I sat on the veranda yesterday afternoon. Above me the sky darkened, clouds drifting and merging until they became one threatening entity. The thunder rolled across the sky as soft gusts began to filter through the town. Slowly, sparsely the rain drops began to fall, warming up for the torrent of rain that soon followed. This is a storm in Africa. Now that we are into the rainy season, storms drift in and out unpredictably. When it rain in Uganda, everything stops. People are chased inside and the streets become quiet. Even the roosters, goats and cows that mingle along the streets are quiet-or at least you can’t hear them over the rain. The rain is a welcome relief after that weeks of dust and heat.
The rain has meant digging. We’ve been busy working with the Bulyantete women digging up the fields. We also spent some time planting maize with the women of Mayindo. Most mornings have been spent in Bulyantete digging. Tony keeps telling me that I’m in for serious work this next month as there is a lot of land to cultivate. But I don’t mind, I love it. We use hoes here instead of a tractor or tiller. The work has the opposite effect on me-instead of tiring, I leave the fields buzzing with a strange jolt of energy that I only find when gardening/farming. As I dig, my mind wanders, my mothers and sisters chatter around me. Luganda fills the air. I can’t understand much of anything-occasionally my name, Namubiru, comes up. I can only guess at what’s being said. Despite my lack of understanding, I find it comforting. We may not be able to understand one another, but there’s mutual happiness. I look forward each morning to seeing them. It’s a funny thing, becoming close with people with so little words exchanged. After the first morning digging, the women sent me home with gifts of food. I knew better than to refuse but it left me troubled. They need the food so much more than I do and yet, here they were giving some to me. I fought back tears on the bodaboda ride home, somewhat unsuccessfully. I’m sure some Ugandans in the passing cars were puzzled by the crying Mzungu on the bodaboda. I didn’t understand and was overwhelmed by the gratitude shown by the gifts. I simple thank you would have been more than enough. I genuinely enjoy being there and working. I suppose it’s a character flaw of mine, but I’ve never been particularly great at accepting thanks with any sort of grace. After a good cry and Andrew’s explanation, I began to understand. It is their character to give to show gratitude. They gave what they did to show how important I am to them. And that, that is powerful. The women, without few words and little understanding, have become my mothers and my sisters whom I love. This is what grassroots volunteering is and what all development work should be. None of the giant, impersonal systems that dominate the development field. Development is more than money or structure or formulas–it’s getting to truly know those you are trying to uplift. It’s knowing their characters- which one of them is the dancer or singer or comedian or the one that’s always laughing. That’s where the seeds of change get their start.
The new land and crops will bring in much needed income for both the women and Hopeline. It will mostly be maize, which requires little water. The effects of climate change have made an already water scarce environment even more vulnerable. The past few seasons have seen too much rain and not enough. Hopefully this season will be different.
After my time with the women, they walk down the dirt paths with us to the main road where we meet either Tiif or Bower (our bodaboda drivers-their names may be misspelled). Often, one will take my hand as we stroll, unhurried down the path. And I’m overcome by joy at being here, worlds away from home, walking hand in hand with my mothers.
*(I, of course, have not forgotten my family and friends at home. I love and miss them dearly and do not mean to imply any differently. My heart has simply grown to hold my Ugandan family as well.)