Stella is my age, 24. She is vibrant, dedicated, hard working and strong. She is also pregnant with her second child- the oldest of which is two and a half. She sits on the cement floor, playing with Susan, while her husband Stephen sits on the nearby couch working on the newest design of earring. Above him are photos of flashy rides on a 2010 calendar- the kind that is handed out for free during the holidays by mechanic shops, attempting to keep customers coming back. Next to the calendar (one of the only other decorations in the one-room rental) an embroidered 5×7 cloth reads, “There is no permanent condition”. Stella continues to explain that she lost seven family members in the north due to the rebel fighting. “Do you want to move back home, when the conflict passes?”, I ask. “Yes” she replies, with a far-off look in her eyes, a gaze not of indifference or boredom, but one full of hope for herself and her family.
When interviewing these women, and processing their responses, I feel young. Each of the nine members we have spoken to thus far (Christine, Agnes, Esther, Lucy, Scovia, Alice, Rose, Kamila, Stella) have lost family members in the conflict with the LRA, have children, and have serious health issues. Kamila is HIV positive, and is the sole financial provider for herself, her HIV positive husband, and 13 children, nine of which are her own (the others are orphans). Two of her children are also HIV positive. Kamila is 50, but looks much older- the creases on her face reflect years of deep pain juxtaposed with laughter.
Each woman is an inspiration in so many ways; I leave the interviews wanting to stick around and hang out. Especially Olongus Esther! She has such a great spirit and pure heart. Today she cooked for us (they always provide lunch for us when we spend full days in the slum). Christine is the usual cook, but today she was busy walking with us, from member to member, and translating when necessary. But today, it was all Mama Esther… sweet potatoes, regular boiled potatoes, pasta with tomato, seasoned cooked cabbage, and one of the best peanut pastes I have ever tasted! I love me some pad thai at any hour of the day, but this peanut-tasting sauce was out of this world! It is a northern specialty, that is not too common in Kampala, and the Acholis have it mastered- especially Mama. Served with sweet potato, it is mashed up greens, cooked smashed nuts, and who knows what else… goodness of all sorts:) The women are so kind to us, and always buy sodas for us… I am not a fan- in fact, I cannot remember the last time I drank soda before this trip. But I drink it- Cola and Mountain Dew seem to be the popular choices, served slightly above ambient temperature. I drink it slowly throughout the interviews, hour after hour, nursing the same old-fashioned glass bottle…
To dispose of trash, people in poor areas burn it in Uganda. The stench and smoke is heavy and hard to forget. It seems like trash is burned on Saturdays, and the uphill dirt crevasse-infected road to the slum is lined with trash at one point- trash that was on fire today. The air was thick with white smoke, as chickens and goats with rope around their necks (perhaps signifying ownership) pecked and nibbled at remaining chicken bones and anything else potentially edible. It was difficult to walk through holding my breath, and the small slurps of air that did permeate my lungs left me wondering about the varied sources of rubbish. It certainly makes me appreciate all the goods and services we sometimes take for granted in the States- trash/ recycle/ even composting bins provided in our area (mom, are you using it?! I left you compostable bags for bio-scraps!). Watching our room-garbage can fill up with plastic bottles and glass bottles is disheartening, as they too will wind up in a dump being burned soon.
I bought a voice recorder yesterday, as I forgot my other one at home. Kind of expensive, but it was in my budget, so I guess I won’t have to worry about it until I pay it back to Uncle Sam in three years (with interest… jerk). No, it’s worth it. I captured Alice, one of the best singers of the group, and Christine singing their welcome song to us today. It is beautiful, and I cannot wait to share it with you all. I am seeing a multi-media presentation with film, audio, and pictures being used to share the stories of the women, and our experience. Stay tuned for fall…
As many of you know, this is my first taste of work in development at the base of the pyramid. I will be walking with an MPA in the fall, and then will head back to Africa (hopefully) to volunteer for 27 months in the Peace Corps. This trip is a stepping-stone to a greater one… one that will open doors and bridge relationships to continue this work. In the classroom, back in Monterey, I often feel elated, encouraged, and excited to “get out there” and “do it”- make social impact and see positive change happen in the world. This trip is teaching me that there is a lot to be done, and at times it is intimidating to start. It is easy, I am finding, to get caught up in the details, and become chaotic in thought when brainstorming possible solutions, or even starting points. “What ifs” meet “Why nots”, and it is hard to think straight. No matter how many problem trees one develops (yeah DPMI), you still have to start; what good is a diagram unless action is taken from deepening of understanding. I guess this is a challenge- I mean, opportunity- for me… I am learning how to jump in- but not forget the bathing suit, if that makes sense. To prepare and strategize enough, but still START. It is that first step that is sometimes daunting. Doing a short stint of meaningful work this summer is building my confidence, and although I am not certain of all the answers at this point- who is?!- I am willing to flirt with ideas and pathways that were one time far off. I hope this is coming off clear- it is getting late here :) But I guess this scenario can be applied to anything, really. The question is, what is holding you back or hindering positivity and growth in your life and, in turn, the lives of others? You never know until you try, right?
Tomorrow is Sunday. This means cash round and group savings day. We are meeting the women at 2 pm at headquarters to watch poverty eradication in ACTION! One of the questions on our survey goes like, “How is your life different from those of your neighbors, who are not Acholi Beads members?” The replies we have been receiving are encouraging: “we have money to buy things”, “we can afford to send our children to school”, “we are able to save”. Saving is huge and is actually an indicator of MAJOR financial, and personal, success. Saving implies that one is able to think past today, and plan for tomorrow. 100% of the women interviewed thus far are saving. Group savings is even more powerful. 100% of women interviewed participate in group saving- whereby the effect of saving money is multiplied! More later to come on the specifics…
Alright, time for bed. Cooler tonight. Ugandan winters are pretty tolerable. No major bites yet (knock on wood). Rain yesterday and today. Thank you guys for continuing to read my posts- I love your comments, and it makes me feel connected. We are all on this Earth together. Sometimes we get detached and busy in our lives (little things- you know what they are…), but I am humbled by the feeling knowing we are all the same in one way or two, and can control much less than we think we can.