Christy, Speciosa and Jude huddle around the goat they purchased with poultry project profits.
When I received the first letter from Jude, I wept. Grateful, good Jude wrote about his struggles as a teenage parent to siblings, about the hard work of subsistence farming, and about his dreams to become a doctor. Jude Engole was the only poultry project participant that wrote me. (NOTE: sending a letter to the US costs 2000 USh; many poultry project participants may lack stationary and/or transport to the post office…etc.) Jude continued to send updates throughout the year and I was so anxious to get back to Uganda to visit with him. The letter sent in December had messages from Jude, his sisters Speciosa and Maria, and his brother Christy. They wrote, “you are our mother and father.”
On Sunday, Jude invited us to visit him at his home in Ajuket. Currently in secondary school in Mbale, Jude only goes home on weekends when transport money is available. He was so eager to get back to the village to see his youngest siblings, Speciosa and Christy. Maria, the second born, is also away at secondary school.
Driving along the main (paved) road near Jude’s home, we got a phone call from one of Jude’s late father’s colleagues, Alex. He assured us that Jude would meet us to direct us to the home. Alex is a father and a teacher, but he finds time to assist Jude in so many ways. Alex helped Jude write me letters. Alex helped Jude open a bank account. Alex is a good man.
The peaceful, spacious front porch of Jude’s home.
Jude’s house is really nice – front porch, great view, four large rooms, and spotless. A crucifix hangs on the living room wall, adorned with the St. Theresa prayer card my mother, Kathleen Flamos, gave them. There are photos of Jude and his siblings. A teddy bear hangs by a string on a nail, as decoration. The girls share a bedroom; so do the boys. Their pet dog sleeps on the porch, while Christy feeds millet to the pigeons he keeps. Speciosa helps an auntie prepare lunch. Jude cuts and slices the juiciest, most delicious mangos ever for his guests. Colin and I indulge. Then comes the pineapple. And some roasted corn cobs. Organic food at it its finest.
Speciosa and Kelly.
After some chatting and a tour of the property, we sat in the living room and enjoyed the fruit and conversations. Jude showed us photos of his late parents. His mother died “when we were young”. His father died just recently in 2005. (Ages of the children: Jude,19; Maria, 17; Speciosa, 15; Christy, 13) Jude’s father used to sit them down in the living room each night and share his wisdom and guidance. He told them that no matter what they should always be together. He charged Jude with the responsibility of keeping the family united. Jude said that he advised him to be weary of aunts, uncles, and others trying to take them in. One day, Jude went to an aunt’s house and before he got through the door she asked him to fetch water. According to Jude, that example illustrates exactly why his father told him to focus on work that will benefit the family, not an aunt only. A priest from the UK built the family’s home a few years ago. Their parish priest assists with family counseling, school fees, and other various needs. Their network of support is strong and reliable, yet Jude continues to bear the burden of being a mother and father to three, making good marks at school, and being the main provider.
Jude can’t stop laughing when asked to smile for a picture with his sister, Maria.
I noticed Jude’s black watch band and I wondered if it was the watch I wore last summer; I had forgotten who I gave it to. Well, hours later, I asked Jude for the time. He turned over his arm to reveal the face of the watch and I knew it wasn’t my old timepiece. The digital watch showed the time and a flashing “I love (something written in arabic)” over the face of Osama Bin Laden. I chuckled and he asked me what was funny. I asked him if he knew the man on his watch. He said no. He did, however, know about September 11th. He said he borrowed the watch from a friend at school for the weekend. He seemed embarrassed. We told him that such a watch could bring terrible consequences to someone in our country. For him, it’s just a watch with a random man on it. He only wanted to look nice for us.
Jude’s accidental accessory.
Before we left, we gave the family some gifts: clothes, books from Colin’s mom Loretta, beads for jewelry making, soap, magazines, calculator, bookbag, and some special gifts for the baby-Christy.
First, Colin handed Christy a brand-new socceer ball. Christy flashed a huge smile and ran outside to play. We called him back in to give him a harmonica. We figured he, like Peter, didn’t know about harmonicas. He opened the box and smiled again. Jude started laughing really hard. He told us a story…
Christy stands proud next to Colin. Christy, Jude, Maria, and Speciosa love Colin…they told him so.
One day, some boy in their village was playing a weird instrument and all the children gathered around him to get a peek at the shiny music-maker and hopefully give it a try. Christy, among the crowd of curious children, took a special interest in the strange noise machine – a harmonia. But the child playing the harmonica was greedy and mean and he refused to share. Christy devised a plan. Christy is a star socceer player and everyone wants him on their team, so he thought he would call a game. He kept an eye on the harmonica hog to see where he set his belongings before the match. Once the game was in full swing, Christy tip-toed off the field to the tree shading the precious harmonica. He was a natural. He loved this cool instrument, but knew his playing time would be stopped once the harmonica hog heard the music. But now, Christy has his own harmonica. And he’s good. He also said he’ll share it.
Christy beams with joy, happy to show off his socceer skills to his new friend, Colin.
Jude travelled with us back to Mbale. He asked us to help him with purchasing two cell phones, one for him and the other for Speciosa. He wants to keep in contact with them in case of an emergency or minor problems that he could help them with over the phone. He said he worries too much about them and he can’t wait two to three weeks without knowing if they’re ok. We can get them both nice Nokia phones for $60 each. There are no Sprint or Verizon monthly service plans here; rather, you buy airtime (minutes) on the street, in shops, anywhere. Jude loves his brother and sisters. They have so much fun together and their bond is unbreakable.
Jude is fulfilling his promise to his father everyday…he’s keeping his family together no matter what.
June 5th, 2007