Sometimes you wake up knowing that this day will somehow be very different; that by the end of it something will have changed. That day was Wednesday, January 26th, 2011. We woke up to another amazing morning at the Kibirango farm. It is beautiful, rivaling any rural country landscape in America. However, the intense green and lush countryside belie the utter poverty and desperation that is so prevalent in Uganda.
On Wednesday we loaded into the van to begin our visits with several widows and their children. Along for the ride were Maggie (a social worker), Dennis (17yo son of a widow we would soon meet), & Maggie, a little 6 year old girl in a crisp pink dress (Dennis’ little sister).
As we drove, Maggie sat in the middle seat, with Jesca. Dawn & I were in the back. Every now and then she would shyly turn around to look at us and we would wave at her and smile. She seemed very interested in the both of us and of course we couldn’t help but stare at her beautiful face. Her deep brown eyes were mesmerizing and I was certain they had seen far more than any 6yo eyes should ever witness. Her little mouth did not smile. As hard as I tried to coax one out of her, it didn’t work and I wondered if she had ever had reason to.
When the van arrived at our first stop, Maggie & her brother walked us through an ally to a row of mud rooms, one of which they called home. There was a fabric curtain hanging in the doorway, the only thing keeping the outside world outside. Maggie and Dennis came in the house and sat with us as we visited with their mother, Robina, an HIV+ widow and her other 2 children, one who was also HIV+. The room was approximately 7’x7’, entirely of mud with a piece of linoleum covering the floor. There was a small bed behind a hanging piece of fabric, a bench, and a small double shelf inside. Stacked wherever possible were their water cans and other belongings. We visited for a while, listening to Robina tell her story, asking questions, taking pictures, and praying for the family. I began to see perhaps why Maggie seemed so reluctant to smile.
On the walk back to the van Maggie took my hand and was fascinated by the tattoo on my wrist (2Cor 5:17). She ran her fingers over it and turned my wrist to see the other side, tracing the tattooed vines with her finger. Again she sat in the middle seat and Dawn & I in the back. I reached over to touch her on the nose and she held my hand. She didn’t let go and as I reached over with the other hand she wrapped my arm around her chest. That’s how we rode to the next stop, Maggie & I holding hands. She looked back at me with a contented little sort-of-grin. Not quite a smile, but the corners of her mouth definitely turning up ever so slightly. Or was that my hopeful imagination?
We learned that Maggie attends school at Victors Junior Christian School and that she did not currently have a sponsor. Dawn & I looked at each other and it was clear that we both had the same thought at the exact same moment……”She does now!”
Maggie walked hand-in-hand with me to the 2nd house and sat beside me while we visited and prayed. Once we were back in the van Maggie sat beside me and I wrapped her in my arms. She again held my hands and gazed up at me. I tried to make her laugh by making silly faces and slowly but surely she began to mimic each one. Dawn took a series of pictures we call “The Faces of Maggie”.
Every once in a while I thought just maybe I saw a slight grin. She again walked with me, holding my hand, to the 3rd home and sat in my lap as we visited. I think she was almost as taken with me as I was with her. As I sat there I couldn’t help but think about my son, Clyde, and how different his life is from Maggie’s. I felt very sad to think Maggie probably didn’t have anyone who gave her “eyelash tickles” at bedtime or read her favorite story in bed.
Sweet Maggie. The little girl in the pink dress who changed so much for me. If I could have packed her in my suitcase and brought her home I would have done so in a heartbeat. I think of her every day and cannot help but cry as I remember her sweet face and the difficulties that are her reality. I can’t help but wonder what her every day is like.
Beautiful Maggie. I didn’t get to say goodbye to her on the Friday before we left. I looked around the school grounds hoping to see her, but she wasn’t there. I left Uganda that day with a Maggie-shaped hole in my heart. It’s an aching space that is filled only by the knowledge that God loves her so very much and has a plan for her. I pray that His plan includes bringing me to see Maggie again someday.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11