A couple of weeks ago, Max (my counterpart) and Teddy (his wife) invited me to spend Easter with them at their house in Kajaguzo, a (very) rural village a few kilometers away from Kalisizo. In Uganda, Good Friday and Easter Monday are considered public holidays, so businesses and organizations, like ours, get a four-day weekend. However, I only spent Sunday and Monday in Kajaguzo. On Friday and Saturday, I had our office to myself, allowing me to really focus on some work that I needed to do individually. Electricity in Kalisizo had been pretty terrible all week (I think I might do a post about electricity, to try and give you an idea of what it’s like), but power was on in the afternoon on Friday and all day on Saturday, so I was taking full advantage of it while I could…
On Sunday, I woke up to a cool, steady rain. I would say that this kind of rain is pretty common here, and it’s incredibly relaxing. The cool temperature, the gentle, steady tapping of raindrops on the roof, and the general lack of other noise (because most people don’t go outside when it’s raining) all helped to keep me in bed for a while. Eventually, Max called and told me that he would be coming to pick me up in a couple of hours. So, I climbed out of bed, got myself ready, quickly packed a few things in my backpack, and waited for Max. As I was waiting, I had my front door open, and one of my landlady’s little kids started knocking on the door. At first, I thought he was just doing it to play around, but he was pretty persistent, so I walked over to see what he wanted. He handed me a plastic bag and quickly walked away, before I had a chance to see what was inside. It was a collection of vegetables (carrots and eggplants, mostly). I was a little unsure of what to do, and then I saw my landlady walk past. I quickly assumed that it was a present for Easter (an Easter basket a bunny might actually enjoy), and thanked her for the veggies. She cheerfully said, “Happy Easter,” and continued on.
Max showed up in the car a couple of minutes after I received this nice little gift, and I was ready to go. We had to take an alternate route to Kajaguzo, up and over the big hill in town, because the more direct (but lower and flatter) dirt road was probably a muddy mess. Needless to say, the drive took a while, and I’m pretty sure we were slipping a sliding a little bit as we crawled along at five miles an hour, but we made it. Upon arriving, I sat down in the family’s sitting room, with the three kids who were home from school (Robinah, Gemma, and Emma), and Teddy served lunch almost immediately, although the word “lunch” sounds a bit too light to do this meal justice – definitely more of an Easter feast. On one plate, I had a massive pile of matooke, rice, noodles, cabbage, green beans, and chicken. I don’t think anything else could have fit. In addition to this plate, I had two big bowls, one with a beef stew/soup, and another with a vegetable stew/soup. I got through just about everything, except for some of the beef. I feel like I have very weak teeth whenever I eat meat here – it’s generally more than a little tough. But it all tasted good, even after I had been engaged in this eating marathon for what must have been over an hour.
All during lunch, and then for the rest of the afternoon, the TV was on. Wait a minute, TV? Yes, they have a TV. Kajaguzo is certainly not connected to the electrical grid, but Max installed a solar panel a couple of years ago, and it works really well. In his words, if he wants, he can watch TV “full time,” which was more or less the case on Sunday. During our lunch, there was this cartoon on that went through Holy Week from the perspective of a kid living in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, it had some not very good songs (lyrics didn’t rhyme, trying to fit too many syllables into one beat, etc.). After that, a Filipino soap opera came on (and stayed on for like 2 hours…). If I haven’t said it before, I will now. Soap operas are big here. Some are in English, some (like the one we endured) are in another language and then overdubbed in English by some absolutely terrible voice actors, and others go through this translation procedure and then add on yet another layer of overdubbing, in which one Ugandan guy (it sounds like one guy does all of the different shows) translates into Luganda and provides what I assume is some pretty lively commentary on the action. Sometimes he yells, sometimes he laughs, and sometimes I’m pretty sure that the translation is a little off, but he’s probably making it better, so I can’t complain. Anyway, I paid attention for a bit, in case some family members couldn’t quite keep up with the English. At one point, Max, half-dozing after our feast, asked me which character was which. “The girl in the green dress,” I said, “is Miguel’s new girlfriend, and the girl in the blue dress is his ex-fiancée,” as blue dress girl throws a glass of wine at green dress girl. Finally, I pulled out my Kindle and started reading.
After a while, a commercial came on about the World Cup (which is being held in Brazil this year, if you weren’t aware). Max, fully awake now, asks, “Why aren’t people from Brazil called Americans?”
Without thinking, I replied, “Well, it’s not a state in the US. It’s a completely different country.” Then I realized that it’s actually a pretty valid point, seeing as Brazil is in fact in South America, and this is of course what Max meant. Amending my original statement, I said, “I guess only people from the US are called Americans, even though many other countries are also in the Americas.” Thinking about it a bit more: “Maybe it has to do with the name of the country…What else could you call someone from the US?”
“Ah, you can’t,” Max replied. “For other countries, it’s okay, because people from Canada are Canadians, and people from Brazil are Brazilians.”
“So, I guess the US was just named without thinking about these repercussions,” I concluded. “Now ‘Americans’ is only used for people from the US.” I certainly don’t claim to be an authority on the history of the Americas, but we reached an interesting little conclusion there.
Around 7 PM (what I would consider supper time), Teddy served us a “snack”, which consisted of half a plate of beef, with a few carrots and onions, and half a plate of cabbage. Again, it tasted good, but my teeth hurt…
At some point just before or during this snack, a very short, and somewhat odd, news program came on called “News Beat”. It basically consisted of two anchors, one woman and one man, both sporting dreadlocks, saying news headlines. There was music playing in the background, and both of them, during the whole thing, stared intensely into the camera, heads bobbing to the beat, as they went through the headlines, which were sort of rapped, or at least rhythmically spoken on the beat.
Also around this time, a commercial came on showing some women doing the traditional dance of the Buganda tribe. “Do you like our traditional dance?” Teddy asked me.
“Oh, yes, it’s very impressive,” I responded. “I can’t move my hips like that…”
“John’s brother and mom are coming next month,” Max joined in. “Maybe they would like to see the dance? Teddy, we can organize a demonstration.”
“Does St. Tereza (the village’s primary school) have a dance troupe?” I asked.
“Oh, of course,” Max answered. I didn’t really need to ask that question. Pretty much every school has a dance group. So, Luke and Mom may be getting a personal dance show in about a month…
As it got dark, a few kids from the village came into the house and plopped themselves in front of the TV. This is obviously the thing to do when it gets dark, and we have one of the only TVs in Kajaguzo. It made me think of my mom talking about how, when she was a kid in Highspire, everybody would go over to one family’s house to watch their TV.
Sometime after 10 PM, we ate supper, which consisted of matooke, rice, noodles, beef, and avocadoes. Oh, and I forgot to mention that, every year, Max gives up beer for Lent. So, since Lent was over, we had been drinking beers for quite a while (thankfully, very slowly), and we can’t forget about those calories… Oh, I also forgot to mention that the family has a cat, which is called, quite simply, “Puss”. I’m not sure if it’s a boy or a girl, but I made friends with it during dinner. It walked over to me, looking longingly up at the meat on my plate. I knew that Max and Teddy wouldn’t have wanted me to feed Puss using my own food, but I was pretty successful in getting Puss to forget about eating with some well-placed petting behind the ears.
As a little aside, I think that part of the reason many Ugandan families eat so late is because cooking takes so long, and it’s quite a lot of work. In just about all of the cases I have seen, it is the women that do this work (in addition to a bunch of other household tasks). I’m not going to go into a big thing in this post about this issue, but I will say that if you spend any time at all with a Ugandan family, especially one in a rural setting, you will develop a profound respect for the work ethic of most Ugandan women. And you might also notice that the work these women do is sometimes (perhaps often) underappreciated.
Anyway, by supper time, Gemma and Emma were falling asleep. Robinah shook them awake to eat, and then they dazedly walked off to bed. Eventually, Max and I were the only ones left in the room.
“Thank you, John,” Max says as we start to get up.
“Well, I didn’t really do anything,” I replied, thinking of all of the work that Teddy put into our meals.
“Thank you for spending Easter with us.”
“Well, thank you for inviting me to spend it with your family.”
“Oh, we could never forget you,” Max says. “You are part of the family. We are just praying that God will keep us close in the future.”
I’ll tell you, this gig can be difficult and frustrating sometimes. Then, other times, Max will go and say something like this, and I can only utter the Ugandan grunt of agreement (“Mmm”) as I feel a little tear starting to form in my eye…
Monday was more of the same – big meals and relaxing. I won’t get into it now, because this is a nice place to end, and it’s pretty late. I’m back at my house now, still feeling extremely full. I took a few minutes tonight to run back and forth between my two rooms, trying to use up a few calories and to persuade my still relatively fast metabolism to continue working its way through the recent influx of above average amounts of food. In any case, it was a nice couple of days, and, now that it’s over, I’m glad to be back comfortably in my house. Back to work tomorrow…