From: Meghan Gilbert
Sent: Monday, September 07, 2009 5:28 AM
Subject: Africa Update Numero Dos
I hope you've all had an enjoyable Labor Day weekend (I ate an ice cream last night to celebrate the ending of summer). I wanted to let you know what I've been doing the past couple of weeks and also tell you that I've changed my plans a bit.
Instead of going back to the sisters in Fort Portal as originally planned, I've decided to stay here in the village of Butunduuzi for the remainder of my time here. After much thinking and praying, I felt that going back to teach was not what I'm supposed to do. I really fell in love with the village and the people here, and I didn't want to abandon them just as I felt I was really getting to know their problems and beginning to form some solutions. Last night, I went to Fort Portal to speak to the headmistress of the school and no worries! She was very understanding and told me it was no problem for them--the girls will still have their regular teacher for the term. Also, I was concerned that I might be taking away the opportunity for these girls to have exposure to an American teacher, but I learned that the school has a sister-school agreement with a high school in Weston, MA and teachers from Weston come every summer to teach the girls in their second term. Good deal. Then I went to speak to the Sisters of Mary Immaculate with whom I stayed previously and was due to stay with while I taught. I thanked them profusely for their generosity and they were very gracious--Sr. Elizabeth even pulled me aside and gave me a big hug and said, "I'm so happy you're going back to the village! I knew you weren't going to be as happy at the school so I was praying you'd make this decision!" So that was more than I could hope for and confirmed my decision. Praise God!
So I'm really settling into Butunduuzi. The people who live in the parish compound are becoming like second family--they have even given me one of their local empaakos or pet names: Abwooli which apparently means "little girl" and "cat". Hmmm...I guess that's about right. In the traditional Batoro tribe greetings, everyone calls each other by these names so when I'm introduced to someone they find out my pet name and I find out theirs and then a little ritual ensues where we greet each other formally with those names. It's actually quite involved but it's very endearing. I'm even beginning to pick up some Rotooro, the local language. I've had the chance to visit many of the local homes with Fr. Francis as we walk through different parts of the village. Most of the people live in mudhuts with grass roofs and they're about the size of a typical bedroom--very tiny! I've really been touched by the people's generosity--they usually give me some type of gift, usually eggs or fruit and occasionally a little bit of money. Some of these homes are super remote and I've had to walk through the tropical forest in the mud to get there. Quite an adventure!
In addition to visiting homes, we've also continued to travel to many parish outstations where we have Mass and plant trees. We plant them for economic reasons (the people can later sell them for lumber) and also environmental reasons. Deforestation in order to cultivate crops is a big problem here so the trees need to be replaced. The deforestation is already affecting the amount of rainfall.
I've seen some difficult things here--small children in their final hours dying from malaria, people with open festering wounds that are not being properly looked after, sick people who are unable to cultivate crops and therefore are malnourished, but with lots of time for reflection and prayer, I feel a lot of hope that little by little I can make a small difference in the lives of the people here. Yesterday, I spoke to them after Mass about the possibility of using the natural resources around them to increase the size of their homes, and I also spoke to them about the dangers of keeping chickens inside their huts and encouraged them to build proper outdoor structures for them. Next weekend I'll be talking to them about what they can do to clean and care for their open wounds and we're actually going to invite all the people who have these wounds to come to the church where we'll have a properly trained nurse there to show them what they can do to prevent infection. It's these seemingly simple things that really make a difference in improving the quality of life. Of course, amidst all the practical things there is always the Gospel. Christ is truly at work in His people and worshiping here in this tiny village, it struck me that He really is present to His people even in the remotest of places!
I continue to pray for everyone back home. Thanks for all your prayers and support and please pray for the people here, especially the small children and expectant mothers who are the most susceptible to diseases. Oh and one more thing--GO BLUE!