Thursday, September 6, 2012

Finding Community in Struggles

I wrote this post about a month ago, and forgot to post it, but here it is now.

Today I saw the most beautiful expression of love and community in the midst of a tragedy.

When I was walking to school today, late in the morning because I didn’t have any morning classes to teach, I ran into three of the teachers walking towards me. Now, I was really confused as to why they were walking in my direction, since it was away from school, when they greeted me with, “Good morning, Teacher Ann (nickname… obviously Ann right?). We have some bad news. The husband to Madam Salaama has died.” So, as I went, I also changed my trajectory and turned towards Madam Salaama’s house. This is the common, expected reaction from someone in Uganda. Or at least in Busoga region (my region). When you find out that someone has lost a family member, you drop everything and go and visit. It doesn’t matter if that person is your best friend or just someone you know, you go and visit. So, as we walked to her house, the sounds of wailing were greeting us. As we drew nearer, the mournful howling just grew louder. Here, when someone dies, you wail. You don’t just cry, it’s the all-out throwing of the body, screaming, gnashing of teeth wailing.

When we finally reached the house and entered inside, we found many of the teachers already there. As we each went to give Madam condolences, she gripped us each in turn, searching for the strength she needed in our eyes and handshake. The other teachers quietly greeted us as we joined the ranks, sitting on chairs, stools, tables, and the floor. Very soon, the entire small room was packed full of people, headmasters from different schools, teachers, friends, neighbors, church-goers; everyone around. People who all walked in and told about how they had heard, and had dropped everything to come and make sure she was ok.

She received a call that her family from the north was going to come for the burial, and with that, it brought her a whole new wave of grief. But it made the teachers spring into action. Up until now, the general consensus is that of the Holy Cross schools, St. Jude’s has the least amount of staff unity and has a stubborn staff who doesn’t work together. But oh wow, did that change. Immediately, everyone was carrying things out of the room, and the whole house, working together to make as much space as possible for the many many guests who would be visiting the house in the next few days. We carried, swept, dusted and cleaned, without really a word being said, as Madam continued to sit on the floor, fighting with the news.

After preparing the house very well, we continued to sit with her, accompanying her in her grief. About three hours later, a few of the teachers who had left brought back the students who had come to school that day. As the maybe 50 elementary aged kids filed into the room, they filled up all the remaining possible space (I didn’t even think there was any) and proceeded to sing song after song about God’s love and having strength, songs of grief and songs of hope. It was eerily, sadly beautiful… the sounds of the wailing coming from the hill as more people came to check on Madam Salaama against the rising sounds of 50 children’s voices singing out to bring strength and love. We stayed with her late into the evening, as more people came and went, and people came back with everything they needed for sleeping, to stay there, so as not to leave her alone in her grief while he was still not buried. People did not complain, did not question, did not bat an eyelash. They just did it. And you can tell that there was no resentment, no feeling of being holier than thou, simply a true expression of love and community, and everyone pulling together and doing their part to make sure their sister in Christ was going to be ok. Is there any more beautiful expression of love?

I hope this post finds you well… I’m giving thanks this day for all of you in my life.

Sending love from Uganda.


  1. Anna your words describe the event so richly. The Chaoine is such a powerful thing, I can't even imagine what it would have been like to be a part of it.

  2. ...we continued to sit.

    Yup that's what you do. You sit. It's the way people do that grief stuff. You sit. It looks like it solves nothing but it heals tons.

    Another lesson deeply learned in Africa. Three "s's" sitting, supporting, and singing. It's the mapquest directions for sending a soul to heaven.

    Growing in this love is never easy and usually substantive.