A Ugandan story- Pt 2

Cafe Watoto

As we turn off the paved road, we begin a slight climb on hardened combination of clay and stone. Deep ruts grab the tires, formed from the rains that make this such a fertile place. The bus rocks back and forth as we approach the gates. We zigzagged the last 1000 meters to the top of the hill. Concrete structures, all similar in size and design speckle the landscape under the night sky. The air is noticeably cooler and cleaner. This struck me in a profound way due to those that call this piece of land home.

Who were they? Who called this place home? Over 1,000 children who had been rescued from the poorest of neighborhoods, usually with no parent or family to call their own. If they did have a family, they were the forgotten and discarded ones (their Ugandan given name often reflected as much) left to work the fields or streets at ages when most first start school, their lives destined for the daily ache of desperation. It was a picture and reality I couldn’t even begin to understand. The cool, clean night air felt like the hand of God over them, as if he was saying, “Welcome home! You can breath now. You are safe. Find some rest here.”

I breathed deep.

The 36 hours of travel left me feeling as if I stepped from one reality into another; a different dimension. Any thought or concern I had back home seemed insignificant. The work here was real and critical. My life in the US was full of decisions that made life better or best. The decisions here, to identify and rescue children, did no less than put life back into a their eyes. I’ll write that again . . . Put LIFE back into their eyes!! Hope. Belonging. Safety. Let that sink in. To breath life back into a child that had already lost it before their life even barely began. The weight, wonder and gift to witness that redemption hit so deep.

All the thoughts swirled as we unloaded our bags. The reset button had been pushed.

Our guest house was clean and comfortable. Bars and heavy curtains covered the windows. Like many developing countries, the overhead light was bright and white. Warm lighting doesn’t seem to exist in these types of places. I always tend to notice as my wife and I gently argue about it weekly even when I’m at home. There’s no arguing you can’t see clearly under these though. That is for sure!

My roommates, Jordan and Jake, rolled their bags in and claimed the bottom bunks. Jordan is my height and doesn’t seem afraid of a challenge. He is built like an athlete and has a voice to match. Jake, a teacher turned musician, is quiet but has a deep well of knowledge-type-presence. You can tell their long time friends as their exchanges lack any awkwardness. I threw my bag on the top bunk happy to be further from the floor just in case there were “interesting” bugs here. Mosquito nets draped each side. I thought about my kiddos and how they’d love that I was sleeping in a fort of sorts. It had only been 2 days but I missed them. I knew that would be the hardest part of this trip.

Jordan and new bud
Jake

Brad had given strict instruction to not get any water in our mouths while showering or brushing teeth. You don’t quite realize how deeply automatic it is to use sink water when brushing teeth or opening your mouth in the shower until you’re in process. As I washed the grime of travel from my body, I smirked as the muscles in my face grew tired from how tightly I had my lips pursed. You’d think the water was deadly as fentanyl the way I wouldn’t let a drop get through.

The air was still and wet as I dried off. I’d be shocked if my towel ever truly dried, I thought as I hung it on the bed post. I crawled into bed and lay on my back, interlocking my fingers behind my head. My mind was saying it was 3 pm but it was 10 pm here. I tossed and turned as a couple hours passed. Just as I was fading into sleep, I heard a gentle knock on our main door. I waited but then heard it again. I jumped down from the bed and saw 3 teens holding a fan! I quickly welcomed them in as this would change the comfort level for sure. They flipped on lights and spoke as if it was noon not midnight. They insisted that they set up the fan in the bedroom. I was speaking in hushed tones but that passive message seemed lost on them. They entered our bedroom and flipped on the bright LED lights seemingly unaware of the guys in deep sleep from travel.

As they left, and the dull whir of the fan oscillating back and forth lulled me to sleep, I smiled in anticipation of the weeks ahead.

— — — — — — — — — —

I wrestled my way through some hours of sleep. Nothing deep but I felt rested as I checked my watch. It read 6:30 a.m. I was relieved that jet lag hadn’t propped my eyes open at 2–3 am which is what I was planning for. I swung my feet over the side of the bunk and quietly let myself down. Light streamed through the cracks in the curtain. I slid on my shoes and stepped outside. A cool morning mist covered the hillside. The view was far better than I had anticipated when arriving the night before. On all sides you could see the country side of Uganda for miles and miles. It’s a fertile place so green and lush is in no short supply. What a place to call home for the next two weeks!

I began walking up the path to our “cafe” that the village had created for all of us coffee junkie Americans. A soccer field was to the left. Worn goals with no nets stood like sentries on each end. The field was rough and overgrown. Patches of dirt were mixed with more weeds than grass. But I knew this field would be THE place in the afternoons for the children. They didn’t care about manicured fields here; just give them A field. That was enough. There’s a purity in their contentedness that those in America lack.

The 5 minute walk to the cafe is through the many concrete and clay brick educational buildings. Each brick is handmade locally if not on site. They look precise in form and function. No one looks different from the next. I walk through the hallways and imagine the laughter and voices that will soon fill each room. I pass a young man and he smiles. His accent is thick as we exchange morning greetings. I can see an inquisitive look in his eye wondering why I am there.

I get a text from Brad, “You have customers waiting!” No rest for the provider of coffee! I pick up the pace as I know tired eyes will need more than one cup of the goodness. Three steps lead up to the cafe room. Hand stitched art sits on the walls. A high, hand made table is directly in the center with a gleaming espresso machine on top. A colorful painting frames my custom bar.

Brad had spared no expense in lining up all the coffee equipment for this trip. It would all stay for their culinary school but we all knew quantity and quality displayed was due to mostly to his love of coffee. There wasn’t one complaint the whole trip from anyone about his decision. His eyes grew big as I entered the room, “Sean!!! An americano please bud!!” It was as if we stepped back in time 12 years.

Brad wasn’t a coffee fan in the least until we met in Washington, D.C. over a decade ago. He and Rebekah were some of my first customers on my coffee journey. I reveled in the thought that I was the slow burn catalyst for this part of the trip. Who knew our relationship would lead to this when I first served him and asked that he taste it first before adding cream and sugar. Love can be expressed in many ways, and I felt it coming through as I handed him the first Americano here at Cafe Watoto.

Requests started coming from all directions. I hadn’t worked a bar in quite some time due to having employees. But the muscle memory is quick and I slid back into form with ease. The sound of steam and the click and clack of the grinder dosing espresso relaxed me as I worked feverishly. I remembered why I loved the process so much. The warmth of space coffee creates just filled the room. Whether in FL, NC or here in Suubi village, the community grounding a coffee shop provides is transcendent. If this was my only role in the trip, I gladly embraced it.

Welcome to Cafe Watoto! How are you doing today? What can I get for you?

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I create space and experience…. and write a bit.

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