Wednesday, August 22, 2007

3 days in the village

The following are journal entries from living in a small mud hut with a poor Ugandan family and their 9 children…

I arrived late. Much later than I had intended. It was nearly sunset by the time I made it to their place. Their home is 4.5 miles out of my village and they live way up on top of a small mountain range. Everyone in the area must have known I was coming because I couldn’t remember the way to the house for a minute. I couldn’t remember exactly which footpath went to their house and as I stood at a crossroad (crosspath) one of the guys I had just passed who was turned around watching me called to me and started gesturing to my left.

So I arrived. The father, Alfred, was there to greet me along with 3 of his children, a set of young twins and a younger daughter who I later learned was Samantha Ruth. My director from Compassion, Japheth, came shortly after to ease me into the situation and I’m glad of it. He came with my mattress and blanket but he came to make sure I was settled in alright. It was a good transition with him there. This house is so small. 2 rooms, barely 8ft by 8ft. 11 people (with me it’s 12) sleep here each night. It’s one reason I chose to stay here. I wanted to be here when everyone goes to sleep to see it for myself.

We walked down the path to a small duka (shop) where we met the Local Chairman 1 (LC1, equivalent of a mayor of a small village). I had to meet the local government. I was told that since I was a guest it was customary to introduce me to the LC1. The meeting was brief. There were a number of other villagers who were loitering around the shop, curious as to why a white man was there so late in the evening. Some of them were drunk and were trying to talk to me in Runyankore. I bought some packages of cookies and headed back up to the house. Japheth left and Alfred and I shared a bowl of katogo. Jacob describes katogo as “a bowl of screaming souls”. It’s made of matooke (unripe banana plantain) mixed with about anything else. Sometimes intestines, but usually beans. Mine was with beans. I had intended not to eat any of their food while on my visit for fear of diarrhea, but when offered, I had to eat it.

I then met the rest of the family. Mostly girls. Six of the 9 kids are girls. Deborah is the oldest. She told me she’s 19 but her birth date makes her 20. She looks about 14, probably from years of malnourishment. I asked her if she was in school and she assured me she was. There aren’t any secondary schools around here so I was curious as to what year she was in. P6, she tells me. P6!!?? That’s only 6th grade! You’re 20 and in 6th grade? Janet is the next oldest at 17 and she says she’s in P5! I mean it’s good that they’re in school but why are they so old and in primary school? The rest of the names I’m still learning.

As we ate supper they told me thaty liked to sing, so I had them sing me a song. An hour later I was fighting sleep listening to them singing. They sang quite beautifully. They not only sang but they danced for me. It was really special and I began to realize how blessed I was to have them open their home to me. Japheth was telling me how excited people in the area would be tonight just knowing that I was here. So now we’re singing what seems to be bedtime prayers, led by the mother. I’m in the “boy’s room” for sleeping with Alfred and one of the sons. So the other 9 are in the other room. They’re now all praying very quickly and loudly in the other room. It almost sounds like praying in tongues… no, more like a prayer auction by the speed they’re all using. It’s quite unusual and mildly disturbing to hear as the final sound before I drift to sleep. Oh well. Good night.

August 15th

After simultaneous, auction style, speed prayers, the girls room began remedial lessons in English, reciting what seemed like English dictionary terms and definitions. The light was still on so I guess they were reading them. I’m not sure if it was being done because I was here or what. Annet, the Compassion child who is in P3 is one of the brightest girls in her class (3rd out of 103) and her older sisters seem to know English well.

Shortly after lights out, around 9:30, came the noises. Little pitter patters of feet just inches from my head around my bookbag. Mice or rats, I’m not sure. I’ve got candy and cookies in my bag but they’re well sealed. My mosquito net I slept under doubles as a rat protector, so I wasn’t really worried, but it’s a disturbing noise to hear. I missed having my cat, Akamogo, around. I may sould like a baby by saying this but I would always bring her inside whenever I heard a bump in the night. She’s an expert hunter and she’ll eat anything: mice, rats, birds, bugs. And she’s not fooled by the gekos lose-their-tail trick.

I didn’t sleep well. Normally I’m out like a light within seconds of hitting the hay. Partly due to the noises but partly due to the fact that I was sleeping in a small mud hut with 11 other people in the middle of Africa!

This morning, very first thing, we went to work in the banana plantation. Cutting down dead leaves and laying them in a certain way on the plantation floor. There’s a right way and a wrong way to lay the leaves apparently. My job was to follow with the machete and cut the lower leaves while Alfred used a tool on a pole to cut the higher leaves. He works very hard and we finished on his small plantation in about 2 hours. I’m not used to working so I had blisters on my hands from the machete. I also couldn’t help but wonder what he does the rest of his time. This job took 2 hours and was necessary for the health of the banana trees but it obviously hadn’t been taken care of in months.

Afterwards I was given milk-tea, popcorn and breadsticks. After that it was on to climb the nearby mountain range. I planned on going solo but when I looked back Alfred was following me, so we went together along with the family dog. It was beautiful but hazy and I saw the mountain range I want to hike tomorrow. I’ve seen it before from One Tree Hill. I was struck by how peaceful it was on the hill. Quietly sitting, able to see everythihng while a heard of cows quietly grazed nearby. I could have styed for hours.

I tried to skip lunch and head into town but they had already prepared katogo for me. So I was obligated to eat it. I don’t exactly hate katogo but it’s easily my least favorite food here, and villagers eat it by the truckload. I biked into town to bathe and change. I planned to walk it to see what it’s like but it’s 4.5 miles, 2 hours walking each way, so biking was the better option.

The downside to the experiment is that there’s really nothing for me to do. I sat under a shade tree all afternoon while neighbors came and stared at me. Groups of like 20 neighbors just sitting in the yard watching me flip pages of Moby Dick for hours. Mostly kids. I had a small army of kids follow me anywhere I tried to go. I did manage to see where they fetch water. It's a borehole about ½ km down a steep hell, but not far away at all.

This may sound random but tonight I finally realized why Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. I thought it was because of the warm weather, ack of snow and lack of Christmas marketing, but I was wrong. I passed out small gifts to all the kids tonight and their eyes lit up just like Christmas time, and then I realized that kids were the missing ingredient for me this year for Christmas. I gave them jump ropes, bandanas, little etch-a-sketches, and twine and beads to make necklaces and bracelets. I also gave them each a tooth brush because oral hygiene was seriously lacking, especially in the younger kids. The older girls had beautiful teeth, however. They were very excited about the gifts. This is a family, after all, that really has nothing. The Purdue Team when they were here visited this same family and brought with them mattresses, blankets, saucepans, mosquito nets, plates and cups. Before that they had only 1 small twin mattress that had been given to Annet from Compassion.

August 16th

I decided to end my visit this morning. I had spent 2 nights there and had seen all I wanted to see. I gave the family $25 for keeping me and they were instructed not to use it to buy any food or anything for me. Instead Alfred used it to buy 2 large trees which he’ll later cut down and use to build a new house for his family. They had some ironsheets that they had purchased from little money the Purdue Team had given to them. So with $25 and some hard work Alfred will be able to build a bigger house, minus the roof, for his family.

It was an interesting time with the family. It was tough to sleep at night with the noises as well as the young kids waking up at all hours of the night and Alfred yelling at them to go back to sleep. The kids woke up early, swept the dirt front yard and washed before going to school. When they returned home from school they fetched water and spent the next several hours preparing supper. There wasn’t any play time for the school kids that I noticed, except for recess at school. I was amazed at how clean they kept themselves. Bathing several times a day and encouraging me to do the same. And really scrubbing themselves down. The took what I would equate to a sponge bath, just washing arms, face and head, but they were immaculately clean. Their clothing was another matter. The kids wore the same clothes every day that I saw them. They had their school uniforms and then they had 1 other set of clothes. They may have had church clothes too, but I didn’t see any.

All in all it was fantastic experience to see what village life is like. I would like to do it again in a month or so with another family and possible go back to help Alfred construct his house.


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