Wednesday, September 24, 2008
“Rachel,” Robert burst into our Ugandan hotel room as I was finishing the day at my computer. “Do you want to meet Anna, a 140-year-old widow?”
“Yes. I was just talking with Pastor Amos and he says she lives in his village. Even when he was a young boy she was very old. And he believes she is around 140 years old.”
I grabbed my phone and dialed our Uganda partner, Pastor Ruth. “Pastor Amos says there is a 140-year-old widow in his village. Do you think that is true?”
“What is my schedule like tomorrow? Do I have time to see her?”
“The Honorable Lydia will be at the hotel to meet you at eight. We have a meeting with the Red Cross at ten and at mid-day we have to go see Rayne at the deaf school. I think after that we should all go see this 140-year-old woman.”
My busy day seemed to move at a snail's pace as I eagerly awaited our meeting with Anna and prayed she would still be alive by the time we got there. When we finally arrived Pastor Amos asked Robert and I to stand back as he went to prepare her for her White visitors. Sometimes people who have not seen White people are frightened but Anna said it was okay and came from her hut to meet us. She was so tiny—maybe about three feet tall and frail. Her large eyes had a film covering and she reached out bony flour saturated hands in greeting. The left side of her dress was torn exposing her skeletal shoulder. Her gaunt face held lines and wrinkles yet her skin appeared to be stretched tightly, making her teeth leap forward as though they were too big for her mouth. She walked with no cane and her handshake was strong.
A quick glance inside her crumbling hut revealed she was in the middle of cooking. Her battered pans and crude cooking utensils made us glad we had new saucepans for her and seeing her delight when we presented them along with a lantern and food really made our day.
Our little group sat on the ground with Anna and Pastor Amos informed her I was interviewing widows and would like to hear her story.
She said: “My house is falling down and when it rains I get wet. I always fear the rain because my house leaks. I have no blanket and the rats crawl over me at night. All my children are dead. I cannot remember stories from the past.”
Pastor Amos suggested that as we build a relationship with Anna the past will come to mind so I turned off my tape recorder and enjoyed the moments.
Robert placed his sunglasses on Anna and she seemed to be at ease wearing them while we chatted.
I brought out a doll as I had done for other elderly women thinking she would get pleasure from it as the others had. She said: “Please don’t give me that Mzungu (White) baby. I’m too old to take care of this baby and the rats will eat her.”
“This baby is not real. She is just a toy to hold.”
Anna had no idea as to what a doll is so our explanations were in vain. She kept handing the doll back saying: “Please. The rats will eat this baby.”
I offered the doll to a girl standing nearby and assured Anna, “this girl will take care of the baby.”
Pastor Amos asked, “Do you know Jesus?”
“I remember Jesus.”
Rising to her knees she shook her finger at her curious neighbors as they circled her. “See how much Jesus loves me? All of you who ridicule me and despise me—do you see these people who have come from far to look for me? Sometimes when I cook my food and lie down to rest and when I wake someone has eaten my food. Now. See how much Jesus loves me and don’t torture me anymore.”
Standing Anna began to dance and shout and thanked God for visiting her.
Since Robert and I would be leaving Uganda the next day I pressed money into Pastor Ruth’s hand and begged her to return as soon as possible with blankets, sheets and a mattress for Anna. She promised she would and they would continue to check on Anna making sure she had food and anything else she needed.
I wondered if her delicate body shivered at night with no blanket to cover her. How creepy it must be to feel those sharp toe nails of the rats crawling over her as she tries to sleep. I imagined her lying in mud when the rains came and asked if we could fix her crumbling hut. I prayed that one day we would be able to build a center where people like Anna could live and be cared for.
We have a team going to Uganda next month. They were planning to build Anna a new hut but Anna doesn’t need a hut anymore. She has gone on to her Heavenly home where she will never be hungry, cold, or ridiculed.
I am so grateful we were able to meet Anna and to give her a few comforts in her final days. Most of all I am happy that Anna knew God had not forgotten her and that she believed God had visited her home that day.