Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day 5--Almost Done

I was glad to get up on this morning and get the day started.  Did I mention how miserable the night was??!!

We fixed a little breakfast--a smattering of oatmeal, protein bars, ramen, and lukewarm water!--and then headed to the boat to search for more trafficked children.  Unfortunately, they were everywhere.  I was amazed at how dismal the feeling was on the lake.  There was this sort of gray haze of heat on this vast body of water dotted by kids with no future.  The hopelessness was palpable and I worked hard to not let it engulf me.  As a team we fought through it and followed Eric's lead and positive attitude of service. 

But as we approached boat after boat of these young kids forced to be working when they should be in school--preparing for a better future-- the impact of our mission now and in the future hit me in a profound way.  I wish that you, dear reader, could have been there with me or that, at least, that my writing could truly help you comprehend what we saw and felt.  It changed my life and it would change yours too.

Eric was his usual upbeat self and I continued to be amazed at his ability to connect with these kids--most afraid to even talk to him because of what their master would do if they got caught them even talking.  These two boys to the left didn't say one word to us despite 10 minutes of trying.  No change in facial expression either that even acknowledged our presence.  This encounter made me sad as I thought about their life--day in day out the same difficult and boring work.  What a waste!

 This little boy in the orange sweater--a sign of how little these people have to be wearing a sweater in this heat!--actually lived in the village where we stayed the night before.  Eric talked with the master (green shirt) on the water and agreed to discuss his release back at the village later.  Subsequent discussions with him and his wife yielded nothing and it was very frustrating to see this little boy remain stuck in a losing situation.  The stubbornness of perverse tradition and a selfish view of the world was very evident.  Heartbreaking!  We continue to hope that this boy, like others we met on our trip will eventually be released through the continual efforts of Eric and those who support him.

After a few hours on the lake and plenty of contact with trafficked children we headed back to the village to finalize the release of a few children, pack up, and prepare for the long journey back to Yeji.  My daughter and I both really began to feel the effects of the heat but we didn't have much choice but to keep hydrating with warm water, find some shade, limit activity and find a way to soldier on.  As the TV producer with us said to me:  "There is no secret strategy to making it through tough journeys like this.  You just do."
Managing smiles while fighting off heat exhaustion.

In addition to Kwojo (green Celtics shirt), we had to finalize the release of two other trafficked children: Michael (little guy on the right in front of man in red shirt) and Akepene (peach-colored dress in middle).  We gathered these two beautiful kids and headed back to the boat to head home. 

You can see we had lots of people there to see us off but we had one young lady who did something Eric had never seen before.  She rescued herself.  Nesty, the girl below with Eric, while no one was looking hopped in the boat and sat next to the three other children.  We finally noticed and then someone told Eric.  Eric doesn't just take kids away so he Eric talked with Nesty first and then talked with her parent and the chief in the village. 

The long story short is that Nesty is a feisty young lady who apparently saw that she had no future in this little village in the middle of nowhere.  She saw our departure as her chance for a new life and, to her credit, she took it.  The parent Eric spoke with said Nesty was trouble and that she could go with us.  My take on "trouble" is that she chose not to play by the rules of this life and wanted more.  She is a maverick, a game-changer.  This is one young lady to keep an eye on for sure.

Here are the four rescued children headed towards their new life.

Remember the boy on the boat with 5 grown men?  As discussed the day before, we stopped by his village on the way back to Yeji to negotiate his release.  A tribal council was held to discuss this boy's situation.  Things were going well and it even looked like the master might release him on the spot but two of the ten or so men in the council made some complaints about the idea and the master got scared and decided not to release him.  Total disappointment and it made me angry.
Eric took the young master aside as were leaving and worked on him away from the pressures of the tribe.  Eric said he was open to considering a release in the future and we can only hope that that day comes soon for this little guy.

We got back to Yeji later that day and we were all amazed at how nice our run-down hotel now seemed.  We showered, ate food, found safe cans of cold soda to drink at the local market and rejoiced in the success of our mission and that we were safely headed home.

The hardest part of our trip was now complete.  I know I did some complaining in my report but I wanted to give you the good, the bad, and the raw reality of what we experienced.  As I reflect now I realize that we made it through this mission by focusing on the positive--we found the good in the bad, and the hope in the hopeless.  I am ever grateful to the African people I met on this trip for they are tremendous examples of courage, grit, and hope as they live in a part of the world that takes a lot out of you.  But, somehow, they always seemed to have something left to make it through each day with a smile on their face.