As a white man traveling around central and southern Uganda it was no surprise that I stood out in a crowd. Most days where I was spending my time I was the only foreigner in sight. I was welcomed by young and old, but the highlight of every day was the excitement and curious looks from the children.
Riding around my motorcycle on the boda boda I often got waves and big smiles from the children. On occasion a bewildered blank stare from a small child, but most often I saw those big beautiful smiles of excitement. What struck me as interesting is that the children all throughout Uganda were so welcoming and eager to interact with me. They did not ask for money, or anything really. Many wanted to touch me (which I found quite funny), so many times I would imitate their curious touches and touch them back, which usually turns into a game of tag or me wrestling with tiny little Ugandans. Its all around a great time and I cannot see why any foreigner wouldn’t feel welcomed here.
The second thing that occurred to me, which is closely related to the previous point – the happiness of the kids. Kids who have nothing like fancy material things. No modern conveniences. Yet they are just as happy, maybe happier, than the children I see back home in Canada.
I spent an entire afternoon playing and walking around with a group of small children ranging in age from 4 to 8. Perhaps six of them in total, two or three siblings in the group and all of them acted like best friends. Happy to be with me, happy to be alive. They had never seen a playground in their lives but made good use an old discarded sofa as a makeshift play-thing. Crawling under the overturned sofa, poking their heads out to make faces at their new white friend. The happiness shown on the faces of these children who lived in absolute poverty was such a wonderful thing to see.
When I think back to these kids waving at me on every street, playing games rich rocks and sticks, using plastic bottles as toy “cars”, I think of how children all over the world are so similar. We are not all that different no matter where we are from or what environment we come from. I am reminded that children do not need toys, they need love. Things to not make memories, emotions make memories.