Posted by Caleb | April 16, 2016
For the majority of our trip Beth and I have been relatively isolated from others. Though we are constantly surrounded either in the cities we’re visiting or the trails we are hiking, neither of us are usually acting too chipper or outgoing. If you find us reaching out to a stranger it is most probable that we are either lost, or that person is handing out a taste of something free.
This is not a great habit and certainly not something that we are purposefully doing or proud of. Thus when arriving in Uganda we were pumped to make some friends and have conversations about new things. Below are just a few of the people that we had a chance to get to know.
Our compound where we lived was an old Ugandan witch doctors house, turned Christian school dormitory, turned bro-house for foreign volunteers. We had cooks and house staff that doubled as our friends and culture guides at nearly every turn as we struggled to figure out the daily tricks to live in Africa. The basecamp staff manager, Aunt Christine, has two children one of which stayed with us at the house. His named was Giddy, short for Gideon and while he mostly spoke Lugandan, he was learning English at school and selectively understood what we were saying. He was constantly wet for some reason, he peed freely wherever he wanted (maybe explaining why he was always wet) and was always looking to lock people in the bathroom.
The JaJa next door
When we arrived in Uganda we were told we were heading towards the new basecamp in an up and coming suburban neighborhood. When I heard neighborhood, I pictured rows of homes, yellow street signs and folks out on their driveways waving at us. This was not the case, but what we had was much better. Small mud and brick homes, spread out throughout the Ugandan jungle. There were some larger more American looking homes but for the most part it was small shelters often surrounded by fruit trees. Lucky for us, just down the dirt road from our place lived a grandmother, mother and two young daughters who attended our school. Each day as we would walk by one of them would come out to say hello or something in Lugandan. Eventually we struck up a trading deal with the grandmother (JaJa in Lugandan) that mostly included us overpaying for her avocados. She would always greet us with a smile and also tell us something in Lugandan that I guessed to be about her vegetables or whatever she was selling. She was perfect at giving off that “grandmother” wise person vibe…
Emma the Cook
Maybe my favorite person among the tons of people we were lucky enough to come into contact with was the school cook. His name was Emma, short for Emmanuel he is 18 years old and from a village some distance away. His story is not that uncommon for young folks in Uganda. Growing up from a giant family, his parents couldn’t afford for him to finish high school so he started working early. He began as a shepherd, then a construction worker, then a cook for construction workers and now he is employed as the school chef. He makes the same meal every single day for the students, a corn meal and beans duo that requires a ton of “mingling” or stirring and heavy use of a the four-foot ladle. He is also required to chop up and split his own wood to fuel the fire for the stove. Thus every day, twice a day he walks down to a pile of dug up trees and starts swinging. With a blunt axe he splits the log in half and then bruises till breaking it into four pieces. For the first five weeks I knew him I thought he was 30 years old as he acts 10-12 times more mature than me and looks like he could be an NFL player.
I think the best story I have of Emma is walking back from the school one evening. The group of U.S. volunteers had tried to put on a movie night at the school, and after much deliberation (multiple hours that included a voting tournament) as to what movie we would show, we landed on Drumline. This was a VERY ignorant decision as none of us had seen Drumline in 10 years, nor did we bother to look up its’ PG13 rating. We made the connection between the drumming at Ugandan church and the drumming in the states and thought it would be a hit. In the end, it had a lot of kissing, several bits of cussing and girls wearing shorts not appropriate for the local culture. We were luckily saved by Ugandas’ terrible power grid as the electricity went out halfway through and we fastforwarded over about 40 minutes of the movie to get to the more inspirational last scene. Walking back to the house that evening we were all feeling a bit guilty, thinking we had just tainted these pure childrens minds when cook Emma asked what we learned from the movie. What I wanted to say was that showing American movies here is a terrible idea but he began to talk about how he learned perseverance, hard work and trust. This brought about several thoughts from me. First, if he got that much out of that terrible movie, imagine the conversation that would occur after watch “Forrest Gump”. Secondly, it made me feel like I was walking next to the nicest, most God-fearing, most mature 18 year olds on the planet.
Pronounced ‘Pavin’, she is a primary student at the CLD school. Her family lives in Katunga, the city slum neighborhood where several of our volunteers spend a lot of time. We were introduced to Parvin one of the first days in Uganda and within one hour she had most of the ladies in a circle listening to her deliver a sermon. She once pulled me aside into a conversation about breastfeeding and birthday cake. Every picture you take of her she rolls her eyes into the back of her head. She is also one of the smartest, most successful students at the school. I have no clue what Parvin will be when she grows up but I imagine that any American TV station would sign her up immediately for reality T.V.
Again these are just a few of the many people that we met. There are so many more that we could write and talk about, maybe down the line.