30 Day Travel Series: There Are Very Very Many!

A man in one of our workshops had been captured as a seven-year-old by someone who attempted to sacrifice him.

Julian, Geoffrey and I stood around a table in a small shop drinking sodas in a town outside of Kampala, Uganda. Geoffrey was reading the newspaper. He pointed to an article that featured a man’s mug shot. “Do you have this in your country?” he asked. “What is it?” Julian asked. “Do you have people who do child sacrifice? Some people who kill kids in order to get money from the gods?” He asked casually.

“No, Geoffrey, no we don’t,” Julian said, sounding really annoyed at the possibility that child sacrifice could be a real thing. “What did that guy do?”

Geoffrey explained that the man in the mug shot had kidnapped a kid and murdered him, obeying a witchcraft ritual that says if you kill a child, the gods or spirits will bestow money upon you.

Unfortunately this was not the first time we had heard of this ritual. A man in one of our workshops had been captured as a seven-year-old by someone who attempted to sacrifice him. Thankfully, he escaped, but has a scar on his neck that reminds him of the event everyday.

I knew it was true but I couldn’t believe it.

A few weeks after the conversation about the article with Julian and Geoffrey, I was in the car with Sacha, my friend from San Francisco, who had just arrived in Uganda. Robert, a taxi driver Julian and I had befriended over the past month, had picked her up from the airport and was now driving us to a small city called Jinja, 300 miles away from Kampala. Robert and I had spent hours and hours together, because the traffic was so bad it could take hours to go 20 kilometers, so we had gotten to know each other pretty well. I felt comfortable enough with him to ask him all the questions about Ugandan customs, politics and lifestyle that I felt too stupid to ask other people.

So as we were driving along I got up the courage to ask him about child sacrifice. “Hey Robert, so this guy I know told me there was this one man that had committed child sacrifice. That isn’t true, is it?”

Robert, who has a very high-pitched, sing-songy voice, replied, “One man? Oh no, Heather, there are very very many. It happens very much!” He was laughing at me. “Oh yes, Heather, it happens very much.”

I looked over at Sacha, who had landed in Uganda an hour ago after two days of travel, and who was barely accustomed to the time of day, let alone the idea of child sacrifice. Her hands were in the air and she was mouthing, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?”

I shot a glance up to Robert, who was sorta shaking his head and saying under his breath, “It’s a problem here, a big problem.”

I tried to find a category to put this in so it could fit into my understanding of the world. I wanted Robert to say something that would help us understand why someone would do this. How someone could go through with killing a child, believing that it would make them rich. I wanted him to tell us that it was really uncommon and that the people who do it are desperately poor and, even though it is hard to understand, they see it as their last option. I wanted him to say that people who believe this also believe that the child they kill will come back in their next life as a King. I wanted him to say that he had heard of a lot of people who had attempted child sacrifice and stopped in the middle because they realized how much they cared for that child on a deeply human level; and once the kid was in their arms and they felt their heart beat, there was no way they could go through with it.

But he didn’t say any of that and Sacha just sat in silence in the back of the cab and watched the Ugandan landscape fly by.

I reached out and rubbed her knee and said, “I am sure it is really uncommon.”

She looked over at me, her eyes still huge, with a glaring look that said, “It better be.”

I nodded and said, “Yeah, I am sure it is very rare.”

We saw Robert’s reflection in the rearview mirror, he was smiling because of our naivete. We looked at each other and started to laugh. It wasn’t funny at all. I wanted to stop laughing, but I couldn’t. Sacha couldn't either. We were just so overcome with the discomfort of knowing child sacrifice was real...and for some reason laughing was the only reaction we seemed to have in that moment.

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This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.

Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX

Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.

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