Picking up James and Faith from the director’s office before she knew she was coming with us – hence the sad look.

What an exhausting and interesting three days we have just finished. Exhausting because we are just a tad on the other side of the hill and have spent this time in the presence of the exuberant James and Faith, 12 and 8 years old respectively, and interesting because, you guessed it, ….James and Faith. These two deaf children have rarely been out of the village, and certainly never to a city as large as Kampala. We have learned some Ugandan sign language though. We can now say in perfect deaf Ugandan, “BUY ME THIS, NO BUY ME THIS, NO, WAIT, THIS, THIS AND THIS.”

In addition to these valuable insights, we have never, either one of us, ever witnessed a faster switch from, “This is the exact thing I want,” to receiving it, losing all interest in it, and demanding some other shiny or bright-colored object. At one point James insisted on receiving a “math set” which is a small metal box with a compass, etc. for math studies.  At his level he doesn’t have math (he is far behind his age group – see previous posts for his history) and doesn’t even know what math is, but knows a pretty box when he sees it. In fairness, it must have been astonishing to these children to witness the lavish excess that is available to any shopper in the city. We sought the fairer prices in the local outdoor market rather than in the stores, hoping that it might be a more familiar environment to them, but it seemed to me a bad case of Disneyland-itis for both of them even there.

A thoughtful James as he contemplates one of his drawings – he has become quite the artist.

Our values clashed horrendously as Gail and I sought quality shoes and clothes that might actually last them through our next visit in April, while they sought Minnie Mouse T’s with holes, or football shorts with small tears or split seams; we sought sneakers that would endure the hard labor of their rowdy recesses while they sought the used and recycled sneakers, painted with black spray-paint to hide the flaws, paint which will probably come off in the first sprinkle of rain the rainy season of which we are right now in!! I picked a wonderfully masculine pair of “air-” somethings in near-perfect condition and with cool spiffy colors for James, which any American kid would lo-o-ove  to have on their feet, but James would have nothing to do with them, gesturing emphatically by scissoring his hands back and forth and then a firm, double thumbs down – no, he had to have the old black spray-painted cast-offs across the street where they couldn’t even find a pair that fit him. I’m not going to admit to you who won that scrappy little brawl.

I can totally visualize him traipsing into class next Monday, leaving black-paint-run-off footprints behind him as it drizzles outside just about the same time as I am warming up my “Parenting” Conference in Soroti. (Note to my own children and grandchildren: No eye-rolling!). We managed to get them outfitted for the rest of this term, but I fear we will be back at it next trip. We returned them late today to their deaf school in Kavule outside of Mbale after some car-problem delays and an array of errands as we passed through Jinja on our return trip. Long day, tired old couple…’nuff said.

Faith in her Minnie Mouse T and her new dress underneath it. They both were desperately in need of new clothing and were down to basic school uniforms as their only remaining options.

Two sadder notes among all the hilarity of both children gesturing wildly and pointing from the middle of the rear car seat where they were firmly strapped in between Gail and me. Riotous gesturing broke out every time we passed anything remotely edible, any roadside shop with any kind of object that could be construed to be round like a soccer ball, or anything even distantly police-related (don’t understand that one, but I hope we are not unknowingly harboring a midget criminal hiding out from the law at the deaf school–I don’t think so, though: James is a very convincing twelve year old boy).

Sad note number one: The reason for our long trip of three days. We took the two children into the Kampala Audiology and Speech Center for a screening of their hearing levels, which neither child had ever had. Alfred and I had discovered that James could actually hear some higher range sounds when we were backing up the vehicle one time on Buvuma Island, and it was making that beeping noise – James was sitting there in the back seat saying very clearly, “Beep beep beep beep” right along with the car. We were, of course, stunned, and began to test him, and sure enough, there was some hearing there in the very high, loud range, which made us all hopeful that he might be a candidate for a hearing aid or implant device. I sat in the session with him and was encouraged to see him raise his hand repeatedly as the doctor played a variety of sounds into his headphones for his ears, and also through two different bone resonance tests. His tests, however, were negative for significant hearing of any kind. The doctor, who was extremely kind and professionally efficient by the way, told us that the best we could ever expect with a hearing aid is the possibility that he might be able to hear a loud car horn on the street or something of that nature.

James mugging with Faith in front of the Kampala Audiology and Speech Office in Kampala.

Faith was tested next and Gail sat in on that session. Faith also raised her hand repeatedly, but the doctor explained that all they were “hearing” were the vibrations from the sounds, not the sounds themselves, and even I could tell that when the same sound was applied at a lesser volume, James could not hear it. Unfortunately, Faith also could not be helped by a hearing aid. She told us that both children were now too old to develop speech because that part of the brain had atrophied from lack of usage, which our friend Michelle in the States had also told us would probably be the case.

Returning them to the Kavule School for the Deaf at the end of the journey. We sit and chat with the Director of the School, Samuel.

We were saddened by this news, but not surprised. The doctor strongly encouraged us to keep them in school, telling us that it would change both their lives if they had sign language and an education, and that this was the best gift we could give them.

Thank you all for praying for these two children, as I know many of you knew we were taking them in for screening. It is comforting to know that we have been led to the right track with James, and, now that Faith is also onboard, that she can also be redeemed from the very serious suffering that disabilities cause in Uganda’s poverty-laden society.

There is still a long road ahead of them – this adventure has again shown us what bright and eager children they both are. And, I must add, it was truly comforting to see how happy they were to return to the school and their safe, enclosed environment that they now consider their home, surrounded by their friends who have also become their family.

Part 2  and the second “sad note” in our next post.

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