If there were a contest for the greatest smile, attitude and laugh on the planet- I would bet all the cows, elephants, money, and matoke in the world that my brother Gonzaga would win.
Tom, Laura and I have laughed so many times about recording and downloading Gonzaga’s laugh as our phone ringer. Just sitting at Laura’s house working a few weeks ago, the three of us got inspired to call Gonzaga and could not contain our smiles as the sound wave “reader” for the recorder on Skype fluctuated with his nervous laughter. It is like nothing I have ever heard. It’s almost like he is literally exploding with LOVE and HAPPINESS.
Smiling, no matter what.
In his young 20s, Gonzaga has been faced with many obstacles few of us could hardly imagine. Losing his father last year to HIV, he has become the head of the family caring for his brothers, sisters, and mama who live hours from the parish. He is trying to start a pig business so there is sustainable income for the family (his start up amount is almost comedic and comparable to what we spend on our cell phone bills every month). Having the pig business will ensure security/survival for the family, most importantly assisting in pay school fees for all of his siblings.
His family lives hours from the parish house at the school where Gonzaga was our program organizer, leader, and friend. He was our contact for EVERYTHING 6:30am (sometimes earlier) to midnight every single day. His normal role at St. Bonaventure is to learn from the priests, lead all events at the school, organize functions, run to get petrol when the generator is out and the mzungus need electricty, pump water into sisterns for the parish house, speak/give mass, build structures, wash cars and clothes, and anything else that gets delegated to him by the priests. Gonzaga is also in college where he and many other Ugandans are forced to wait by one single, shared slow computer to have electricity- he needs this to type the masterpiece thesis he has developed. When not in theology college, the home and parish responsibilities exist hours apart from each other-and let me tell you, travel within East Africa isn’t easy, comfortable, affordable, or reliable. It’s like a game every single day trying to communicate, be on time for anything, or travel. Somehow, he finds his way through it all with a smile and even manages to find a few shillings and enough electricity to call us in the states and hear our voice for a few seconds sometimes. Gonzaga-he does it all and he does it selflessly.
Gonzaga is full of LOVE and positivity despite his daily survival struggles, internal pain from loss and pressure to take care of family-school-the parish-the kids-visitors-himself. He is COMPLETELY and utterly full of energy at 6am and 11pm-even on an empty stomach, in sweaty dirty clothes, and after another night of sleeping on the cold floor.
The Gonzaga Connection.
Gonzaga and I had so many connecting moments. The first day we walked for water with the kids, Gonzaga grabbed my hand and held it walking down the dirt road. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t like that. This was pure human love and it was about sharing. People in Uganda don’t just walk along side you and stay silent. They don’t ignore you, they don’t fear the human touch. In Uganda, you never feel alone- you feel LOVE. Gonzaga shared his love with me, as my brother, and said,
“Erin, please tell everyone where you are from THANK YOU for LOVING us- we love them too and hope to meet everyone someday. Water is life- you are giving us life.”
This was only one of many moments that we held hands and talked, sometimes it seemed like hours. I remember walking in the dark holding hands eating chapti with Laura, Tom and Gonzaga after hiking to the top of a mountain to get the best sunset shot. I remember his constant statements about Love, Water, and Sharing. What an incredible young person who can see GOOD in everything despite his own life’s struggles.
I love this man, my brother. We are siblings because of the clans we belong to and Laura is his mother. Tom, well, Tom is probably the best buddy he has ever had and his brother as well. So, here we are-family now and missing Gonzaga’s loving smile and nervous laughter.
Photo by Elbee Studio
Photo Reflection by Erin Huber|Drink Local. Drink Tap. Director