Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Uganda: Godwin Ortega

Yesterday Katie and I met Ortega and Abramz, two of our new Ugandan friends, to open bank accounts at Barclay's. Abramz, as a refresher, is the founder of Breakdance for Social Change Uganda. For all you myspace junkies, you can find his site there. Ortega, who is 23, lives in Namuwongo - a slum neighborhood in Kampala. He is raising his two sisters - Makito, 11, and Judith, 7, all on his own. He brought the girls to the bank with us - Judith brought me her report card - she's 4th in her class of 45! You'll recall from past emails that Ortega was robbed during the conference. Some awesome American students got together to raise money to help Ortega out (please remind me again which of you donated money for Ortega), so we spent the morning with him and his sisters getting things situated at his place in Namuwongo. Yesterday was extremely difficult, as Ortega had not yet returned to his home (see photo left) following the robbery. We purchased a mattress that he'll share with his sisters, but when we arrived at his house, someone else had moved in and padlocked the door. Many of the plants that he cares for in jerry cans outside his home had been broken. It was extremely difficult to see his expression, but Ortega never ceases to amaze me in his strength. We took the girls out for chapati and milk tea at a local restaurant and agreed to meet the next morning to continue to sort things out.

Later on yesterday afternoon, Katie and I went to the breakdance class at Sharing Youth Centre in Nsambya, where tons of kids come out to learn breakdancing on the veranda. Every Monday and Wednesday, Abramz and others teach the youth as a goal for promoting peace and reconciliation - uniting Uganda. The class was great and the kids came from everywhere to learn - and they were so good! After an hour or so I decided to join in (believe it) and Abramz taught the crazy muzungo to do a "baby freeze." Yes, I actually balanced on my head. Katie took a picture - so you all can see it for yourselves. We also met another crazy muzungo - a Belgian freestyle rapper-cum-travel-agent named Wim.

If yesterday's experience with Ortega in Namuwongo was disheartening, today's was extremely redeeming. Today has been a very good day. I met Ortega in Namuwongo at 9 this morning. He'd been doing some work since we last talked yesterday. The best news to start with? He gets his house back on Friday. I am so sad I'll miss the homecoming when he and the girls move back in. The new tenant is being given three days to move elsewhere. He is thrilled (as am I). The next big piece of news - Ortega had to stop attending school back in 2003 for financial reasons (secondary school charges more expensive fees than primary). This morning I took him to his academy, met with the headmaster and paid his school fees. He starts classes on Monday! We also made arrangements to pay for Judith and Makito's fees, as they start school on Monday as well. After collecting the girls from playtime with their friends, the four of us picked up some swim costumes for the girls and headed out to Munyonyo, where we've been all day. They've never been swimming before and have been screaming with joy since they first saw the pool. They are like little fish and refuse to stop swimming. I have about a thousand pictures of their smiling faces.

A side note on the warmth of Ugandans - last year I met Gottfried - a young guy in Namuwongo who happens to be very tall and plays basketball. Of course I started talking about my brother and his bball skills. This morning I saw Gottfried - he had heard I was in the neighborhood and wanted to bring the gift he had for my brother - it's wrapped in silver paper with roses and a note - to joe, from africa. Joey's going to have tons of friends here before he even arrives.

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