It’s been 4 weeks in Uganda and I still wake up in the morning under my mosquito net and think: Whoa, I’m in Africa.
Sometimes it’s not the mosquito net that reminds me it’s the blaring radio music as early as 7:30am. There is a constant backdrop of pop music played from house windows, restaurants, stores, churches pretty much anywhere there could be a radio playing it is on and usually at full volume. There is a song I hear literally 5 times a day (I heard it 6 times yesterday). Actually pretty much anytime I hear it I say to whomever I’m with, I have never heard this song! (My sarcasm is usually lost on them but I get a kick out of it.) The song is called, Takatiki. Takatiki is the sound a clock makes like our tick tock. The song is about a woman who is waiting for her lover to come home, to call, and to be with her.
Last night I went out to listen to live music. Much of our pop music trickles over to Uganda, but there are many pop Ugandan and African songs. Another popular song is sung by a man and says, I would rather be with an ugly woman who can produce children and welcome others than just a beautiful woman. Another one is called Mwami which is the word for husband in Lusoga (it sounds a lot like “mommy” and I originally thought she was calling for her mommy). A woman is singing to her husband who fulfills her.
Before I left the states, my best friend recommended that I read the book: He’s Just Not That Into You. (This is the kind of book that only your best friend who loves you and knows your past relationships recommends) I didn’t get a chance to read it, so I brought it with me to Uganda. Basically the book is about the excuses women make for men who may treat them poorly in various situations anything from not calling to fear of commitment to dating other girls it tells the reader to get rid of the guy who is just not into them. I laughed a lot at myself then I thought about these Ugandan pop songs and the many American pop songs about fulfillment in being intimate with another person. I am realizing that a lot of empowering women is helping us realize that our worth is not dependent on the men in our lives.
Polygamy has touched so much of this society. You can see the pain it causes the women and children and the church, for the most part, is silent. The church does not want to split families and is struggling to address the even deeper issue of poverty. I want to know what goes through the heart and mind of the third wife and what about the lives of her children?
Friday I went to a culture day with Mukwaya (my teacher/introduction leader friend). It’s the African version of solo and ensemble where every school choir in a district sings for judges. Each culture day has a theme to educate the community and has numerous performances. First each choir must sing the East African Anthem then they compete with speeches, traditional songs, original compositions, and traditional instruments. This culture day was about the East African Community. I learned that Uganda, Rwanda, Brundi, Kenya, and Tanzania are in a partnership and will soon have one currency. The speeches and some of the original compositions were advocating for open trade between the countries and have a single language, Swahili. One of the original compositions talked about poverty and how the east African community is helping to end poverty and children suffering. (I kept thinking I hope this is more like the European union and not NAFTA.)
The traditional songs and instruments were my favorite! There were no endongos, but there were many children playing the endingidi (thumb piano) and endungu (bow harp). It was sometimes hard to hear. I had a really good seat for the anthems, but it got REALLY long and REALLY hot inside the hall space, so I gave up my seat to get some air outside. When we came back we stood in the back but Mukwaya made sure to translate the songs. One of the songs was about being a barren woman. She went to the witch doctor and he blessed her and then she had twins! The kids energetically acted out the whole thing ha ha!
Almost every day this week I have visited with a woman’s group or choir. I love the time I get to spend with the women because each group is different and I never know what to expect and I always learn something new! Thursday I met with a group of women who have a development project where they teach women to sew for 5000 shillings a month (that’s $2). I met some of the women sewing, some with their babies at their feet. They learn on paper bags, but eventually they are able to make cloths to sell or find a job in town. It was originally made for the women in the church, but now they have opened it to the community. This church has a fantastic choir they taught me three songs.
I love choir rehearsals without the instruments present or when the power is out. Almost every church, in which I have been, has an electric keyboard. I have yet to meet a woman piano player. It was explained to me that men play the instruments because a woman does not have time to learn. The instrumentalist uses one of the 10 drum loops on the keyboard and plays it behind every choir song. Many piano players do a great job of playing by ear and they transpose each of the songs using the black keys. Yet, it is always TOO LOUD. It is impossible for me to teach a song with a drum loop and someone trying to figure out chords in the background. So, I usually ask them to learn the song with me, then I helped them learn the accompaniment.
I have to constantly tell myself to slow my speech, especially when teaching. Today I was in a group and no one was willing to translate, so I spend 1.5 hours speaking slowly to a room full of blank stares by the grace of God we learned the song, “Draw Me Close to You.”
Saturday I went to a beauty parlor, mostly because I wanted the experience to see how and where women get their hair done, but I also wanted to get my toes painted. I waited for about an hour and watched a weave put into a woman’s head and some other women get up-dos and then put on a gomsei. My pedicure took about an hour I don’t think my feet have ever been cleaner! The boy scrubbed my feet!! I had to ask him to stop because I was worried I would not have any skin left! The basin for my feet was filled with burning hot water, so I knew that it was clean and the water for the clippers was steaming too, so I felt pretty good about the whole thing It cost 15,000 shillings, which is about $6 and my toes look great. However, my feet became dusty again the moment I walked outside!
Thank you if you are still reading — I realize this is just a random assortment of thoughts and experiences… but I have to share these experiences of a lifetime and find a way to process the privileged that I own in order to have them!