Posted: Jan 31, 2016

Of all the things to find in my bed; fleas, rat droppings and strange African men are at the bottom of my list. Combine these gracious gifts with excruciating heat, and a thick layer of red dirt and a summary emerges of the country I have fallen in love with. Uganda, Africa, is not a glamorous country. Hardship riddles the land like bullet holes. Never in my life have I seen such poverty, and yet, I have never felt such love. The selflessness and optimism of Uganda’s children have inspired me. A piece of me has remained in that rust colored country, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

            If tomorrow I encountered an accident and forgot all my family and friends, no head trauma could be severe enough to erase from my mind the kids of Uganda. Everywhere I went while I was there, hundreds of children swarmed around me like moths drawn to a lightbulb. More babies existed than I could ever remember all the names of, however, one little girl will haunt my subconscious forever. Her name was Cynthia, and her smile was a shining star in a dark night. I loved all the little children I encountered in Uganda, but three year-old Cynthia captured a special place in my heart. She had a fly-covered wound between her toes that, upon closer inspection, appeared to be so infected that her foot was decaying. If the wound was left alone, she risked losing her foot or even her life. I took Cynthia to a local clinic myself to seek medical treatment. I explained the situation to the lab technician at the Lugala Clinic, and was shocked by his words, “Well, who will pay?” Frustrated by his lack of empathy, I used my own money to get Cynthia treated. It cost the equivalent of six dollars.

 Despite the clear sensitivity of the wound, the lab tech ripped into Cynthia’s foot with medical scissors and gauze. I held Cynthia to my chest while she screamed, and had to turn my face away so she wouldn’t see my tears. I sang to her and rocked her back and forth, all the while silently cursing the country and all of its adults for not preventing this. The whole fiasco could have originally been evaded with a bandage. When it was finally over, I hugged Cynthia tight for the rest of the day. The next morning, I went to find her mother as I had bought an anti-biotic cream to give to the family. I was fuming, and fully ready to hate whatever monster couldn’t even give a Band-Aid to her own daughter. When I encountered Cynthia’s parent, what I saw cooled my rage to an icy sadness. I knew this girl; she had sat with me the night before along with some other young women I met. She was nineteen. Suddenly I understood. This woman was my age! I thought of myself, and my own unfortunate lack of skills. I couldn’t take proper care of a child! We left Lugala that day. Cynthia hugged me good bye, but she didn’t know I wouldn’t be back. I wanted to explain things to her. I wanted her to know how much I loved her, and that I’d be back, but my choppy Lugandan phrases could never explain that. As we drove away, I sobbed.

            I still hear Cynthia’s screaming in my nightmares. She changed my life forever, that little girl. The entire trip was wildly uncomfortable, but I will undoubtedly be going back to Uganda. People ask me why I would go back if the trip was so difficult, and so I tell them about Cynthia. One day, I will give her and all my other little Ugandan babies the world they deserve but for now, they are my inspiration. They have made me who I am and I will always be grateful.