think it says a lot about the place. I want my kids to be free within and without, to understand the love of warm and cold weather, and to value the untamed in nature and in themselves.

I want to teach my children the love of music. Not in an academic, theoretical way, necessarily, just the warm comfort that I now feel when I listen to my “parent’s music”. Now, it’s not the typical mom-and-dad kind of music. No cheesy love ballads or awkward annoying pop songs. Rich traditional Irish music that never ever ever grows old, that I listen to when I’m feeling sad. My parents taught me a real love for that music – even though I don’t understand it completely, I absolutely love listening to the dusky voices of Dick Gaughan and Paul Brady, the violins of Altan and Kevin Burke, and so on. There are some things that should never grow old, and this is one of them. Irish music is just a tiny facet of the world of art they introduced me to in a way that encouraged me to explore it for myself, though I am a paltry musician at best. I want my children to understand a love for the artistic creations of humankind – not in a fluffy pop sense, but a real deep love that will never leave them even if I do someday.

I want to love my children with the love of God. I want them to understand that love and be filled with it. I wish with all my heart that I could meet them now and just hang out and talk about life, but that’s not how the system works, so I will love them all the way from the beginning of our relationship to the end. I will pour the spirit over them in every way I can and work ceaselessly to build for them a foundation of family love that is rooted in the Lord first and foremost. For nothing is more important to me than this.

I cannot wait to meet them.


This kid is beyond hilarious. I can’t get over it.

First, he replaces his “r” and “l” sounds with “n”. Our English classes have been interesting – we learned about fnogs, honses, nions and enephants, plus the various colors of gneen, yennow, ned, onange, bnue, and punpne. Oh, and I am generally referred to as Nesho.

I have also been teaching him some random slang, just for kicks. Now, every morning when I come in, I say, “Jamesi! Wassap?” To which he will reply, “Nathin!!!” Sometimes he welcomes me with cries of “Nathin! Nathin! Nathin!”

James’ eating habits are also a bit different. He likes to dip whatever he’s eating into whatever he’s drinking. This works with tea and pancakes. It does not work with bananas and water.

Today he tried to get some rice for me from the pan on the stove. It didn’t go well. I ended up turning a blind eye to the chickens that snuck in to peck at the rice spilled all over the floor.

Science Class

Me: “So, what do you eat?”

Faith: “Kenyans eat posho and beans and chicken and mutton and pork and – “

“What do other people eat?”

“The Karimojong eat porrige and greens. And cow.”

“Yes, but what about the mzungus? What do they eat?”

After some thought: “Cookies!”

“Yeeesss….but what else?”

Another pondering moment.

“Chocolate cookies!”

I wish.

Day Two of Teaching.

I’m learning Kiswahili, slowly by slowly. Wadio wadio. Pole pole.

Today we found out the one-legged chicken is named Trixie.

For Creative Art class, we were talking about different types of songs. For religious songs, we sang Cast Your Burdens and Father Abraham. For National Anthems, I sang the American national anthem. The kids told me it was “nice, but too long”. I was surprised I even remembered it.

The scene was a strange one. Me, sitting in the plastic chair, screeching “Oh Say Can You See” over the blaring radio and squawks of Trixie, while my two charges watch in wonder at this weird mzungu.

My latest occupation.

I am now teaching/tutoring Faith, the daughter of some of our clinic staff. She is a fabulously hilarious child. Our conversations today were enlightening and entertaining. Her little brother, James, climbed all over me and exclaimed loudly in Kiswahili, which Faith had to translate for me. We had all sorts of interesting classes and extracurricular activities, which included

– Science, during which we laughed at the chicken with one leg.

– English – we discussed the differences between wazungu and East Africans. (I say that because Faith is not, in fact, Ugandan, but is from Kenya.) James repeated every English word I said, no matter what it was – a promising student. Although, saying “Okay” about forty million times won’t get him very far.

– Math, during which we danced to Wakka Wakka and Waving Flag. Both of the kids amazed me with their skills, James in particular.

– Christian Religious Education, which resulted into a fascinating talk about compassion.

We also had break. Faith informed me that we were to “eat a very delicious pancake.”
We did. We also chased the various dogs away (and the chicken with one leg). We watched James wash his face for half an hour. We chatted in Kiswahili/English/Ngakarimojong with the slashers. We drank tea. And I think we all learned something. I shall return tomorrow.

It’s amazing what can make someone’s day

The P. 1. class at Nakaale Primary School was having trouble paying attention, as usual. The one hundred plus kids sat/stood around the room on broken pieces of brick, benches and desks, each one fidgeting and chattering. Even the windowsills were full of squirming kids, each fighting for a seat. The cement dust that filled the air was causing the kids to cough and sneeze all over each other. The kids were all squabbling over the slates and slate chalk that were being passed out, fights that could only be broken up by a switch.

I stood at the front of the class, chalk in one hand, slate in the other, trying to properly demonstrate how to draw the letter “A”. I had a switch tucked under one arm that I kept having to bring out and shake at the kids, banging the stick on the desks to try and keep order. None of them were listening.

“Lomongin! Listen! – No, Moses, stop that! Stop yelling, Petero! Emmy, sit down. Moses! Be quiet! Lomongin, I told you to be quiet!” and so on. My sisters roamed the classroom with switches and slates, trying to maintain order. The slate I was holding was giving me trouble. I was having to hold it over my head so that all the kids could see it, and still it wasn’t big enough.

Inspiration struck. I handed my slate and chalk to Anna and dashed out of the classroom, skidding over the pitted, dusty walkway to the P.3 classroom. As I had suspected, the class was having “reading groups” and the teacher was nowhere to be seen. I pointed to a cracked piece of plywood that had been painted black – the blackboard – that was leaning against the wall in the front of the room. “Can I use this for P.1?” The kids looked at me askance, and I grabbed the plywood.

“You.” I pointed, “And you. Carry this desk.” Two of the P.3 boys rose and picked up the desk, following me out of the room.

As I entered the P.1 classroom, the plywood held over my head, the entire class leapt to its feet and burst into a simultaneous cheer: “YEEEAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!” I had the P.3 boys set the desk at the front of the room – amidst the clapping and cheering – and we set the plywood up on it, using a rock to keep it there. I turned to see all of the little P.1 kids on their feet, applauding and yelling, huge grins on every face. I assumed my stern teacher face, trying desperately to keep my authoritative air.

I raised my switch in the air and waved a hand. “Be quiet, sit down.” The class complied, still beaming wholeheartedly. They sat like a hundred or so little angels, each one looking up at me expectantly. I turned back to the plywood – a ragged, chipped piece that sagged pathetically against the wall. I raised my piece of chalk and began, tucking my switch beneath one arm.

“This is the letter ‘A’.”