My New Daughters – by Nate Agrimson
I have always loved traveling, I felt as though I was a seasoned traveler throughout my high-school, college and married years. Never though had I thought that traveling to Africa on a regular basis would be a priority and something I would look forward to and give anything to do!
It was August, 2012 and I had just landed in Entebbe, Uganda. I didn’t know what to expect. My family and I had been sponsoring 2 girls from Bukedea, a district in Uganda and I was about to meet them. I had pictures from who knows when and knew that they were about the ages of my own daughters who at the time where 5 and 6. The initial welcome to the CarePoint was amazing, singing and dancing, everything you expect yet unbelievably overwhelming! I spent the first day just trying to take it all. I sought out the care taker Richard and the social worker Berna to see if they could find Winnie and Lucy, the girls that we sponsor and introduce me to them. At a CarePoint with 150+ kids it took a few minutes but as I stood there, soon 2 of the most beautiful young ladies walked shyly up, Icela Lucy and Aluka Winnie. Berna, the social worker said something profound that I have not since forgot, she said “your family has grown by 2 and now you have 4 daughters”, she could not be more right! I spent the next few days trying to get to know Winnie and Lucy as best I could with a significant language barrier. I quickly found out that the best way I could show them love was to just spend quality time with them.
Over the next couple days I was able to visit both Winnie and Lucy’s homes, to see where they sleep and meet their families. The first place I visited was Winnie’s home. In a nutshell I was stunned, there were 3 huts, 1 mother (her name is Lynn) 6 kids and 1 of the huts was a kitchen. There were 2 disgusting foam mattresses that all 6 kids shared in 1 hut that no one in America would have anything to do with. I found out the Winnie’s dad had died from sickness and that her mother was sick as well. I saw that the hut that the kids slept in had a grass roof that had holes in it, which allowed water to leak in when it rained. They had only a small amount of land that Lynn cultivated for food as well as other people’s land to provide for the family. I left Winnie’s home with a heavy heart that ached for her situation and wondered what more I could do. As I left Winnie’s home Lynn gave me a straw broom that they had made special for me that I still have today.
The next day I was able to visit Lucy’s home, it was a completely different experience. While Winnie’s home was just a short distance from the CarePoint and her school, Lucy lives at least a few miles away, which she walks every day. Lucy had a father who passed away 3 years prior and was 1 of 7 kids. Her mother actually had 12 but 5 had died. Lucy was a little older and knew a little bit of English so I felt as though I had already formed a little relationship with her. I had brought a picture book of my family to show her while I was at her home. We sat in her little village (group of huts that her family owned) and went through them. I told her about my daughters Raegan and Makenna, showed her pictures of Colorado and snow (she had never seen it before). There ended up being about 10-15 people there from surrounding villages that showed up. As I left Lucy’s house they gave me a live chicken. Now I am from Iowa but had never handled a live chicken before, which was clear as I held it and it bit me on the hand while everyone in the village laughed.
At each home I was able to show both Winnie and Lucy a photo album that my wife and daughters had made for each of them. It was an amazing experience to show them and tell them about my daughters who were basically their same age and show them pictures of our family. I think it made the most impact on each girl’s mothers as they saw that I had girls and families just like they did. The best part of my time in Bukedea was towards the end when everyone got into a huge circle and were singing songs. Winnie and Lucy were standing next to each other so I squeezed myself between them and held their hands and gave them little squeezes just to let them know that our family in Colorado, half a world away loved them.
Fast forward 2 years to July 2014. My wife had gone to Africa in 2013 to visit Winnie and Lucy and came back with pictures, stories and the works. I knew it was my turn to go back to Africa to visit but was apprehensive, I mean I was “busy doing stuff”! I had a business to run, kids to take care of and probably 30 thousand home projects to work on. However, Mrs. A reminded me that we committed to Africa and the beautiful girls we sponsored there. Good times, bad times regardless we wanted to show those girls that our family loved them and be an example to our daughters. (It’s so annoying when she is right!). I mean why are we here? To love the least of these, the widows and orphans, it is what we are called to do and I needed to be reminded of that. Mere minutes later the tickets were purchased and there was no turning back, I was heading back to Africa to see Winnie and Lucy.
The next thing I knew I was in a 10+ seat mini bus thing driving over bumpy roads on the way to the Bukedea CarePoint. The only thing I remember after getting to the CarePoint is walking towards the building with kids singing and dancing. The whole group stopped and as the sound of children’s singing voices filled the air, my eyes scanned the group and I saw Lucy. I made eye contact with her, smiled and waved. She locked eyes with me and immediately had a huge smile on her face. She broke through the crowd of kids, ran up to me and gave me a huge hug. I knew at that point that the money to fly to Africa, the 24 hours of travel and the bumpy roads were nothing. I would do it 100 times over again to see the joy on her face that I was there again. Soon after I found Winnie and gave her a huge hug as well. The first couple days in Bukedea I basically spent with Winnie and Lucy, honestly no one else really mattered. Winnie ended up walking around with me, holding my hand and laughing and giggling about I don’t know what but probably about me trying to learn her language aTeso. During the first day I also saw Winnie’s mom Lynn and asked her about Winnie. I don’t think she recognized me right away but throughout the day I talked to her multiple times and asked about Winnie and then she figured out who I was.
The more time I spent with Winnie and Lucy the more I got to know them and the more I grew to love them. Every time I turned around, Winnie was there looking at me, smiling, holding my hand and twisting my fingers together just like my daughter Makenna would do back home. We would sing songs and I would watch Lucy get into the music, singing and dancing. At one point she was teaching and showing the younger girls dance moves. My favorite part of day 2 was when we were leaving, I found Winnie and knelt down to shake her hand (that’s what they do in Uganda) and tell her I would see her tomorrow (amunyos moi) and instead of shaking my hand she gave me a huge hug! Again, that happiness, joy, hope, as Mastercard would say, priceless!
Over the next couple days I visited both Winnie and Lucy’s villages again. Both of the mothers knew me and remembered me and my wife Kristin from the prior years of visiting. At Lucy’s home, her mother came up and gave me a huge hug and was so happy that I had come back. As I sat once again with Lucy and showed her pictures of my family back in Colorado no one else mattered. There were probably 20+ people in the village but to me it was only myself and Lucy. I wanted her to see “us”, my wife and daughters. I wanted her to know who we were and how we think about her, pray for her and love her. It was awesome! Thankfully Lucy’s family must have remembered that I was scared of chickens or something as they gave me a pumpkin this time. It is so hard to accept gifts from these families as they have nearly nothing! Unfortunately it is unacceptable not to accept the gifts they give, it is a very humbling experience.
The best thing about Bukedea, Uganda is going there, the worst thing is leaving. On the last day in Bukedea we spent time with the kids and prepared for our departure. After signing, dancing, laughing and crying it was time. All the kids ended up forming this ginormous tunnel, kids on both sides. All the “visitas” would run through giving high fives with the kids trying to prevent us from running through. It was hilarious, fun and sad at the same time. After my run through I sought out Winnie and Lucy.
I saw Lucy first, I went up to her and playfully tapped her opposite shoulder so she would look the other way. She looked, but then realized what happened and turned around to face me with big beautiful brown eyes. I gave her a big hug, you know the one, not the “hey- good to see you” hug but the over under squeeze! As I held her I could tell she was crying, she whispered that she loved me. I told her that I loved her as well, as did Kristin, Raegan and Makenna and that we prayed for her all the time. It was one of the hardest goodbyes I have ever experienced.
Then I saw Winnie! Her frail little frame, gorgeous big brown eyes and smiling at me, my heart melted! I knelt down to give her a hug and as she hugged me back I could feel her little shoulders shaking. I told her that she was loved and as I pulled away she covered her face to hide her tears. I couldn’t help myself but to kneel down again and just hold her to let her know how I felt.
I jumped into the van as we rolled out, I looked out the window and saw Winnie and Lucy, standing together with their arms wrapped around each other. It was as if they had a bond or something that may or may not have been there before my family sponsored both of them. I could hardly keep it together as I waved to them, knowing that it would be a while before I see them again.
Two years ago Berna said that I had increased my family by 2, and now I had 4 daughters. Today I say that is absolutely true! I imagine 20 years down the road talking with Winnie and Lucy about their families, telling them about Raegan and Makenna and their families. My last remark about visiting Bukedea in 2014 is that Winnie and Lucy have my heart wrapped around their beautiful little fingers! I cannot wait to get back there and see my daughters from half a world away!