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Like a Child

After 5 years in Uganda… this past Tuesday… she left. It was heartbreaking for her but she knows it was the right thing to do.

This is a very special post by my dear sister, Leah Pauline. She wrote this as part of our “Adventures Abroad” series. It is a moving piece about walking forward with faith…Enjoy. 

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Like a Child…

     First of all, I am not a yogi. I like yoga. I respect people that do yoga. I once committed myself to doing yoga for a week and loved the way I felt so physically aware of my body, but again, I would never call myself a yogi. When my incredible spiritual yogi sister asked me to do a guest post on her yoga blog, I had no idea what to write about. In fact, I was confused why she would even ask me. She is convinced that I am a yogi at heart. In Theresa’s post ,Welcome to Yoganda, she talked about how the people in Uganda are yogis in disguise, maybe perhaps that makes me a little bit more of yogi than I thought? After all, these yogis in disguise have been my greatest life teachers in the last five years, as I have made their home my home. I have learned so many life lessons from them on a daily basis from patience, simplicity, unity, humility, confidence, the list goes on and on. The latest thing I have learned is PRESENCE.

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 A couple weeks ago, after the kids got out of church a few of the older girls asked me to teach them my favorite church song. I chose, “Like a Child” by Mercy Me. Later that day, we sat in my office and sang the lyrics over and over again.   “They say that I can move the mountains, and send them falling to the sea. They say that I can walk on water… If I would follow and believe… with faith like a child.” While we were singing, Musana’s five youngest girls ran into the office with the biggest smiles and joyful spirits imaginable. They started jumping around, laughing uncontrollably.  I listened to the words we were singing, and watched the pure bliss of the three-year old girls in front of me. I envied them. They exemplify the words, “faith like a child,” perfectly. Nonchalantly and naturally, they live in the moment. They have this never failing faith and belief in everything…. It is so refreshing. It makes me rethink where my mind has been recently… worrying about the future.

Right now, I am living in Uganda, where I have lived for four of the last five years. I have a job that I love. I have a new house that I love. I have a boyfriend that I love. I am surrounded by kids that I love. This foreign land is no longer foreign, it is my home and I love it. However, I am on the verge of moving on. In four months, I will be moving to a city that I have never been to with people I have never met. Four months after that, I will be in another foreign city. Four months after that, I will be in another. And four months after that, another. I am about to start this huge adventure and I am terrified. I am leaving a life that I feel blessed to have and I have no idea what my future holds. Terrified. On a daily basis, I worry about it. I worry about leaving my job, my house, my boyfriend, the kids, everything. I worry that I will regret my decision to leave. I worry that I will be forgotten. I worry.

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So I am sitting in my office, singing about how to have faith “Like a child” when these three-year old girls run in, living fully in the PRESENT, without a worry in the world. I have suffered very little compared to them and yet I am the one that worries. The giddiest and happiest of all these little kiddos is Irene. This is her story: her father died around the time she was born and her mom who is HIV+ abandoned her. Irene started living with her uncle deep in the village. He was caring for multiple other kids, completely neglecting the needs of three-year old Irene. We found Irene in this village, and recognized her as the neediest, dirtiest, sickest of all the other impoverish village kids. This is saying a lot. She had a terrible skin rash, and jiggers ALL over her body. She was dirty and malnourished. Her state of being was to the point that nobody wanted to be around her, in fear of also getting sick. A month later, here I was envious of the joy that Irene has, envious of her ability to live in this present moment of singing and dancing, with no worry of her situation or where she would be tomorrow… she was completely content.  She lives day by day, trusting that she will be provided for. She has inspired me to look at my own life and challenged me to live in the today and be content. She is my teacher and with this lesson, I have started a ritual.

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On a daily basis, I take time and go to one of my favorite spots around Musana or in town…. My absolute favorite is on a balcony that I climb up to that overlooks the busiest, craziest part of Iganga town- the market. I go there and I just sit. I use the time to reflect on my life, meditate, and simply BE PRESENT. It is amazing how I have overlooked such a simple necessity of being content… presence. I watch, I listen, I live.  I soak up the African sights, smells, and sounds that surround me- People everywhere. Businessmen and women walking home from work, Children walking home from school. Hundreds of local men and women, sitting under bright umbrellas selling fresh fruits and vegetables from a long season of labor. Cages and cages of live chickens, being sold for tonight’s dinner. The African mixed aroma of fresh fruit, body odor, and garbage overwhelming my nostrils with its unique freshness. Trucks passing with loads of green banana being dropped in the market. The sound of motorcycles passing, cars honking, vendors making a sale. Total chaos. However, for me, it is where I find peace. It is where I grasp the life I have been blessed with. It is where I can pause and take a look into the world I live in and appreciate it. It is where my physical and spiritual presence becomes one.

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The lesson: Yes, I am leaving. Yes, it is terrifying. What I need to do is be like Irene… like a child. I need to remember my favorite child hood phrase and a common saying in Africa, “Hakuna Matata.” I can’t worry about the adventure. I need to embrace it. I need to open my mind, ready for anything that comes believing that everything will be okay. At the same time, I need to live in the moment and enjoy the today. I need to soak up the sights, hug as many kids as I can, close my eyes and remember the smells, the sounds, the people, and the feelings of where I am.  I need to laugh until I cry; I need to cry until I laugh. I need to be completely PRESENT. I need to do so with faith like a child because tomorrow will be exactly how it is supposed to be and when it comes I don’t want to regret not living my life to the fullest today.

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Welcome to Yoganda.

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Uganda is Yoganda.

Though most of the population here has no idea what yoga is, they are greater practitioners of its basic principals than any I have yet come to know. I believe it comes down to living simply, only with the true realities of what life is. We are here in Iganga, Uganda visiting my two sisters Andrea and Leah, who have been living here for nearly 5 years. They have been helping to start and run Musana Community Development Organization and it is seriously… seriously… a miracle place, destined for great things.  Our main objectives during this trip are to hang out, play, and love the kids while undertaking a gargantuan mosaic project in Musana’s church. We have been plenty busy, and with every day, more is revealed about the yogic nature of the people here.

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Every morning my fiancé Ross and I get up with the sun and slowly make our way to our mats on the main pavilion with a hot cup of gritty coffee. We practice our asana, pranayama and dhyana here as the sky changes through the vibrant colors of orange, pink and red. Slowly the neighboring teachers walk by with their children as they head out into the day. They pass us and watch with wonder. Our first day here a few of them asked if we were ninjas. I had a small meeting with some of the school officials to discuss my plans for the project in the church and the conversation immediately turned to yoga as their curiosity by our morning routine had been peaked. What are we doing out there in the morning? What is yoga? Why do we practice it?

 In response to these questions…sigh… really? Yoga is too big to be defined I realize. But an earnest attempt was needed none the less. How would I explain yoga to a group of middle-aged African men, who had never heard of it before? Breath, life, death, and spirit. Aren’t these the things that yoga is about? I explained that yoga was about rediscovering your breath or prana, your connection to life through breathing. I told them that yoga was about learning to see that our bodies are made of the earth and they simply house the spirit.  ‘Duh’, their faces seemed to say. It was all inherently obvious to them and they acknowledged that they were happy I was learning such things.

It was clear that they already had a natural knowledge of these spiritual things and once I got to know some of the children here… I discovered the roots of this awareness.  The children of Musana have been the greatest teachers I have ever encountered. The school is a miracle place. 280 students, 40 Ugandan staff members, and a community driven vision for self-sustainability, the project is revolutionary in terms of global service.  A majority of the children in school here come from vulnerable families, the street, or have no families at all. The fact that they have made it here is the first miracle, and the fact that they are so optimistic and happy might be the second. I have become particularly close to young Irene.

A three year old who has only been at Musana for three months. She was found in a village living uncared for with jiggers (a small burrowing bug that feeds off of flesh) inhabiting every finger and toe. My sister Andrea saw her and singled her out (of hundreds of needy kids she sees everyday) as in desperate need of care. Her father had passed away and her mother had disappeared. Thus she came to Musana. She is all smiles, all the time. Andrea says that she wasn’t like this at first as she was recovering from having all the jiggers removed… She is learning how to do things like brush her teeth and play with other kids. We watched her first ever real movie together, Jurassic Park, which was totally priceless (and maybe not the best choice for a three year old). Haha… It was awesome.

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 Santosha. Contentment.

They exhibit this every day. I have had the opportunity to spend time with them, to play yoga with them, and to just hold them. The lesson for me is that many of them are advanced yogis in disguise. At a young age they have had to start grappling with two of the biggest yogic principles. Abhyasa and Vairaghya. Daily practice and detachment.  Every day they have things they need to do, get food, clean their clothes… all to survive. Detachment from worldly things happens as a natural result of death being an as seemingly common occurrence as the cold.  It is amazing how much deeper the life style here, in the third world, drives one closer to these principles then living in the world of more… could ever do.

 So why is it that the people here at Musana naturally have an understanding of santosha, abyasa, vairaghya, life, death, and breath? I believe it is because this is what makes up their daily lives. Purely and with out distraction of meaningless things. They eat to live and wear clothes to protect their skin. They sleep under roofs to shelter them from rain and pray to offer gratitude to God for the blessings they have been given.  It makes me feel like we have things so backwards in the west. Though many of us are making valient efforts to become “aware” of our true natures… I wonder, it it ever really possible when we never go without? Is it possible when we come from a world so far detached from God and our natural roots that we have to go to yoga class or church in order to find them?

 I wish I had more to say about Yoganda. At this point… I don’t.  Life is simple. Life is beautiful. The children here inspire me to be content, and I am. The atmosphere is gorgeous. And this afternoon I slipped on a banana peel and it made me laugh.

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