Thursday, June 16, 2011

Saying Farewell

May brought some significant transitions to POH Bwaise: the older girls returned from boarding school, the drop-in center women graduated from their hair dressing course, and “auntie” Katie returned home to California. Having shared life with the girls since September, and seeing them through a number of challenges (a massive bead order before Christmas, bringing on new staff and and new girls, setting up sponsorships so that they could receive a good education at boarding school), it was hard to say goodbye. Until the last day I don’t think the girls could believe that she was actually leaving, but reality set in and they pulled off a smashing goodbye slumber party! Allow me to relay the evening (and dawn) of May 4th, 2011:

* The evening began just before dusk as Katie ducked and entered the POH compound through the small door in the gate. Whoops and hollars resounded as the girls pummeled her and collectively lifted her off her feet and carried her to the front porch.

* As the sun set we attempted to make no-bake peanut butter cookies over the charcoal stove without measuring cups and using the local odii (a paste made of ground nuts and sesame) as a substitute for peanut butter.

* A hysterical “news report” from our two budding house journalists started off the evening’s program, covering the recent political unrest in the city. They had us all laughing at their satire of the mayhem.

* Dancing in the turquoise enclave of the sitting room commmenced, which led into a time of prayer and singing and, of course, the power went out. Undettered, we continued by lantern light.

* Most would agree that the pinnacle of the evening was the “basi ceremony”, used in Laos as a symbolic way of saying goodbye. When someone in the community is leaving, everyone gathers and each person is given a string that they bring to the person and as they tie the string around that person’s wrist they share with them how they’ve touched their life. The person leaving then reciprocates, tying a piece of string around their friend’s wrist. It serves as a physical reminder of the time that was spent together. One can either keep the string on until it falls off, or if the time comes that they feel ready to let go, they can cut it. In our basi ceremony, Katie stood at one end of the sitting room and one by one the girls came forward to exchange their strands of colorful thread and words of love and affirmation. It was a heartfelt and tearful time, and hopefully it served to give each of them the opportunity to express their thoughts, be affirmed and begin to have closure with letting go of someone who has been so dear to them.

* At this point it was likely 10pm -- and if you’re Ugandan -- the preferable time to eat supper, and that we did. A classic meal of matooke, rice, beans and greens.

* I likely have the order of events wrong, but at some point there were some beautiful gifts given to Katie, namely a brilliant pair of beaded sandals

* The day closed with the girls hauling mattresses from all corners of the house into the sitting room to make one big cushy floor where we gathered for a movie with a giant sauce pan of freshly popped and salted popcorn.

* We slept.

* Uncertain if the scheduled ‘walk to work’ protests in town would escalate and trap Katie at the home, the wee morning light found us drinking milk tea and cassava and bidding her a tearful goodbye at the gate, before it got too late. Katie hopped on a boda, exchanging waves with the girls as she rode away. We will (and do) miss you Katie!

-Lindsey Whyte