Dancer’s child grasps attention

The trip to Jinja was a memorable one. While we did many different things — a two-and-a-half-hour drive there and back, browsing and buying clothing and souvenirs at shops lining the walkway down to the river and a boat trip along the Nile, it was the wide variety of welcoming people who made the trip what it was — amazing.

We were greeted immediately by energetic music and dancing. What started off as one dancer approaching us grew to five and then even 10.

I was pulled into the dancing right away, but trust me, I did not look half as graceful as the other dancers.

Helen, who dances for tourists near the Nile River, holds her son, Shafik. (Madeline Dippel | The Media School)

Helen, who dances for tourists near the Nile River, holds her son, Shafik. (Madeline Dippel | The Media School)

Helen, the woman who pulled me in, grabbed my hands and proceeded to show me how to dance. I quickly gave up on the dancing, but continued to sway to the beat as Helen’s smile drew other “muzungus” from our group, and eventually others, to join her.

While the music played in the background, one of the other women brought Helen’s 4-month-old son, Shafik. He was one of the most beautiful children I have seen, although I may be biased.

After a few minutes, Helen passed Shafik to Gwynneth to hold. I really wanted to, but one of the rules of the trip was to not hold any babies.

Baby Shafik grasps student Madeline Dippel’s thumb. (Madeline Dippel | The Media School)

Baby Shafik grasps student Madeline Dippel’s thumb. (Madeline Dippel | The Media School)

So, I quickly ran over to where Professor Kelly was standing, watching all of us interact with the band and the dancers, and asked if I could hold Shafik. The answer was, to my delight, yes.

Gwynneth passed him over to me, and I was surprised at how calm he was compared to most other children at that age. I rocked him back and forth, smiling at him, for several minutes before I gave him back to Helen.

As she held him, she told me about how his father had died and she was the one providing for him. But I could see the community was there to support them both.

Shafik loved playing with my hair, grasping my thumb with his tiny hand. I held him once again before giving Helen my phone number and hugging them both goodbye.

I certainly will not forget Shafik or Helen.