I remember the days when I counted down waiting for the weekend. In university it was time to party with friends, as a teacher it was a break from kids and now working full-time in Uganda (for an amazing organization) I still count down the days because the weekend is the time when I am free to be at Atin whenever I want with no time restrictions. As much as I enjoy my job, time with the kids at Atin is priceless.
So while other people are planning their Saturday night adventures, going to watch movies, hang out with friends, dance in the club I drive like a granny down a dirt road in Lira headed to Atin Afrika.
As much as I love my life, as much as I feel the passion for Atin there are days when I don’t recognize myself anymore. Today is one of those days. I look in the rear view mirror and see the shadows under my eyes and the strain in my face. The burden of loving all of these children weighs heavily on my heart and that weight is reflected in the eyes that look back at me. I look inside and I don’t recognize myself either. I am confident. I am calm. I am fun. I am happy. I am independent. I am a rock that other people depend on. I don’t cry. I don’t quit. I don’t fail. I am not a burden. Uganda has humbled me beyond my imagination. It has taken my life and turned it upside down. It has shown me that there is so much more to life than what I know, or thought I knew. How can a textbook teach me what it means to love a child and help that child to love himself? The path that led me here was so unplanned and yet poetic in its simplicity. I am where I need to be.
I reach the gate and honk the horn and a roar of screams fills my ears as a gang of ex-street kids scramble over each other to open the gate. Music to my hearts and food for my soul. Each one of their smiles makes my heart stretch and grow a little bigger.
I hop out of the car and grabbed the popcorn maker. Joel squeals, he knows what that means. Samiri grabs the tin of popcorn from my hands and starts to shake it like maracas. Grace fires up the charcoal stove and soon we all hear pop…pop…pop!
While Grace mans the popcorn station I play DJ, popping a CD into the car and turning on the headlights to create a makeshift stage.
We dance. We dance around the car. We dance in front of the car. We dance beside the car. We dance together. We do solo routines. We impersonate each other dancing. We dance until the music stopped aka I turned it off for fear of draining the car battery.
As I drive home I think of what my friends are doing on their Saturday night and smile to myself. Truth be told, these kids rock my world and Saturday night in yoga pants and a t-shirt with messy hair in a ponytail Samiri tied for me is where I am supposed to be.
With love from Atin Afrika,