Jinja, Uganda. Fall 2009.
There's an outbreak of scabies when I get to the Amani Baby Cottage, so I don't spend any time around the children at the orphanage. If I were one of the volunteers, or were staying longer than two weeks, the separation might not be necessary. But we don't want to risk me taking anything nasty home with me, so I try to keep a bit of distance as Judy shows me around the grounds.
One little boy grabs hold of my legs the second I walk through the door, and reaches for me until I pick him up. His little hands cling tight to my arms, almost enough to hurt, and he screams when I try to set him down. "They're starved for attention," Judy tells me later, after another American volunteer has pried his fingers away and we've left him wailing with the other children. "They've been abandoned by so many people, and there just aren't enough volunteers to make sure they all get the same amount of affection. And they don't really need volunteers. They need parents." And for many of the Amani babies, time is running out. The baby cottage will only house the children until they reach the age of five, when they're sent to a different facility. The sad fact is, if they haven't been adopted by that time, they likely never will. The process of adopting one of these children can take years, depending on who you are and where you live. Some families just can't wait that long.
An older boy runs towards us as Judy leads me to her office. "Auntie! Auntie!" he calls, then stops short when he doesn't recognize my face. Judy shoos him away, warning him that it's nap time, and he should be in his bed. He hurries into a nearby building. I hadn't noticed it before, but the gentle sounds of English lullabies are drifting through the open windows, clashing with the festive music coming from our neighbors on the other side of the fence.
None of this seems to bother the dog, who lazes in the sun outside Judy's open door. When she gets overheated, she'll climb up to rest her belly on the cool stone floor of the office. "No, no, no," warns Malia from my lap. She toddles down to put her tiny hands against the dog's backside, shaking until the dog wuffles her disappointment, and goes to seek solace in the shade cast by the nursery.
A storm knocked around most of the transformers in Jinja just a few days into my visit, so electricity is sporadic at best. Judy can't work without a powered computer and internet connection, so we only ever stay as long as the lights are on, and walk back home when she's finished with her daily tasks, or the lights flicker off again, whichever comes first. It's irregular, and it would make me want to tear my hair out, but Judy's been here long enough to know to brush it off with a shrug of her shoulders. "That's just how it is here," she says, packing her bags to the sound of her equipment rapidly cooling after the power suddenly drops out for a second time that day, and I don't think I'll ever complain about a thunderstorm power outage again.