Well this is it. I'm actually posting this blog from my tablet. I know that doesn't sound impressive to you but to me, let's just say it took a bit of courage. Okay, not scary courage but courage to try something I have never done before. I am not a computer person and strangely enough I have a fear that many things I try on my computer are going to end in disastrous results. Wrong photos, weird links posted, really strange words appearing because of spell check. You get the picture.
So I Googled what app I needed to be able to edit my blogs on my Weebly website, downloaded it and then took the little tutorial and Voila! I did it. Not a pro but with a little more practice ...
But this is the weird thing. When I tell people I'm going off somewhere like Africa they often say that I'm brave. That they wish they had the courage to go where I'm going. And I look at them and shake my head because to me there's nothing scary about going to Africa. A big adventure? Yes. Scary? No.
I guess I'm just saying that different things are scary to different people but we can't let our fears define us. Our world would be a very small place if we didn't step out of our comfort zone to enjoy the many adventures out there waiting for us.
Okay, enough preaching. Now I'm going to try to post a photo I took with my tablet. No big thing for you computer savvy people but to me, we'll ...
I'm heading off to Malawi for another adventure! And while I'm busy putting book #2 out and packing I'm starting to get a tad excited. It's going to be a busy two weeks of checking out everything from Childhood Development Centres, to crop irrigation programs to, yes, even solar powered borehole systems. Now I don't know if that excites you but it makes me very happy. We're going to see things that are making a BIG difference in peoples' lives. And that, my friend, is something to celebrate. So come along and join me. I'll be sending out blog posts along the way (depending on internet access of course) and sharing all kinds of wonderful stories and photos. If you can't physically come along, its the next best thing.
If I hear one more person tell me that life must be easy if you’re “just” a writer I’m going to force feed them all of my rejection letters. If they’re lacking fibre they won’t be after that meal.
Take my book, Bullets, Blood and Stones; journey of a child soldier, for example. Number of drafts: 10 and counting; number of queries sent out: 40 and more; number of rejections: unknown but enough that I am now numb and the words, “We’re sorry to inform you but ...” now play like a broken record in my mind.
If it wasn’t for the adventure of it all I think I would have quit long ago.
Yes, you read it right, writing is an adventure.
And it all began in 1996. My sister and I were on a long trip, not an exciting one, but what’s happening as we're driving was daring and mind wrenching. We’re asking each other “what if” questions and my question is making her think: You have five magical stones. Each stone can transport a person of your choice to a place and a time that will transform this person into a better human being. What five people would you choose and where would you send them?
My sister is thinking. Really thinking because she’s actually quiet and that doesn’t happen very often. “Hitler,” she says, then adds, “Stalin, Kim Jong-un and al-Bashir and ...” Well, to make a long story short, I was inspired. Inspired to write a story about the man I thought was in dire need of a stone: Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, abductor of over 60,000 children in Uganda. Child soldier recruiter. All around nasty, horrid dude.
And this inspiration led to a trip to Uganda and then another. Trips that involved interviews with the most wonderful and endearing people I have ever met: former child soldiers who told me of an evil world created by an insane rebel leader, their escapes and their incessant desire to move forward and create a wonderful loving world for themselves and their children.
And this led to completing a book and another and another.
I know I reached my final destination when one day, after reading an excerpt from my book to a grade 7 and 8 class, a student said those words I had been waiting to hear. “I hate you Mrs. White. I hate you for showing me a cruel world that I can’t do anything to change.” To which I replied, “But you’re wrong dear. You can change the world.” And I showed her sites where she could, even as a young teen, help a former child soldier. Where she could be part of the solution.
And that, my friend, is a great adventure. Come to think of it, the adventure hasn’t ended. Charlie’s story is still making people think and reach out to help. I am so glad to be a part of it.
If you wish to help a former child soldier receive medical attention, counselling, an education and reunited with his or her family visit the World Vision website here.
The one word that bests describes our visit with our sponsored child Petelina in Uganda is “surreal.”
When our truck pulled onto the pathway leading to Petelina’s homestead we were greeted by a group of women and girls waving huge white flags and singing. This was no ordinary singing. It was loud and full of energy, punctuated with undulations of joy as the women burst out with their traditional “Yi yi yi yi yi!” and waved their scarves around us. The music took hold of me and I joined in with the dancing as we made our way to the huts and the huge group of people that awaited us.
And there stood our little Petelina. Well, she wasn’t that little anymore. My husband and I had been sponsoring Petelina since she was six years old. She was now thirteen, almost as tall as me but as shy as any typical girl in Uganda would be when they met a couple of muzungus from Canada.
She took my hand and knelt down on the ground in the traditional Ugandan way of showing respect and servitude. I did the same.
Our day was spent chatting getting to know each other a little more. The letters we wrote over the years had provided some knowledge about her family and ours but nothing like a real face to face and hand-holding-hand conversation can provide.
I learned about Petelina’s family, her personality, her favourite food and games, and how, if you kiss her on the cheek her shyness disappears and a smile will appear on her face instantly.
Of course, we brought gifts: A lantern for her parents, stuffy toys for her younger brothers and sister, a soccer ball for her older brother and a box of nail polish for her oldest sister. Petelina’s eyes were huge as we placed a pack sack of school supplies and special gifts at her feet. As we pulled each item out of the bag her eyes widened and widened and her shyness returned. She looked at the ground then up at my husband and I and whispered, “Apwoyo.” I don’t think she had ever been the recipient of so many gifts in her life.
We ate a traditional Ugandan meal of greens, matoke, rice and goat meat, although the goat meat is not a regular part of the diet in that area and is usually reserved for only special occasions. And then we brought out the baseball bat, balls and gloves that Sportchek had donated to us and we played a game of baseball. First there were the instructions: how to hold a bat, how to hit the ball, how to catch the ball, how to run around the bases. We left the equipment with Petelina’s school with instructions for Petelina that she and her siblings would be in charge of teaching the entire school how to play this American/Canadian sport. She accepted the responsibility with a quiet nod and a small smile.
As we visited parts of Petelina’s community, her school, the clinic, one of the bore holes that was close to her home and met the people at World Vision who were overseeing the development of this Kamuda ADP I couldn’t help but feel a sense of, how shall I say it? Fulfillment? Contentment?
I knew that Petelina was in good hands. Her community was progressing very well. More schools had been built since I had visited the area back in 2008, before we had sponsored Petelina. The grass roof shelter that was once the clinic was replaced with a more permanent brick and cement building that also included a pharmacy. The programs that were created years ago to provide assistance for people with AIDS, provide vaccinations for children and improve the health and well being of the people in the community were doing very well. More bore holes had been drilled decreasing the time and travel women and children had to spend to obtain their water. Plows had been purchased and were going to be distributed once the rains came and the ground could be tilled for another growing season.
But what I think I noticed most in the community, something that was different from the time I was there seven years ago, was the “atmosphere”. I had witnessed the hopeful attitudes of the people as they set out to rebuild their farms and homestead with the seedlings and livestock they had received from World Vision in 2008 and that was a wonderful thing to see. But what I saw this time was something more. This time hope had been fulfilled and there was now the feeling of contentment, of people knowing that things were getting better and they were well on their way.
When we said good-bye to Petelina I was sad, of course. Who knew if I was going to be able to see her again. But after I hugged her and gave her a little kiss on the check and watched that shy smile form on her face, I knew that all was well for her. Petelina was going to make it. She was going to complete her schooling. She was going to work hard on becoming what she wanted to be. Whether she decided it was going to be a nurse or a teacher I knew that everything was in place to make that opportunity a reality. Not just something that could only be a dream.
I waved good-bye and walked back to our truck. And as I did the first rains of the season began to fall. The plows would be put to use soon and another season of growth would begin.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.