Well, you all loved my husband's post last week so I'm sorry to say you're stuck with me again.:) Don't worry...I'll post more from him soon. I don't know if you are sick of hearing my Africa stories and revelations yet but I still have more to share so I'm just going to do it. We saw so much and had so many amazing and heartbreaking encounters that I continue to think of things I want to process here.
We were driving back to the guest house on our last night in Soroti and Joseph, HopeChest's Uganda Country Director, wanted us to pull off on the side of the road so we could see a rock quarry. It was getting close to dusk and every night it was important that we be back at our guest home safe and sound before dark for safety reasons. Because of the late hour Joseph said that we could get off the bus at the quarry for 5 minutes and that was all the time we had because we needed to get back.
We pulled up to the quarry and here's what I saw...
There were children and women all over the place...sitting in the gravel and walking barefoot on the sharp rocks. This was their life every day. Mothers and grandmothers brought their children and grandchildren with them to the quarry so they could break up large pieces of rock to make money. In some of the pictures above you can see yellow buckets with broken up rock in them - it would take a strong, healthy woman all day to fill up one of those buckets. She would in turn sell it for approximately 80 cents to people who want to use the gravel to make the roads in Uganda. 80 CENTS a day for hard, tiring work. Can you imagine??? Can you imagine the desperation of a woman who has to feed her children and this is her only option? The women bring their older children to the quarry to care for the younger kids (like you see in the picture of the girl with the baby on her back). This means that they don't go to school and won't get an education.
I can't really describe the rock quarry to you and the pictures don't capture it all. It was a dark, dirty, hot, depressing sea of gray rock. I couldn't get over the number of little kids that kept popping out from behind rocks. I couldn't believe that this was what they had to look forward to everyday. Some of the older kids (maybe 6 and up) would help their moms by carrying over the larger rocks for her to break up. I just kept thinking...what if this was my six year old hanging out here all day, breathing in the gravel dust? Can I blame these women for bringing their kids there everyday? Absolutely not. If my choice was to break rocks for 80 cents a day so I could purchase a little food for my children or watch them go hungry I'd be breaking rock too. Did you notice in one of those pictures that the woman's feet are red and bloody? Can you imagine walking on those hot, sharp rocks every day? What these women were doing for their children and likely children who were not even their own was amazing. There was no complaining. They just sat there and pounded away with their pitiful little tools trying to break the rock. It made me want to weep. It was heart breaking.
All we had left at this point on the bus were Dum Dum suckers so we pulled them out and gave them to the kids. I wish I had a picture of their faces eating those suckers...they were precious. I later found out from one of the women traveling with us that those suckers were probably the only "sweet treat" they'd ever had in their life. Their faces just lit up. How sad...a Dum Dum sucker that my kids would think was no big deal was probably the highlight of their month.
Five minutes certainly did not feel like adequate time to talk with the women and children but it was all we had. We got back on the bus to head home. My heart was heavy over what I had seen as I sank down into my seat. The bus lurched and then died. It wouldn't start. I wasn't worried at first but then I saw how concerned Joseph was about it and realized that this could be bad. All week Joseph had been so insistent about us being safe and sound at our guest house before dark and here we were with a huge African thunderstorm brewing, out in the middle of nowhere with the sun going down and a bus that was going nowhere.
The children all gathered around the bus once they realized that we weren't leaving after all. We had our windows down and were talking to them and watching them enjoy their suckers while the guys worked on the bus. About five minutes into all this I started to actually get scared. I was picturing us stuck at this rock quarry all night in a storm...totally susceptible to whatever or whoever.
I turned around in my seat to one of the guys traveling with us. Somehow he had managed to have internet on his iphone all week. I asked him if maybe he could ask people to pray for us - that the bus would start and we would be kept safe. I'll never EVER forget what he said so kindly and gently. He looked at me and said "I think I'd rather ask people to pray for the people outside our bus right now who have to come here every day". I said something profound like "good point" and turned back around in my seat.
I felt like I'd been hit in the stomach. Tears stung my eyes. Here I sat in the comfort and relative safety of my bus having just moments ago come face to face with people in extreme poverty and dire circumstances...and my concern was immediately for myself. Immediately.
I'll never forget that moment and the revelation I had that night. How quickly I turn toward myself! What a good reminder of the fickleness of my own heart and my utter need for God to help turn my eyes and heart toward others first. So, tonight as I write this I am praying for these people who are struggling so much right now. I am asking God to provide for them, to give them peace in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances and to continue to turn my heart of stone into one that loves as He does.