We Might Lose a Guitar, But It’s OK

taylor-bt1-baby-3-4-size-travel-acoustic-guitar-with-gig-bag-2-1177-pToday, I loaned a school guitar to a middle school kid. It’s quite possible this kid will lose it, or break it, or forget he has this guitar. But it’s fine.

I’ve known this guy since he was in 1st or 2nd grade. When he first came to us, his mother had recently died and our little school community became an extended family for him. He might be classified as a “spectrum kid;” he has autism symptoms. He functions well academically, but has a tough time with normal social stuff.  He’s kind of forgetful, and kind of awkward.  And the whole five or six years I’ve known him, he’s never had very good motor skills when it came to playing any kind of musical instrument.

When he got to around 5th grade, I thought he might like the ukulele (because, who doesn’t), but he had a hard time with it. He couldn’t hold it right. He couldn’t get his left hand to make the chords, and he couldn’t get his right hand to play rhythms. And tuning it was out of the question. When he came to music class, if it happened to be a ukulele day, you could see him kind of check out.

But now as a 7th grader, something weird is happening – turns out this guy can play the guitar. He’s never learned from anyone before, and you’d think if he struggled with a small 4-stringed ukulele, he’d struggle more with a larger 6-stringed guitar. But, he’s doing it. For some reason, he can play the chords, and he can change chords somewhat on time, and he can even tune the thing.

We are a school with a lot of good resources, including a bunch of nice guitars and ukuleles we can loan out to kids. We’re pretty free with loaning out the ukuleles, but since the guitars are more expensive, I always have a parent sign a form saying they’ll replace it if it gets damaged. In my 7/8th grade music class, kids can choose either guitar or ukulele, and the kids who want a guitar are pretty good about getting that form back to me quickly, because they want to borrow one of our cool Baby Taylor guitars. But this kid was different with the guitars (he’s different with everything) – I couldn’t get him to take a form home to be signed. I kept saying, “Hey _____, you’re pretty good with the guitar. You should get your dad to sign this form and then you can take one home to practice on.” But he wasn’t interested at first, and then later he decided to take a form home and lost it (the form, not his home). And then he took 3-4 more forms and lost them too. One day I even told him he could take a guitar home at the same time as the form, and just bring the form back later, because I trusted him. But he didn’t want to do it that way, probably because that wasn’t the normal rule. So I finally just assumed he wouldn’t be taking home a guitar.

Until today after school, when he and his dad showed up in my room after school.  His dad asked me how come his son wasn’t carrying a guitar back and forth to school, like the other kids. (Let me throw this in – his dad is a great guy, and wasn’t accusing us of leaving his son out. He just wanted to see what was up with the guitars other kids were carrying). I explained everything to the dad, while the kid wandered distracted around my room as usual. I got a guitar out of the closet – where it didn’t belong – and put it in the hands of the kid – where it did belong. The dad gladly signed the form, and they left, and I got back to my music lesson.

But as the dad and the kid were leaving the room, I said – “Oh hey, just make sure you leave it in the bag when you’re not playing it. And don’t leave it in a hot car. Be careful with it. Etc…..” But the kid had already checked out, and the tired-looking dad nodded, and they both left. And as I was giving those directions to him, I knew that unless the dad personally watched that guitar all the time, the kid was going to lose it, or break it, or forget he had it. Or leave it in a car, or just about anyplace. But hopefully, our kid will learn some more chords, and get to enjoy being good at something musical.

So we might lose that guitar, but it’s OK. It’s not doing anyone any good in our closet, but it may do a 7th grade boy a lot of good in his closet.

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How to Install Outdoor Christmas Lights

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1. Go to garage to get the lights, which you packed last year in a place that would be easy to find.
2. After opening 11 boxes of Christmas stuff and moving countless items, get the lights you packed last year in a place that would be easy to find.
3. Get new cool ladder, which you purchased earlier this year on sale, with this day in mind.
4. With lightning speed and cat-like precision, begin clipping the lights onto the gutter, amazed at your efficiency.
5. Stop to wonder how that tree branch, which was never in your way before, grew so much since last December.
6. Carefully dodge the ants that are living in the tree branch that grew so much since last December.
7. After noticing the wasps flying around the tree that grew so much since last December, make a strategic decision to leave those few lights unclipped to the gutter for now.
8. Finish clipping the rest of the lights to the gutter, and hurry back to the tree, where, in a life-threatening move, you quickly install the remaining lights into their clips and attach to the gutter. All the while, keeping an eye out for the wasps.
9. Happily notice that the lights you intended to hang in the tree that grew so much since last December are actually STILL IN the tree that grew so much since last December, having never been removed last year.
10. Move on to the other, smaller tree, and install its lights, taking a moment afterwards to brush the ants away from your clothing.
11. Go back to the garage to look for the special extension cord you bought last year specifically for the purpose of plugging in the ant-filled tree lights.
12. Go to Lowe’s and purchase a new extension cord for plugging in the ant-filled tree lights.
13. Look up at the house to admire your work.
14. While looking up at the house, take note of 7 lights that are not working. Climb up and down the cool new ladder several times to tighten the bulbs, which solves the problem for all but one light.
15. Go to the last nonfunctional light, and twist it a few times. Notice with amazement how all the lights go out when you accidentally break the bulb, leaving part of it in the socket.
16. Decide that since you never liked that particular string of lights anyway, you’ll find different ones in the garage.
17. Move boxes out of the garage rafters, eventually finding other lights you like better – along with last year’s extension cord.
18. Begin attempting to install newly found lights onto the house, only to discover you need more of those plastic light clip things. Return to Lowe’s, purchase them, and return home.
19. Begin the process of installing plastic light clip things onto newly-chosen lights. Soon realize there aren’t enough light clip things.
20. Make a decision to return to Lowe’s tomorrow, and then warm up leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, content that you’ve nearly finished a 30-minute job in just under 4 hours.
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Fun Signs From the Bus

In Uganda, we spend much of our two weeks on a bus, for hours at a time. Everything we do is far away, but if you want to get in there and help people in some of those out-of-the-way places, there’s no other way. Your butt will become good friends with our bus.

For today’s short and fun blog post, here are a few photos taken of Ugandan signs, from the bus with my iPhone. That means they’re not the best quality, because usually we were moving (at least a little bit). But here they are, with explanatory commentary gladly provided…

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Milk for your baby, presumably quite pure.

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I saw this billboard all over the place. This guy is really, really happy about his data plan.

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Not happy with your job? Maybe you need to change to Panda Copy Paper.

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Trespassers will be persecuted. Not prosecuted, because that’s all legal and boring. Our trespassers will be poked and prodded and hassled to death.

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Jeez. I’m not ready either.

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“Divert” means the same thing as “detour” here in the U.S. But something about the “divert” sign, and the little girl sitting by it, caught my attention. Too many people are diverting their attention away from these kids.

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Winding Down at Acholi Quarter

The Acholi Quarter is a neighborhood in Kampala, where around 11,000 people from the Acholi tribe live. Or maybe more accurately, where they’ve ended up. After a few decades of atrocities from Joseph Kony and others in Sudan and Northern Uganda, 11,000 Acholi people are living in one of the world’s worst slums in Uganda, or anywhere in the world.

Today I spent most of the day in the Acholi Quarter with a Loving One by One team, providing deworming treatment for over 800 kids, and then full medical care for nearly 700 adults and children. It was a long, but necessary day.

Words and photos don’t describe the place. You have to walk through it, and smell it. You have to have random Acholi children come and grab your hand, even though they don’t know you. You have to see a girl named Winnie, whose legs were severely bowed a few years ago and who basically dragged herself along rather than actually walking. After some surgeries Loving One by One provided, Winnie was playing jumprope today with other kids.

The place is horrible and beautiful at the same time. It’s horrible because it’s filled with thousands of people who have little to no chance of any better life. Those old enough to remember witnessed entire families slaughtered in front of them. They’ve now settled into an area of safety in Kampala, not so much because they’ve been welcomed but because they’ve been reluctantly accepted. Most people from southern Uganda don’t like people from northern Uganda; actually, hate is a more accurate word. Apparently the Acholi Tribe isn’t one of the cool tribes in Uganda. So they live there in the Acholi Quarter, next to sewers with diseases like malaria and typhoid running rampant, and there’s a chance most of them will live the rest of their lives that way.

Unless, developers come in and level most of the tiny homes to build whatever they’ve decided to build. That’s a good possibility. If that happens, most of the Acholi people will discover the one thing that’s actually worse than living in the Acholi Quarter – and that’s having no place to live at all.

I said it’s beautiful as well as horrible. The beautiful part is seeing the change in health as Loving One by One (and other organizations) have taken an interest in the Acholi Quarter. We’re here every six months, providing free medical care. In Uganda, that’s a huge deal. We’ve been able to provide education to some of the Acholi children. It’s a seemingly hopeless place, but somehow hope is coming alive here. We don’t know how long the neighborhood will be here, because at some point the land will likely be taken over by developers. But for now, it’s one of our neighborhoods and these are our friends, and we’re not leaving them.

Today, the Acholi Quarter was our last big project for this summer’s Loving One by One Team One (go Team One!!!). We have a few easier days ahead, and most of us are out of here and back to the U.S. on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Acholi Quarter was the perfect place to begin to wind down our time here – everything about it reminds me of  why I keep coming back to Uganda.

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Reading Glasses and Teenage Moms

IMG_1909Today in Uganda (July 4, 2017) we held another medical clinic, this time at a small village church about 45 minutes from where we’re staying. As usual, I worked in optometry – which means, I gave reading glasses to people.

For some reason, on these teams people associate me with reading glasses, and that’s actually my favorite thing to do in our medical clinics. I’ve worked in the pharmacy department before, but the pace is too fast for me. And I’ve worked in crowd control, trying to keep people moving into the right areas, but I think the Ugandans have figured out by now that I’m just not all that intimidating. I could try working in vitals I guess, but that seems kind of important (i.e., “vital”) and therefore scary. I’ve done de-worming, which is about as attractive as it sounds (HA – actually it’s not that bad). Anyway, I’m usually in reading glasses, hanging out with mostly older Ugandan women. Not a bad way to spend a day.

Today there were two new Loving One by One team members working with me; first-timers if you will. Of course they were rock stars at the glasses thing – one, because they’re both amazing people, and two, it’s not that complicated. That’s why I do it all the time. New team people are fun because they ask a lot of questions, similar to the questions I had when I first came to Uganda in 2011. One of the questions today had to do with a 15-year-old girl, who happened to also be a mother with her baby – “Do a lot of 15-year-old girls here have babies?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Teenage girls in Uganda are in a really hard position. Chances are they’re not in school, or if they’re in school for any length of time, chances are they won’t finish school because the families probably won’t be able to pay for it. Which makes them more susceptible to making choices to become sexually active very early. Of course, rape is fairly rampant throughout Uganda as well. So – yes, a lot of 15-year-old girls have babies.

So this particular 15-year-old girl along with her baby came to the glasses area, asking for reading glasses. Because reading glasses are a bit of work to get over here, and because we want to do our best to get them into the hands, uh, I mean eyes, of the right people, we have a general rule that we don’t give reading glasses to anyone under 40. You wouldn’t believe how many kids come up to us asking for reading glasses (“Doctor!!! My eyes are paining me!!!). But we try to keep that rule. Most people under 40 don’t really need them, although admittedly yes, some will. But most younger people who ask for glasses fall into a few categories – 1) they have another optical problem, which reading glasses won’t solve, or 2) they think the reading glasses look cool and they want to look cool, or 3) they want to take the glasses and try to sell them elsewhere. Most likely, the reason is #3.

Hang with me here. I’m trying to tie all this together. So why would a teenage mom want reading glasses? My guess would be another optical problem – probably nearsightedness, which comes at any age; it came to me around 12 years old. I’m sure kids in Uganda need glasses for the same reasons kids in America need them. So maybe this teenage mom just needed normal glasses, which unfortunately we’re not equipped to prescribe and provide.

I’ve gotten used to so many quirky things here – including people under 40 asking for reading glasses – that I don’t think about it that much anymore. But for some reason, this girl wanting glasses was hard to let go of. I think it’s because more than anything, this girl has had a really hard time, and sees nothing but hard times ahead for many years, and she just wanted a break of some kind.

I hope she somehow finds a way to get real glasses, if that’s what she needs. More than that, I hope she finds a way to be the best mom ever in Uganda, and through the help of our organization and others, to turn things around for herself and her baby.

Sorry this blog post has been a little heavier than most of them. However, please enjoy this photo of some of our reading glasses, with cows in the background, who also aren’t allowed to have them if they’re under 40.

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Grinding It Out In Kiwenda

Today (July 1) was our 2nd neighborhood medical clinic, and we held it next door to the place where we’re all staying – New Creation School. New Creation School is part of an area Loving One By One owns/operates, and the entire complex is called Graceland. No, Elvis isn’t here. That’s a different Graceland. So, we’re staying in our houses at Graceland, and we set up our neighborhood medical clinic at our school at Graceland.

So, as for today – look at the above left photo. The line was like that ALL DAY LONG. Our preliminary numbers were just under 900 patients, though it felt bigger than that. Of those patients, 157 people, mostly children, tested positive for malaria. Several people were hospitalized or sent for further medical evaluation. One woman was on a stretcher, because she broke her back several years ago, and was told she was fine using a wheelchair – nothing was ever actually done for her back.

Today, here on my fourth trip with Loving One by One, I felt proud and overwhelmed at the same time. Proud, because on my first trip in 2011 this place we were working today was just a bunch of wild, undeveloped land we had just purchased. Today there are three houses and a school, as well as a permanent medical clinic under construction, hopefully opening later this year or early next year. I was proud that we could provide free medical care for all those people, including malaria treatment for so many children; malaria is the number one killer of children in Uganda. I was proud that 90 people can see better because of the reading glasses so many of you continue to donate each year. I was proud that 35 people could come together thousands of miles from their homes, and run like a well oiled machine.

But it was also overwhelming, because some days it seems the more needs we meet, the more we find. The 800-something people we helped are just a drop in the bucket in our community, a community full of all kinds of preventable/treatable illnesses.

So we’re in the right place, doing the right things. It’s just going to take a long time.

**Photos: left- the never-ending crowd. Right – another wife possibility for me.

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Their Work and Our Work

Today (Wednesday June 28) was our first day in Uganda, or maybe the second day if you don’t count the travel day as a day. Anyway, today was the first day we woke up here and had a somewhat normal day.

There are a lot of things we do here at Loving One by One, but one way to categorize it is doing “our work,” vs doing “other people’s work.” Today we did other people’s work, taking our team members to visit the Akiba House, a home for kids with various kinds of cancer. I’m sure I’ve written about this place before on the blog, but in a nutshell, if you have a kid with cancer (far too common in Uganda), you can stay at this place FREE while your kid has treatment at the nearby hospital. If you can’t afford treatment, Akiba House pays for that as well.

There were 17 kids at the house today, all in various stages with various cancer. We saw a girl LOBO has been working with for several months, whose name is Grace, and Grace’s condition was incredibly good. I had been following her photos on Facebook for several months, and she has gone from having a tumor almost completely covering her face, to the tumor about 75% gone.

Unfortunately, there was also an 11-year-old boy named Latif, who was struggling with Stage Four of whichever cancer he has. His tumor is about the size of a football, and this is a pretty small kid. Sorry about the graphic photo – but this is Uganda, and this is what a lot of children are dealing with. Thankfully, the Akiba House is here, and they’ve made life better for hundreds of children and their families. I highly recommend checking them out – they are an organization worthy of your support.

Now as for “our work” –

Tomorrow (Thursday) we’ll do our first medical clinic, in the Sudanese Slums. Not that that’s the official name of it – it’s just a horrible neighborhood where refugees from Sudan live. It’s one of the poorest areas in Uganda – although that description will match just about every neighborhood where we will work in the next two weeks.

So tomorrow evening, internet willing, I’ll have a report on the Sudanese Slum stuff. Happy Thursday! Or Wednesday night!

**Below right – Latif.  Below right – Kevin, a new boy at Akiba House. Not sure of his diagnosis or prognosis yet. That white object is a tumor.

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