It is hard to describe the feeling of being constantly busy, constantly overwhelmed and forever spinning when it seems that all I achieved today was my washing. It is said that Africa runs on a time of its own, that if you get one thing done in a day you’re doing well. It is very easy to think that you understand such things without actually having experienced them for yourself. I am doing so now.
The rainy season seemed to stop overnight (with a very dramatic final thunderstorm) and now our days are filled with scorching sunshine that goes right through you. We are a stone’s throw from the equator and it really does feel as though the sun is directly overhead, beating down mercilessly as we try to do such simple tasks as washing. I showed Rose a picture of a washing machine today and she laughed in disbelief that we simply push a button and the clothes come out clean. Here it involves hours of backbreaking scrubbing, multiple tubs of water (to be filled from a slow-running tap on the other side of the school) and that good old multi-purpose laundry soap.
This morning was filled with much amusement, despite the sweat pouring from me, as every child, adult or animal that passed me paused and thanked me. I was confused as this had happened before and it made no sense for everyone to be thanking me for washing my clothes. Thanking me for being clean? For finally scrubbing up? Because they thought I might do theirs too?? As it turns out, in Ugandan culture each time you pass someone doing any kind of work it is customary to thank them. In fact you must. You must thank each person for the work they are doing, whether it benefits you or not. I guess they just like to encourage things getting done. Now that I can understand.
Every day here is full of wonders. Wonder in the sense that I wake up each morning having no idea how the day is going to pan out, what wild tangent it will end up on. Yesterday we went into Kyotera to go to the food markets and buy school supplies at the local stationery shop. The markets are a feast for the senses; mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables are piled high on makeshift tables on an uneven dirt hillside. Children either run towards us or away from us crying muzungu!! in wonder, horror or a mixture of both. We bought huge juicy pineapples and bunches of tiny sweet bananas and sat munching them on the side of the road (you can’t eat while walking here but there are convenient bench seats all over the place). The markets also feature hunks of dead animal suspended from hooks, swarming with flies. Kirsty is thankful everyday that she is vegetarian. Cherie and I have vowed to try everything here which is quite a challenge at times. I have eaten unchewable meat, an untold number of stones in my rice, any stray bug that flies into my meal, as well as Uganda’s favourite treat – grasshoppers. They’re crunchy, they’re green and they still have eyes that look at you as you eat them. Can’t say I’d recommend them.
There are two new American volunteers here that arrived last week and will stay for a month. They’re travelling the world volunteering along the way – Ecuador, Peru, Lao, India, Tanzania… We met up with them after the markets and found them decidedly shaken – they had just witnessed ‘mob justice’. Apparently someone had been murdered earlier in the week in Kyotera and the mob had found the killer and decided to administer their own justice – with bricks, boots and fists. The police had arrived just in time but Dominic said the police are so corrupt they would probably finish the job the mob had started anyway. Sometimes it is difficult to get your head around this place, so stunningly beautiful and so peaceful yet with such a dark underbelly that fortunately I am yet to experience.
On the way back from the markets, Dominic asked if we’d mind to visit a local family. Next thing we knew we were bumping down a tiny dirt path in a maze of banana palms standing outside a mud hut where a family was sitting. Or what was left of the family. Their father had died of AIDS and the mother was HIV positive. Of her two surviving daughters, one had baby twins and the other was heavily pregnant. Neither had husbands; the fathers of these children were ‘boys from the village’. The head of the family, breadwinner and supporter of them all was a boy of 12. It was a very sobering experience. The women were so warm, so grateful for our presence and despite the language barrier, somehow it seemed words were unnecessary. I held one of the beautiful 2-month-old twins. She was so tiny, with huge brown eyes looking up at me and I fell in love instantly which was fortunate seeing as I ended up with a lap full of pee. Nappies are non-existent around here.
As we sat, Dominic explained the family’s situation. The mother had been near-death when she had been treated for AIDS by a local nurse who had charged three times the normal price as the family was so desperate they could not refuse the treatment. The nurse was still owed money and now she was threatening to sell the family’s land from under them to repay the debt. The money owed was the equivalent of NZ$30. We gave them the money and their gratitude was overwhelming. There is the constant internal battle we all go through here, knowing that while our resources are far from endless, we have the ability to save someone’s life with just a few dollars. The power to do so continues to haunt me but I am sure that it will be a recurring theme over the next 6 months and one I will need to learn to deal with.
And yet despite everything, there is still so much laughter here. Today Cherie brought out some bubbles and the children ended up running around for hours squealing with delight and chasing bubbles all over the school. It is the simple things here that create the greatest joy. I have taken to holding afternoon music sessions for anyone that wants to come in the shade of a tree and just sit grinning from ear to ear as these little voices serenade me with ‘Que Sera Sera’, their favourite song.