January: the Month of Mzungu

This post is aptly named “the Month of Mzungu” because Engeye had more visitors from the U.S. in January than we’ve had all year. My family came at the beginning of the month, Drs Kathy and Joe and Kathy’s sister, Renee, arrived shortly after, and Theresa Weinman and a seven-person medical team came towards the end of January. It was a crazy month, to say the least.

Visitors are great for several reasons (the primary reason being that they bring the best snacks). But they’re also wonderful because, when you’re here for a while, you become somewhat desensitized to your surroundings. Nothing is as fascinating as it was when you first arrived. Everything—even the blaring poverty and injustice—becomes normal and comfortable and mundane.

So the visitors gave me a new perspective. They renewed my interest in a lot of projects and aspects of Engeye. They did not impose. Rather, they approached this community with knowledge and compassion.

And it was great to watch them interact with the patients, play with the scholars and discover the beauty—and, at times, the hardship—of Engeye and Ddegeya.

I’ll let my twelve year-old-brother, Matteo, describe the rest, as he captures the experience more eloquently than I ever could:

“Mzungu, that’s what they called me when I was walking down a dirt road or when they spotted me buying a soda. I could hear them laughing and giggling at me everywhere I went. Sometimes I would turn around and there would be a little kid standing there with the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen, like he’d just seen a ghost. Which is what I must’ve looked like to him. My family must’ve looked so strange with our pale skin and long hair. I also heard from my sister that sometimes when the kids are young, the parents tell them that if you get too close to the mzungu “they will eat you!” So these kids had a reason to be afraid of us.

When we arrived in Ddegeya my sister gave my family and me a tour of the Engeye clinic where she’s been working. As we walked around I noticed the landscape around me that was like a feast for the eyes. There were grassy hills that stretched as far as the eyes could see. Plains of crops like potatoes and corn were dotted with the large trunks of banana trees and their long leaves. The whole time we were walking, we were followed by a large group of curious children. The clinic is a well-organized health center in the middle of the village and is surrounded by the living quarters of the staff and volunteers. Me, my brother and dad stayed in one side of a bunkhouse in bunk beds with mosquito nets and my mom stayed with my sister in her cabin on the other side of the clinic.

The first morning after I arrived in Ddegeya, I walked outside of the bunkhouse where I was staying and was putting on my shoes when I suddenly looked up and saw about 50 people staring at me. No doubt surprised to see a young “mzungu” come out of the building. There were patients already lined up to see the doctors and nurses. There were just so many sick people. Some of the patients were treated for HIV, cerebral malaria, burns and injuries and many other diseases.

…….Three days into our stay in Ddegeya, the Engeye Clinic hosted a large holiday festival of all of the children in the Village . The festival included roughly 1,200 children and they all received a full meal and learned some cool new dance moves. DJs and dancers were hired to come to the festival and the clinic had to slaughter a cow to have enough meat to feed the kids, This meant the whole day before the festival was spent cooking the cow and using literally every part of it. When the festival began, kids were pouring into the small clinic like a waterfall of hungry children ready to start a whole day of celebration. My family an I helped to serve the kids by handing out necklaces, sodas and food. The festival was absolutely crazy and it felt so good to put a smile on all of the children’s faces when they got their food. Overall, the festival was a great experience and was a lot of fun.

One thing that was really special there was not the food or the festival or the driving but it was the people. Every person and kid just lit up with an expression of happiness whenever my family and me interacted with him or her. It was so amazing to see that even though these people didn’t have anything, they want to give you everything that they have. Sometimes it makes me wonder why there are things that I want when I have so much already. I just want to give them everything that I have for what they have given me: Happiness. And if there is one thing I have learned from being there, it’s that life’s not about what you have, it’s about what you give back.”

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