I came to Uganda very interested in researching womanâ€™s issues, particularly agency, development, and dignity, through music.Â It has been difficult for me to communicate my research.Â When a musungu enters a setting â€“ especially a church, they are expected to teach or preach.Â But, I want to listen and learn from them!!Â I have begun to understand that it is culturally rude if, as a visitor, I do not address the congregation.Â Since I am here under the hospitality of the Church, I prepare to preach and teach and hope that later there is time to hear from them.Â I have noticed that itâ€™s after the service and the many activities that women must do, that I am able to hear from them.
I have visited many womenâ€™s church gatherings.Â The come expecting to hear a Bible lesson from the musungu visitor.Â At my first meeting I tried to arrange the chairs in a circle, so that we could all be part of the conversation.Â It didnâ€™t happen, they only sat in the chairs facing me in the circle and as they trickled into the gathering they sat in the pews behind those chairs.
Anyone who has been in a Bible study that I lead knows that I mostly try to ask questions and hope that the group will be forth coming with their opinion and thoughts.Â I feel my primary job is to help come up with a group interpretation and make sure everyone gets a turn to speak.Â My first lesson with the women was about Sarah and Godâ€™s promise to her.Â I had many questions about the story, how Sarah must have felt, what Sarah thought of her promise, and what we feel God is promising us, etc.Â However, with each question all I got wasâ€¦ blank stares.
So I wrapped up my unsuccessful lesson with: God gave Sarai a new name to be Sarah, princess of people. Â God gives us a new name as â€œChristiansâ€ to be examples of Christ in the world and leaders in the church.
Phew.Â Thatâ€™s over.Â What next?!â€¦ With about an hour to spare and really nothing else to do, I decided to teach them a song.
Caveat:Â English is the language spoken in schools and in official settings.Â So I have a translator in almost every setting I encounter and it is usually a man.Â I mostly know praise songs in English and Spanishâ€¦ so, letâ€™s hope these women are open to learning an English song.Â I chose, â€œThere is a Nameâ€ by Byron Cage.Â (This song has much significance to meâ€¦ but thatâ€™s a story for another day).Â I sang it for them and they seemed to enjoy both the song and my voice â€“ maybe this lesson wonâ€™t be a complete bust.
Cultural Note:Â When I am introduced or introduce myself to women, many do not make eye contact with me â€“ it doesnâ€™t matter if I hug or shake hands, they are usually looking downward.Â Iâ€™m not sure why.Â I asked Rose and she said that itâ€™s a sign of respect (Rose is one of the most amazing women I have ever met (!!) and will blog about our adventures soon).Â When I ask a womanâ€™s name and she will answer in a quiet and timid voice.Â I try to repeat her name so that she will say it againâ€”but it comes back to me just as soft.Â When a woman greets a man, it is common for her to kneel when they shake hands, which is another sign of respect and submission.
That said, when the women sing… their voices are strong, loud, bright, and penetrating.Â It’s like they come alive.
I wrote the repetitive lyrics of â€œThere is a Nameâ€ on a very old chalkboard and they placed it on an easel in the front of the room.Â I taught them using call and response and the woman picked it up quickly.Â It was beautiful to hear their voices and the accent come through on the melody.
Since that meeting I have taught many English songs in exchange for Luganda/Swahili/Indigenous songs.
In another womenâ€™s group setting they taught me this song.Â I did not pick up the language as easily, but the melody is upbeat and beautiful:
Omukwano gwa yesu nga mungi gyendi
omukwano gwa yesu nga
Mungi nnyo ekisaakye ekingi
Kyekimanirira bwemba nga mbulo
The love of Jesus is so great to me,
The love of Jesus is so much,
his grace upholding me when I go astray,
twali tubuze mungi,
taata notusembeqa kabaka
abalala twali benqi twali bamalaya olwâ€™omusai gwo
omungi gwegututukuqa lwa mukwano gwo omungi taata ompanirire
We have gone astray and then you brought us near oh king,
Some of us were adulterers and prostitutes,
but because of your great blood that sanctifies us,
because of your great love that you uphold me.
â€œSome of us were adulterers and prostitutesâ€ jumped out to me the most.Â Thatâ€™s not a lyric youâ€™ll hear in a church worship song in the states!
I am learning the issues that are very relevant to women here in Uganda center on marriage and children. Â I must be honest, it’s hard to process a trip like this for myself, much less for my family and friends.Â My divinity school education has beaten into me an understanding of my own bias and opinion of culture, race, gender, class, etc.Â I must say that I am frustrated with an inability to synthesize information for my blog without generalizations, stereotypes, and focusing on my bias.Â This is the best I can do for now…
At womenâ€™s gatherings there are always children in the laps, even at choir practice.Â They will nurse their children during the rehearsal or meeting time.Â It is the womanâ€™s job to take care of the children, cook, clean, and take care of the house. Â I have seen 2 or 3 men holding babies in a church setting, other than that it is always women.
In many family systems in Ugandaâ€”especially in the villagesâ€”the man decides for the family how many children they have.Â Having many children is prestigious, even if you cannot take care of them.Â Also, due to a high mortality rate in children, it is important to have many children so they can take care of you when you are older.
I learned at a womanâ€™s health gathering that in the villages, men decide how many wives they will have.Â â€œIsnâ€™t polygamy illegal?â€ Another woman from the states asked.Â The Ugandan women looked at each other as if they did not know or it did not matter.Â It is still practiced in rural areas.
There is a myth in villages that the more a husband beats you the more he loves you.Â But much like domestic violence in the states, it is not just an issue for the lower socio-economic areas.Â I heard a song sung by a gospel artist in Uganda, it is a story of a woman, abused by her husband.Â She decides to poison her husbandâ€™s food.Â The chorus warns the woman to stop and forgive him.Â So she does and maintains the sanctity of marriage.Â I couldnâ€™t help but think that the American equivalent to this song is â€œEarl had to Die.â€
Divorce is the worst thing that a woman can do.Â Â I have interviewed women and they say that the Bible says divorce is wrong, you have to keep forgiving your husband.Â â€œUntil what?â€ I askedâ€¦ pauseâ€¦ until he changes or he kills you.Â I asked if there is anywhere for these women to go, especially since the church maintains that the woman should never leave her husband.Â The women in which I was talking, did not know of a way out or a place to go.
As a white, female visitor from the US, I am treated with much respect.Â When eating in homes, visitors are served first, then the men, and then the women (who prepared the food).Â Ugandans are aware that women from the states have more equality with men and they will joke that men even help with household tasks in the states.Â It is a common question for someone to ask me why I am not yet married.Â I usually say something like, â€œIf I was married, I couldnâ€™t come to Uganda and work on a masters degree.â€
There is so much more to sayâ€¦ but it will have to wait for another day.Â I write this on Independence Day!Â My heart is with all those who suffer from domestic violence that someday they will have freedom from abuse!