Christmas in Africa

For first time I experienced the real Christmas’ spirit of giving! and that was through some of the least fortunate people in the world. We decided to spend our Christmas with the children at the orphanage, and the journey turned out to be a lot more eventful and meaningful than we anticipated.

We took the only way of transport to Adjumani refugee camps, mini van. Very same old 7 seater mini vans we see at home, but here there was 12 of us got crammed in one. We couldn’t wait for the 40 plus degree ride with no AC, on a bumpy dusty road to end until we got stopped by the police. There are 2 main group of people travel through this road, locals who work for NGOs like UN, and the Ugandan’s army. So Sohnia and I, being the only muzungos (white people) and not part of a big organization, makes us a target for these police to make some money from. We got away this time, but it was getting scary when they tried to put us into their car and take us away. Once we arrived in Adjumani we met with someone from the orphanage and he took us the rest of the way in a little car through bush.

We got 70 ice cream cups for the children from the gas station, the only place that had ice cream. When we called the kids to come and get their ice cream, we didn’t see as much excitement as we were anticipating! That was because most of them never had ice cream… but it only took them the first bite 🙂

People here live in such spirit of giving specially for Christmas. We have never received such hospitality, generosity, and love. And that was from the people that had to flee from their country due to genocide and leave everything behind. They left everything and ran, but the one thing that they always keep is their enormous and beautiful hearts. Since people working in the orphanage knew we are coming, they hunted an antelope with spear, and offered us to eat for breakfast, never ate such a lean meat. Children were preparing food from the day before for people that are coming to visit them from the villages around. They wore the clothes that were donated to them for christmas and had the ceremony in their sacred spot, under the Tree! That tree!

Once they fled to Uganda’s border they were sent to this location. There was a big barbed wire area with only one tree and nothing else in it. That tree became their home, their church, their hope. Now they build some structures around the tree for kids to sleep and school.

Preparing food

The ceremony under the tree was the experience of the lifetime for us. Hundreds of people and children from villages around came there. Children had few performances for visitors. The beauty, love, and sharing there was unreal! It reminded me of Burning Man’s principals, radical inclusion and gifting. We prayed, sang, laughed and cried together. Only if I knew Christmas could be like this sooner!

After prayer we found a Boda and went back to Adjumani and bought cookies for the children that lived in the villages around and couldn not make it to the ceremony. They knew all about cookies and didn’t take us long to hand them all out.

Our only way back to Gulu was the roach bus! Once we found the bus we were stunned to see hundreds and hundreds of cockroaches running out of the bus door as if they just got to their destination! When they ticket guy saw Sohnia’s paled face, he said its ok, they are running away because we sprayed some chemical! Moo Moo sat the whole way keeping her feet off the ground, still every now and then roaches were climbing her to say whatzup!

The Power of Tuku


​The past few weeks really feel more like a few months, and looking back, I can’t believe all that has happened in such a short period of time. We adopted a puppy, swam in River Nile (well, Reza did..), taught the sweetest, brightest children numbers and writing, sent 1000 emails, ate 1000 chapatis, spent way too much time in internet cafés trying to arrange our next steps, saved a cow from being hit by a car (moo), danced in the street with locals, climbed, jumped, walked, walked more, tried, and tried harder. It’s been a roller coaster ride and I wouldn’t change one second of it. We’re just getting started! This is an interesting place and there is a lot to learn. We were told about the culture and traditions of the Dinka and Nuer people, and I was amazed by what I learned. For example, in Dinka culture, when a boy wants to be consider a man in his community, he can receive 3 cuts on his forehead. It is said that if the boy can withstand the pain of the wound, he is ready to be considered as a man, and can now speak up and be taken seriously. It was upsetting though, that we had to see the Dinka people in the refugee settlements in Adjumani District – a people with so much rich culture, having been displaced from their homeland in South Sudan. This is the case for many people in South Sudan. The conflict between the government and the rebels has led to tens of thousands of lost lives and displaced persons having to seek refuge in the bordering countries, mainly Uganda. Pagirinya refugee settlement is currently home to 45,000 people from South Sudan.

Pumba, the adopted puppy
water lineup in the settlement
children at Cornerstone Orphanage singing us a welcome song

While in the settlement, we were told graphic truths about what is happening just 10 km north across the border. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the day we went to the settlements. It was intense and heartbreaking, but also just so unbelievable. The government in South Sudan, armed by the United Nations, is killing innocent people. We were told that there is nothing anyone can do, and no one to turn to when their family members are killed. When the government, the military, and everyone else is corrupt, who do you turn to? No one. You just run. You get out of there.. This is what a group of 69 orphaned children had to do when the fighting in South Sudan escalated. Now, they are refugees as well. All of them lost their parents in the civil conflict. It is at this newly relocated orphanage in Adjumani District that we will be building the first playground. When we first arrived at the orphanage, the children greeted us with a welcome song! Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long, so it was just a brief meeting. But they are beautiful souls and we can’t wait to spend time with them, get to know them, and share our love with them. Finally, I feel like things are aligning just how they should. I can’t think of a better place for our first project. We are designing the playground and sourcing the materials locally from Gulu, and everyone (especially us) is very excited. Stay tuned. Oh, and “Tuku” is Acholi for PLAY!

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