Twenty-two of us arrived in Uganda wanting to make a difference in the life of at least one person. Those of us who’d been there in the past had pre-set notions of what we were going to do. This was my sixth trip to Uganda and what now seems normal to me is fun to see through the eyes of a first timer. Seeing the shacks along the road which serve as shops. Some are just wooden constructions crudely fashioned into a shelter to hold whatever vegetables or goods they have to sell. Shops made of shipping containers and people sitting along the roadside selling charcoal, firewood and sugar cane are a far cry from Macy’s and Nordstrom. The little electrical shop becomes crowded if four people enter at once.
Entering a mud hut for the first time is a bit of a shock. It’s dark inside with the only light coming from the doorway. There is little furniture-a mattress or a mat for sleeping if they are fortunate. A couple of wooden stools and a small wooden table are typical of the furnishings. I think about my own home which is not elaborate by American standards but would be a palace in a Ugandan village.
The children were showing me how they cook. Three rocks spaced apart with firewood in the middle and a saucepan resting on the rocks. They asked, “Do you cook for your husband like that?” I hesitated to answer as I thought of my husband popping something into the microwave or bringing home something from the deli. “Uh. Not quite.”
Bathrooms for those living in mud huts? Some have latrines. Others go in the bush. They bathe in plastic wash basins with water carried from the community well. Not once did I hear anyone complain about water being too cold.
The village people are a happy people. They work hard carrying water, washing their clothes by hand and spreading them on the grass or bushes to dry. They can’t get up in the middle of the night, go to the refrigerator and find something to eat. They have to go to the garden or put millet into a pan of water, start a fire and wait for their snack. Many don’t have the luxury of a snack and when it rains and they can’t build a fire they go to bed hungry.
We have so many conveniences we take for granted. We can call the exterminator to rid our homes of bugs, rodents, and pests. In a hut with a dirt floor and lots of places for pests to enter it’s not unusual to have a rat eat their clothing. One girl brought me her school uniform and showed how a rat had eaten her sleeve. When I was in town I asked how to get rid of rats. They said they don’t use poison but have a glue strip that the rat will stick to or rat traps. People need to keep their flour, beans and clothing in tin containers.
Not all people in Uganda live as these villagers. One morning I sat on the well manicured lawn of our hotel and watched the gardeners prepare for a wedding which would be held pool side that evening. Everything was lush and in bloom from the spring rains. The birds were singing in surround sound. The hotel steps were being swept and mopped. A groundskeeper swept the drive with a whisk broom. There were potted plants around a tree near me and a gardener appeared pushing a squeaky, lopsided wheel barrow. He loaded some of the plants and took them to the pool.
The pool was being cleaned and loud African music poured from the pool house. An open bed truck arrived packed with workers and supplies and they quickly unloaded and started setting up tents and tables and chairs.
The white, iron gate leading into the hotel grounds was closed and a woman security guard stood nearby with a rifle slung over her shoulder. A little paradise in the midst of poverty. I wondered how much the grounds people who were working so diligently earned each day. I know they put in long hours as those who work within the hotel are there when we arrive for breakfast and are still there when we go to bed.
The gardener with the lopsided wheel barrow returned for more plants. I spoke to him and he stopped to chat for a few minutes. I asked, “Do you mind if I ask you what the hotel pays?” He said he works 10 hour days-everyday and earns 70,000 shillings per month. That figures out to about $38 a month. He has a family and it’s not enough but he’s happy to have an income at all.
Each of the 22 people of our team will have stories to tell. I would like to have interviewed each one but time did not allow for that. I do know that each one brought a uniqueness and value to this team as we jelled and worked together. We cried, laughed and prayed together as we moved through our long days which went by way too quickly. Some caught the fever and will return to Uganda as soon as they are able. Others won’t be able to return but their lives will be forever changed.
We will all carry in our hearts as we move through our hectic days here, frantically working to get ahead in this world the sight of our Ugandan friends. The people dance and sing and laugh and talk. They don’t know about microwaves and Mercedes, big houses and swimming pools and the latest fashions. They know about loving one another and helping their brothers and sisters and serving the Lord with all their hearts. They care for their sisters who are dying from AIDS. They take in the children of co-wives, sisters, brothers and neighbors who have died. They hold hands, hug, and share whatever they have. They value one another and hurt when their neighbors hurt. They rejoice when good things happen to their friends.
Thank you so much for your prayers and support.