Today we arrived at the deaf school in Mbale, Uganda, where we put James, the ten year-old deaf boy we rescued from the islands. It was an interesting visit. James has become very familiar with his new home and was off playing when we arrived. You may remember that this boy had never been in a classroom or had any language to speak of except pointing and gesturing until we brought him off the isolated island in Lake Victoria where he has been living among his clan as a virtual orphan. We escorted James to the Makhai Primary School just in June of this year. So he’s now had four months of schooling, and we needed to see how he was progressing.

Sitting at Catherine's house, talking about James and his progress.

Sitting at Catherine’s house, talking about James and his progress.

You may also remember that James has lived “on his own” most of his life with no one to love him and has ranged freely as he chose for five years. So this habit of ranging freely is still very much in control, though he has a loving teacher who has “adopted” him so that he always comes home to her and her small family of three other children who live at the school. This wandering has caused much trouble with the neighbors and with the school. His teacher-mother, Catherine, told us today that once when he had a strong disagreement with another deaf child in the dormitory, he left in the night. He was finally found considerably up the highway asleep on the porch of a storefront. This, actually, is quite normal for James, while horrifying to the rest of us.

Today the other deaf children went to tell him we had arrived to visit him – me, his musungu father and Alfred his Ugandan father. But when he saw them coming, he eluded them because he wanted to continue playing. Finally, Catherine had to go and find him, and thirty minutes later, they arrived at the door of her small home in the teachers’ compound. She has dressed him in a very bright fuchsia shirt on his casual days out of uniform (today was Saturday), so that she can easily find him from the distance. Such is the nature his continual wandering far afield.

Alfred checks James for insect infections which he was covered with when we rescued him in June - he had been sleeping outside. No problems this time!

Alfred checks James for insect infections which he was covered with when we rescued him in June – he had been sleeping outside. No problems this time!

He was pleased to see us, though he was very shy of my wife Gail, whom he has not met before. He showed Alfred his feet, free of infections, and his new burn scar on his shoulder from a hot tea spill. He proudly showed me his study books where he or a helper has drawn various pictures (airplane, bus, car, etc.), and he has learned the signs for these words. He would show me the picture then demonstrate the sign. It is uncanny how he knows that Alfred cares after his physical condition, while I focus on his mental and emotional health.

I’m not sure that the fact that he is deaf and we are not has yet penetrated his worldview. He signed to us freely, and probably wondered why we did not sign back to him. Sadly, Gail, who knows how to sign, tried to sign to him, but he would not respond much because he doesn’t know her. There are many reasons such a boy would not quickly trust a stranger.

But did you hear what I said? He is signing, carrying on conversations, expressing things he has never been able to express before, both sending and receiving actual language! He has grown rapidly in this area and again has shown us how intelligent he is.

When we first found him, he had a serious challenge sharing anything with other children – he was very territorial

and protective of anything that could remotely be considered something of his own. But today, I brought him red licorice twizzlers, and without prompting of any kind, he called his friends and shared out his twizzlers among them, making sure even the smallest of those present had one to herself. This change in his behavior was very gratifying to witness.

James reaches back to grip my hand during photo opp.with his deaf teacher - a significant change of touch boundaries between us.

James reaches back to grip my hand during photo opp.with his deaf teacher – a significant change of touch boundaries between us.

Before James arrived, I asked Catherine why she was willing to help James so much – frankly, I was blunt because I wanted to hear her motives for taking on a handful like James. She is a recent widow with three children of her own, one who cannot be more than three years old. She said that James is an orphan like she was, and she can’t bear to think of him not having any mother to love him. She said in her extended family in the village and among her own children, James is already considered to be one of the family members – a brother, in fact. The sacrifice this demonstrates is more than most of us can even imagine.

When we left, James became sullen and stubborn, not wanting us to leave. Gail phrased it well when she noted that James does not do “good-byes.” I think of the baggage he carries about good-byes – his mother first at age five, then his father two years later. I think of our visit to the island this trip and how we were there for seven days teaching the leaders, and how his uncles, who have loosely been his clan care-givers for the last few years, sat in my classes, and how in that week not a single one of them asked after James or mentioned him in any way. As we pulled away in the car, fighting back the tears again as we did last June when we first brought him to the school that would become his new home, we waved to him. He stood alone, away from the other children, unwilling to be comforted in this moment of

James struggles with our good-bye; Catherine tries to comfort him.

James struggles with our good-bye; Catherine tries to comfort him.

loss even by Catherine, pulling away angrily from her touch.

And then hope rose in me. He gave a small wave to us. It was not much, but it was the first good-bye from James, a boy who is slowly, painfully finding his heart under layers of callouses and scar tissue.

[If you want to catch up on the previous stories about James, type “James” into the search feature at the top of the page.]

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