By Odimegwu Onwumere
People were dying in Kayunga District due to extreme poverty which was the consequence of terrible governance in Uganda. But analysts who were supporting the government preferred to say that people were dying because they were lazy. The analysts believed that government was doing well. In spite of this, it was tough in this district that families resorted to giving out their children for adoption, particularly, to American families that were living among us. At a time, some children were no longer being adopted when non-governmental organisations started accusing parents of selling their children to American families for millions of dollars. As a result, we, the left out children, turned dissidents and made up our mind that nothing would stop us from being adopted. Not even the different organisations that were writing about the trend on the pages of the newspapers, demonising Americans in their law suits, would stop us. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development would not stop us. The Children Act which prohibited child trafficking would not stop us. All we wanted was to go to America, whether the accused parents were knowingly or unknowingly signing documents and giving away their children to Americans. We wanted a new lease of life. We had a view that it was better to enjoy in a foreign land than suffer in one’s own country. Nonetheless, the irony in the Kayunga District was that the non-governmental organisations were using us to solicit for funds; instead they would allow Americans to adopt us. This was too bad. They knew that if we were adopted by Americans, they would close shop. They knew that if that happened, they would not be receiving funds from the international community. Hence, they were bickering.
Our district was bordered by Amolatar District to the north, Buyende District to the northeast, Kamuli District to the east, Jinja District to the southeast, Buikwe District to the south, Mukono District to the southwest, Luweero District to the west, Nakasongola District to the northwest. The adoption development was all the places. People from far and near knew me and they called me Craft. They called my two friends Ethiopia. We were ill-mannered and among the rebellious children in dire need for adoption. Our people said that they called me Craft because of my thinking aptitude and the agility for knowing everything. Although, I was not pleased with the name, yet did not caution them. I knew that they gave me the name because I was rude, a respecter of no body. It was Ethiopia who warned that their names were Iti and Opia. Not Ethiopia, which our people mockingly called them. As they didn´t like their name, it was the same way I did not like mine. But I was also calling them Ethiopia and they were reciprocating with Craft. We didn´t warn each other when we called ourselves these names because of our friendship.
Iti was a girl and Opia was a boy. Our relationship was like the Siamese twins we read in history books whose names were Chang and Eng Bunker, known as Thai brothers, born in Siam, now Thailand in 1811 to 1874. We played on the sand, swam in the muddy stream, told moonlight tales, caught fish in the stream with basket, climbed coffee trees together and played with American children, who flooded our community, building Adoption and Orphanage Homes. What we didn´t do together was washing of plates. Craft took the real name my parents gave me. My real name was Yonatan. Some people, who were not calling me Craft, called me Jonathan. I was worried of what Yonatan or Jonathan meant. I asked my mother. She said she would tell me the meaning when it was time.
My mother was in her early forties and a peasant farmer. Life became miserable for her when my father died in a tribal war two years after I was born, as she had told me. It was the produce from our little farm that was sustaining us. Many of our people, who could not manage the infinitesimal income they were making from farming, were giving out their children to Americans for adoption. They could not bear the brunt of hardship, as there were no government jobs for school graduates, no contracts awarded and money wasn’t much in circulation.
My mother had held steadfast not to give me out for adoption upon my rebellious behaviours to be adopted. When the time came to tell me the meaning of my name, my mother said that Yonatan or Jonathan was a common masculine-given-name, meaning in Hebrew, “Yahweh (God) has given”, or “gift of God.” She said that the first known Jonathan was son of King Saul in the Hebrew Bible. She added that no one believed that I would have survived, because I was feeble and fragile from birth.
I was not thrilled by the explanation she gave, albeit I didn´t let her know. I hated her with passion because she gave me an alien name to the detriment of my native names. Although, people had told me that the reason my mother didn´t give me our native name, was because she hated our traditional beliefs but preferred the beliefs imposed on us by Americans. Many families hated speaking our native language but preferred American English. Sometimes, the elderly ones who did not like the erosion in our culture would mimic us. They pronounce ‘water’ as ‘wora’. They said that it was a letdown to our ancestry, for our people to have followed the ways of Americans who speak through the snout.
My mother believed that our people were pagans. But core traditionalists were always rebuffing her whenever she said that. They always put the record straight before whomever that cared to listen that we were not pagans. They added that we had our perception of the universe before the white men came with colonialism. They concluded that colonialism eroded the way we were evolving.
After discussing with my mother, I went to wash plates we ate with, when unexpected news filtered into our district that Iti and Opia have been adopted by an America family. I was dumbfounded. I left the plates, entered our bedroom, lay on the bed, thinking of what fate held for me. I prayed to my ancestors to protect them. I was on the bed when my mother peeped through the window. She thought I did not see her, but I did and kept my cool. I was praying that my time for adoption should come. Later, I couldn’t bear the thought of walking alone since my friends had been adopted. Anger, jealousy and bitterness raged over me that I had to destroy radio, which was the only property that my father bequeathed to his family. But for the early intervention of my mother, I would have done worst than I did. My mother pleaded with me to calm down. At this juncture, two Americans entered our compound. It was their masculine body scent that signaled their arrival, followed by their tongue in cheek voice. I startled on noticing them from the inner room. I knew that it was my turn to be adopted. I didn´t need a soothsayer to tell me this.
Our house was a two room mud house painted with coal, burnt from our local wood. The roof was made of mats tied together on bamboo with rope from the stem of fresh palm fronds. My mother went to attend to them. She also peeped to know if I was still on the bed. When she confirmed that I was in, she began to bargain the terms of my adoption with the Americans, though it was not her wish to give me out for adoption. It was because I was causing more problems than before, after I heard that Iti and Opia had been adopted.
My mother had held onto not giving me out for adoption for a very long time, but I needed to be in America and avoid Kayunga District, which many called “the land of famine”. Apart from the fact that there was low source of income, our people went miles to scoop water from waterlog or stream. Diseases were the second killer of our people after poverty. Especially, children were dying in hordes of diarrhoea. Schools were shutting down and traders locking up shops. The authorities were yet to help us out. It became irresistible that each family must give out one of its own for adoption by Americans for the family to make money for a living. About twenty boys and thirty girls I knew had been adopted so far by Americans. When I heard my mother bargaining with our foreign visitors, I was no longer happy that I was going to leave my home and my mother. But I had no wish than to follow them, because we needed to survive.
Not knowing that I heard her bargained with the Americans, my mother walked into the room and woke me up from the bamboo bed. She told me that they were around and I should follow them. I woke up and sat on the bed, looked at my father´s traditional temple that my mother had replaced with Bible, and prayed. I didn´t pray according to the Bible rules my mother had taught me. Instead I summoned the spirits of my ancestors to guide me on this journey. Sitting beside me and curdling me, my mother told me that the men said: they would take me to their land where children use eggs and tea for breakfast and salad for dinner. She told me that they would buy me an English dog and a German cat, not like our kind of dog that was eating feaces and our cat that was good at running astray when it was worn with age. She told me that they would send me to school and that a car would be taking me to the school and bringing me back in America.
Having heard my mother said these things, I told her that it should really be they were taking me to America, because I wouldn´t want to be in an Orphanage or Adoption Home in our district. Besides, I made her understand that I like our way of life, no matter the poverty level. I liked our district before famine struck, because strange illness was alien to us, as Americans were dying of malaria related ailments and perishing because of the scorching sun. They always drank bottled water, while we drank water from our stream and hardly complain of illness. My mother caressed me and told me to go and see the Americans. When I came out, they were so happy that I didn´t prove stubborn. They shook my hand with deep inviting smile.
I had a thought that some adopted children were running away from their masters and mistresses and from their families. It was in news. Some of the children, when they were caught, gave excuses that Americans were selling them out for profits and telling their buyers that they were orphans. Some parents even became the masterminds of their children´s elopement when they got wind of Americans’ impropriety. Many mothers said that Americans who adopted their children promised their children would be back, but after months, they would not set their eyes on their children. And they wouldn´t question because Americans had always paid zero attention when they were confronted on such matter. The two Americans gave me new clothes. They admonished me to take a bath because I was dirty. I hurriedly took a bath in our bathroom made with mats and raffia, and came out. They started their Chevrolet vehicle and we drove off, while I turned back watching my mother waved us meditatively.
As we rode, I didn´t understand a word in all that they told me. It was not because I couldn´t understand the English Language, but because their accent was coarse and their speech was too fast. They laughed elaborately; frisson their heads and touched me on the shoulder and below my belt, inducing me to join their fun. I chuckled. Some minutes after, the vehicle pulled aside and we alighted. I saw a magnificent building with an inscription on it, Waiting for Exportation. I thought it was where coffee was stored for exportation. But when we entered the expensive and expansive building, it was mind bugging: adopted children littered everywhere. Some were under the age of one. I sighted Iti and Opia, and we beamed smiles. My adopters handed me over to a white woman and left. The woman should be in her early sixties. Her duty was to take care of the children, waiting for exportation.
“My name is Rose, what about you?” the woman asked.
“My name is Yonatan, but for short, call me Yon,” I responded, and did not tell her that Craft was my sobriquet.
“That is great,” she replied, while caressing my hair with her fingers. I smiled. This was the second time an American touched me.
Rose´s accent was not like my adopters´. She spoke calmly and I was so happy and relaxed with her. The inmates were looking at us and making noise. Rose rang the bell, demanding that they stop the noise. She told them that I was a new inmate. She also admonished everyone to be their brother´s and sister´s keeper. Three Americans walked in now: two men and a lady. The men were my adopters. The lady was in her early thirties. They wore uniform: black trousers and white tops. Rose stopped talking, as they walked in. The inmates greeted, “Welcome our lords.” I didn´t greet. I was oblivious of the inmates´ mode of greeting when Americans entered. Rose introduced the men as Can and Ame, and the lady as Bri. She said that Can came from California and Ame from Amsterdam and Bri from Bosnia. She said that they took their names after their States. We all laughed. But Ame jokingly asked Rose where she took her name from. Rose looked at him, and they all laughed. They waved at us with their left hands, called Rose by the side and they whispered to each other, then the visitors left.
As Rose returned, she pleaded with us for the interruption and continued with the introduction. She began from the left row as we now formed lines. Each one of us said his or her name. It was an interesting exercise and experience. I had not experienced this exercise since our school shutdown. I felt strong again. At least, to learn American ways before the real journey to overseas would begin. This had been on my mind. I felt at home because Rose was a cool speaker and looked kind unlike my adopters who exhibited loquaciousness and rascality. After the introduction, Rose took me inside and pulled my clothes off and gave me clothes made for inmates. The apparel was black.
“This is called pyjamas,” she told me. I looked at her. “Pronounce it.”
“Pinjamans,” I said.
She chuckled and said that I was suffering from speech problem. She reiterated that with time I would learn. She asked me to sit on the cushion beside me. The cushion was a fine one. She told me that she would prepare meal for me.
“I know that you will like rice and fried eggs?” she asked.
She walked away and returned few minutes later with food on a golden tray. Breakable plates, mahogany cups, stainless spoon and brass fork were in the tray. I was aghast. I found it difficult eating with the spoon and fork and never knew how to tell her to give me water to wash my hands.
“You can´t eat with the spoon and fork?” she asked, on noticing my difficulty.
“Yes,” I replied, swiftly.
“What do you do then?”
“I need water.”
“To do what?”
“To wash my hand.”
“The taste of the pudding is found when food is eaten with bare hand.”
She went in and returned with water in a stainless pan. I washed my two hands and began to eat.
“I gave you the water today because you just came!” she warned. I didn´t say a word.
The taste of the food was a story that I wouldn´t forget in a hurry. It was so delicious. After eating, I thanked Rose. She carried the plates out and told me that she was on break and would join us in two hours. I went back to the hall and joined my fellow inmates. They were envious of my new clothes. Theirs had worn out. Iti and Opia were around me, also. They were admiring my new clothes.
Months later, we were discussing when Iti and Opia whispered that they were tired of staying in the Adoption Home. I looked at them in shock. They added that they were planning to escape.
“You mean that you want to escape?” I asked them.
“Yes,” Opia replied.
I opened my mouth in amazement.
We agreed that we would not allow anybody to hear what we were discussing and would stop the discussion whenever we sensed Rose was coming. Pitiful expression on Iti and Opia’s faces reminded me of a story I knew: how their fathers got ill and died, and as a result, their mothers gave them out for adoption when they could not afford their needs. They shook their heads. As drops of tears ran down their cheeks, I felt for them. They sobbed and told me that the Americans were smiling to the bank when they transfer any of the inmates to the prospective buyer. Our parents did not know this. All they knew was that Americans told them they were taking us to America.
“Every hour, the Americans will take picture of us and post online, to their people overseas and get donors,” Opia said.
“How did you know they are getting grants? The same thing our people accused non-governmental organsations for?” I asked.
“I heard them discussed it.”
“I don´t think that they are…”
As we conversed, I learnt from an inmate that Americans had truly opened online stores for the market of the adopted kids to their brothers and sisters that were in need of us. Hun, who was one of the inmates, said. He was not part of our discussion. I understood most of the things he said through gestures of the hand because he was deaf and dumb.
“Ummm! Deaf and dumb,” I puzzled.
Iti went to ease herself when she sighted Can, Ame and Bri coming. She ran back to where we were and was startling. Opia and I asked her what the problem was. She wanted to tell us when we saw them close to our hall. Rose was not with them. When they entered the class, we greeted them. I had learnt the norm of greeting. They called three of us out and took us to the pantry. Can took Opia to a corner, not far from us; Ame took me; while Bri took Iti. Ame began to press my manhood with his hand and was screaming, Wow! Wow!! Wow!!! The same thing done to me was done to my friends. This lasted for about five minutes. They gave us Coffee cream and told us not to tell anyone what they did. It was the type of Coffee cream that Rose had always given us. Opia threw it away through the window, so that Rose would not catch us and think we stole it from the store. As Opia threw it away, the memory of what Ame did was refreshed in me and I was thinking.
“I enjoyed what Ame did to me,” I said.
“I enjoyed it too,” Opia replied.
“Likewise me,” replied Iti.
“How often do they come to do this?” I asked. They looked at me in surprise.
“How did you know that they come..?” asked Iti. I didn´t say a word.
“Craft, don´t mind Iti, they come anytime Rose is on break,” Opia said.
“Why not when Rose is in the hall?” I asked.
“I wouldn´t know.”
As we were walking out from the passage leading to the pantry, Iti sighted Rose walking very fast towards the hall. Americans walked very fast. She informed us and we ran back to our positions in the hall. It was not that Rose would cane us, but we owed her that respect as our guardian. Opia had told me that Americans don´t cane children, unlike our teachers in Kayunga District. Americans only talk words into a child when he or she erred. I told them that Americans spoil children by not caning them when they wronged. Iti said that they observed this one day that Opia farted in the hall and the smell kept everyone running. Everyone thought that Rose would cane him but she just called him after, not before the inmates, and talked to him to learn manners. Another incident, Opia narrated, was a day that Iti slapped an inmate before Rose and everybody thought that heaven would fall. But Rose only called her where the inmates would not see them and talked words into her.
As I occupied my position, Hun walked up to me and was envious that I just came and was loved by Americans. I pleaded with him not to pick quarrels with me so that Rose would not understand what transpired. He understood, was calm and went back to his position. As he left, I began to think again what Ame did to me. I could not define it. But I reminisced a scenario in Kayunga District, where two men were caught in a locked up room through the window making love and were summoned before the elders. It´s a taboo, the elders said. I was thinking about this when Rose walked in with five of our district boys and girls. We stood up and greeted her. They were new adoptees. She beamed titters and replied to our greetings. She began to work on the load of files on her table, collected a file and told us that she would be back in five hours and walked out again.
Iti sighed. She said that it might be Americans that were corrupting and misleading our aged parents to give us out for adoption. Expressions of escape were written all over her. She pointed at one of the adoptees and muttered. She was tired of being in the hall. The adoptee she pointed at was barely a year old. I looked at her. Opia said that even though our people were experiencing hardship in our district, they were not all dying. Adding that it was unfortunate that our people were sugarmouthed by American evangelists to buy the adoption business, of which our people wouldn’t have thought of, for fear of our ancestors’ wrath.
“Our masters and mistresses in this home are not far from the evangelists,” Iti said.
Opia began to laugh, but I was mien.
“It will be better that we escaped than being exported to America like coffee,” Opia said.
“Craft, Opia is right,” said Iti.
I raised my head up, thinking if I should escape with Iti and Opia. Some of the inmates had lost one or both parents since we came to the adoptive home. I was also thinking about what happened one day: Some of the inmates were exported to America without their families’ consent. They tested each child for illness before referring the child to a prospective family. And some agencies distributed child survival packages later. They gave us vitamin A supplements. They also de-wormed us. Some of us that had caught measles were treated. I was thinking that our staying in this home gave us the access to a better life but the proximity that one would travel to America genuinely was not ascertained. Although, we received excellent care from our caring Rose, she was a professional trained childcare supervisor. But my fear was whether I could see my mother again, if my prospective adopter finally adopted me.
Iti and Opia were ready to escape. They said that they were ready to leave me behind if I didn´t make up my mind. They added that they had to achieve this before Rose was back. They were persuading me to follow them but I was thinking and making up my mind. They said that it was better that one died in his homeland than to be an orphan in a foreign land, forever. Hun was watching us and we didn´t want him to understand our plan. Other inmates were watching us, also. Iti was so desperate to go and I was thinking what would become of us if we were caught. We might be killed.
“No, we will not be killed,” Opia told me, sounding assuring.
“What if we are punished?” I replied.
“Man´s existence on earth is not devoid of punishment.”
“What if we are flogged?”
“Man must pay a certain price to gain his freedom.”
“What if we are killed?”
“Then, we know that it is over.”
Iti said that I ask too many questions and think a lot and that was why they called me Craft. I laughed quietly but she warned me that this was not a matter to laugh over. She said that we had to ignore our improvement here in the area of childcare and the unequivocal child welfare systems we were enjoying. She added that we were at risk of being here forever, that our lives were changing for better but wondered whether our families were being enriched as well. She said that if we didn´t escape owing to the growing adoption programme in our district that in the time not too far, our district would be in dearth of human beings. Iti talked sense to me and I made up my mind to escape with them. We agreed that we would wear our Pyjamas and escape one after another.
There was a button at the exit door. It closed immediately when someone presses it and goes out. It would stay for five minutes before it would respond to another person. Opia said that he would escape first and Iti would follow and then me. I argued that I had to go first. Iti said I should relax and allow Opia to go first since I just made up my mind.
Opia went through the pantry, saw Ame coming and hid behind the kitchen cupboard and watched. Ame was not coming to the hall, Opia bent down and watched. When Ame was not in sight, he paced to the button at the door and pressed it, the door opened and he escaped. We watched him go. Iti followed. Iti didn´t have any obstacle. I watched her pressed the button and the door opened and she escaped. Hun asked me with signs where we were going to. I didn´t answer him. It was my turn to escape.
I was walking to the pantry when Rose, Can, Ame and Bri were coming in. I hid behind the cupboard watching and waiting for them to pass. Bri was last that passed. When she passed, I hurriedly ran out from my hiding and was heading to the exit door when my clothes drew the cupboard and it fell. The noise it made was a mighty thud, gbum! I didn´t mind the noise but kept on running. As I turned back, I noticed that Bri was running close to me, while I was close to press the button. Bri held me and was asking if I was okay. I didn´t talk. She took me back to the hall to the popping eyes of everybody. I greeted the Americans, though I was nervous. Rose asked me what my problem was and where I was going to. I said nothing. She took me by hand and caressed my head and asked why I was running. I didn´t still say anything. I was standing behind her thinking of what to give as answer. When her colleagues left, she noticed that Iti and Opia were not in the hall, and was worried about their whereabouts. She raised her head up from the desk, looked at me and asked me to go back to my position. I went back to my position, thinking. She left the hall in search of them but I knew they were gone forever, leaving me behind, waiting for exportation or escape.
Editor’s Note: This story is FICTION. It should not by any means be republished elsewhere without the explicit permission of the writer. Violators will be prosecuted. Source: ooreporters.com
The expressions in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of ooreporters.com.
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