Brick by Brick

I’ll never tire of the greens of Uganda, it’s like every shade of green is born here. The road out to the chicken farm is rich with green against the ruddy red road. I love the ride out here, past a stream and a rock quarry, past lines of children standing, waving shouting, “Munu! Munu! Munu!” to me from the edge of the road.

We arrive to see the chicken farm being built brick by brick, mortared together with cement and red mud from the dirt that coats everything here. The workers are taking a break from the hot sun, peeling sugarcane with their teeth. 

Lamuno welcomes us in and almost immediately Baby Patience begins crying. She sits in Lamuno’s lap and I tickle the bottoms of Pash’s feet. This is a huge step, but even still she tells Lamuno not to leave her alone with the munus and I can’t help but giggle.

Lamuno cooks lunch for the workers and then for us. She’s fixed my favorites: beans, malakwang, and sweet potatoes. Her malakwang is perfect-nutty, rich and smoky. I eat my fill and my stomach feels round and happy. 

Lamuno lives in a three room brick home without power. At lunch I give her one of our charging solar lights. She hugs me and tells me she’s glad I love her, that she thinks of me as her daughter and thinks of my mother as her sister. It’s a privilege to be chosen by this strong, beautiful woman. She puts her light outside to charge and thanks me at least ten times more before I leave. 

As we ready to hop on bodas back to town, she asks me when I’m coming back. I tell her Friday, the day after the chicks arrive. She asks what she can cook for me-bo’o or malakwang? I tell her I’ll love whatever she cooks for me, but that I love malakwang more than bo’o. She nods. It’s settled.

The workers and my son, Opiyo Martin, and Lamuno begin speaking Luo loudly, laughing through their words. It’s too quick for me to pick up and Martin explains that Lamuno has a bow and arrow she keeps in case she needs to defend herself at night. She slips into one of her side rooms and emerges with her bow and arrow cocked, ready to defend herself or ready to shoot any of the workers who aren’t working hard enough. 

I laugh and fall more in love with Lamuno. As she teases the workers with her bow and arrow drawn, I understand that Lamuno, too, has built her life brick by brick, mortared together with the grit and humor that coats everyone here.

The Chicken Farm Project, Part 1: Meeting Lamuno Alice

The road to the chicken farm twists and turns and the wind whips up red dirt clouds under my billowing skirt. This is the red dirt I love under the tires of bodas, the red dirt that paints striking pictures from behind the lens of my camera. On the back of a boda, driving out to the site of chicken farm on a winding red, dirt road, I already feel at home.    

Gulu is growing up, roads are being paved, electricity is more regular, and it’s good, but the more the city grows up, the more I crave time in the villages.

Lamuno Alice is waiting for us outside of her home. She’s dressed in her best gomesi, a beautiful gold one, and baby Patience balances on her hip. Lamuno Alice, an expert chicken farmer, is to be the caretaker of the chicken farm, ensuring everything runs smoothly when my boys are at school. In exchange, she’ll receive chickens and a small part of the profits from the chicken farm will make sure her basic needs, like food and medicine, are met. 

My boys committed to using the chicken farm to help care for widows and orphans and that starts with strong Lamuno Alice and sweet baby Patience. You have to be strong to live here, especially when you have loved and buried three husbands and then continued on your own. Lamuno Alice has made 63 years and at the young age of 62, she adopted Patience. 

Lamuno has strength in depths I’ll never know.

I’m nervous to meet her because she’ll be an integral part of the success of the chicken farm, but what has me really nervous is that she’s also Opiyo Martin’s grandmother. She’s another piece in the puzzle of my Ugandan family and my nerves bounce in my stomach wondering how we will all fit together. I take a deep breath and try without success to pat down the wild springs that are my hair.

Lamuno is gracious and kind and welcoming. She hugs me tight and I feel steadied. Her brown eyes have blue rings around them, a captivating color I’ve never seen before. Unlike me, Baby Patience, Pash for short, does not calm down. She cries at the sight of my skin and would continue to cry each time she saw me.

Lamuno and the boys show me the property, outlining exactly where the chicken farm will be. We move into Lamuno’s home, where she offers me one of her three chairs. I decline and sit on the papyrus mat next to her. The boys take the chairs and serious budget talks begin.  


The boys have almost doubled their start up expenses and they’re learning Hard Business Lesson #1: Stick to your budget. This is quickly followed by Hard Business Lesson #2: When you provide a proposed budget and then double it, don’t expect your mom to bail you out.

They slash their budget and I listen proudly as they carefully pick through their budget line by line, making adjustments until it fits within our agreement. They bounce back and forth fluidly between English and Luo. Lamuno Alice chimes in freely with her opinions about materials and the boys often stop to ask for her expertise.

I watch my three boys come together to double check everything, then assign roles and jobs. William, the oldest, has done most of the leg work, hustling in town to get prices and arrange for the help they need to begin construction. He’s appointed to purchase the materials, supervise the work and maintain the records. Martin, the people person of the three, will find people and places wanting to buy their chickens and soon will head up the charitable arm of the farm, too. As for Geoffrey, the youngest, his job is to graduate high school in November. It’s a miracle he’s made it this far and our little family has a singular wish for him to see that to completion. 

Lamuno Alice will oversee the daily operations of the chicken farm and as I listen to her speak and plan with the boys, I sit back on the mat and breathe a sigh of relief.

This is going to work.

As the boys and Alice talk, I mostly keep quiet from behind my camera because I know nothing about raising chickens. What I do know is a good story when I see one and I take joy in documenting the one unfolding before me. 


After three hours, we stand to leave and Lamuno Alice asks me when I’ll return. I assure her I’ll come back soon and she tells me she’s glad because she hasn’t cooked for me yet. I accept her offer and promise to return and eat bo’o with her. It’s one of my favorite Ugandan dishes and my stomach rumbles at the thought.

Lamuno Alice, with baby Pash still crying on her hip, walk us to the road. As we part ways, Alice calls out, “Bye, Lanyero!” I smile at my Acholi name and call out, “Apwoyo, Lamuno. Wa nen.” Thank you, Lamuno. See you soon. She smiles at my Luo and as I walk to catch a boda, flanked by my boys, I know the next time I visit, I’ll be completely at ease. 

Maybe, just maybe, baby Pash will be, too. 


Chickens, Of Course

My phone had been pinging all day long.  As I walked to my car that afternoon, I checked my messages and laughed at the group conversation my boys had been having while I was at work.  Normally I loathe group texts, group conversations and the straight EVIL that is the Reply All button.

But the conversation between my boys tickled me.  I struggled to translate their conversation from Acoli into English, but when I did, I saw that there were 28–yes, 28–messages about land prospects for the chicken farm, feed providers, which farmer they’ll buy the initial chicks from, etc.

There were also teasing barbs, typical brotherly ribbing.  Can I just tell you how much my heart loves the teasing they do?  My formerly orphaned boys tease each other like brothers do and it’s music to my ears.

I read along as their messages progressed into the evening in Uganda and when they settled down for the night and messaged a chorus of I love yous to each other, it was all I could do to scoop my puddled heart up off the floor.

Because of you, Vigilantes, my boys were starting to see that their Chicken Farm Project wasn’t just a dream.

Me?  I wish I had their faith.  I’d spent the previous night looking at the Chicken Farm Project donation thermometer, incredibly grateful for the $51 that had been donated, but also trying to come up with ways to make that thermometer fill up to the tippy top.

Fundraising Thermometer Widget ~ Fundraising Thermometer Graphic-2

Little did I know, on that very night, as I sat trying to think of ways to make this project happen, and the following morning as my boys chattered away about all things chicken, a Vigilante woman was praying about my boys and their future chicken farm.

This woman has asked to remain anonymous, so let me tell you just a little about her.  She’s a cancer survivor.  She volunteers at her local hospital.  She takes in foster kids.  She loves with her heart wide open.

After I finished translating the 28 messages from my boys, I received this message from this Vigilante woman.

After thinking and praying about this last night and today, I have decided to send you a check for $950 to fund the chicken project.  I’m impressed with the guys and their determination in coming up with an idea, a business plan, and a way to help others.”

Insert record scratch here.

Wait, what???

I read her message again.  She’d decided to fund the remainder of the ENTIRE CHICKEN FARM PROJECT.

I called her immediately and before the first ring, I was crying, snot dripping, mascara running, ugly crying.  I left her a blubbering voicemail and then called my mom, who cried right along with me.

I still laugh at the whole idea of this chicken farm.  Really, God?  You want me, the girl who is terrified of birds, to help my boys start a chicken farm in Uganda?  Chickens?  Really?  Of course. God’s sense of humor is obviously fully in tact.

God’s sense of compassion is also fully in tact.  I know this to be true because three formerly orphaned boys have not only taken up residence in my heart, but in your hearts, too.

My boys still struggle with the residual pain of being orphaned. Of being left by parents who died too young. Of being unloved. Of being treated like dogs. Of being children left to fend for themselves on the streets. Of being unclaimed.

I sit here fighting back tears again because you, sweet Vigilantes, whether you donated a single penny or a lot of pennies, have claimed me, claimed my boys, and claimed a whole lot of chickens, too.

Thank you.  Thank you so much.

Want to see something wonderful before you go?

Fundraising Thermometer Widget ~ Fundraising Thermometer Graphic