We drove to the Equator yesterday. It was a last minute decision to go, so we postponed school, called it a science field trip and drove a couple hours to the spot where it is exactly zero latitude. I hoped for a learning museum, but didn’t expect it. We straddled the equator and posed for our photos as George snapped away using three cameras. A man waited in a door way to perform three experiments with water and asked for ten thousand shillings (five dollars) for the service. He also listed off some facts about the equator for our education. He poured water through a funnel north of the line, placed a flower bud on the surface of the water and predicted the water would turn clockwise through the drain. It did. Then we moved to the funnel south of the line and the water behaved obediently and swished counter clockwise through the drain. Positioned exactly on the equator was another funnel and the water there went straight through the drain with no turns at all, proven by the flower that went straight down through the hole. He told us a day in March and one in September called the equinox is when you can stand on the equator and not see a shadow because the sun is directly above. That’s interesting.
The boys and Emily played catch with an American football over the line for a while just for the novelty of saying it was crossing hemispheres. Kevin performed pushups with one hand on each side of the line because on the equator our body weight is three percent less. They should provide body scales in one hemisphere and then another on the line, then sell chocolate truffles on the line so everyone can celebrate losing weight.
There are a row of shops lined up waiting for tourists like us to step inside and make it their lucky day so they can hike up the prices thanks to the assumption that all mzungu are wealthy. I like to spread my money around the country buying a little here and there to help as many as I can. I bargain a little bit, but the truth is I really can afford a basket that is hand woven for seven dollars and I don’t need it to be six for the satisfaction of getting a deal. I’d rather know their children had a full stomach that night because I didn’t want to keep my dollar. This means I have to try and shop without Olive or George looking over my shoulder who always tsk tsk me when I pay the full price.
I am making a collection of items for Kira. I want to put them on display in a locked cabinet and give one to her every year on her birthday. I’ve collected native jewelry, dresses, beaded sandals, scarves, art made from banana fiber, rattles made from gourds, fabric for when I can teach her to sew, a doll, ebony carved bowls, and some magazines called African Woman which I hope to give her when she is a teenager so she can see what styles were like the year she was born in Uganda. I continue to search for items during my outings. I think it will be enticing for her to look at these beautiful things and know she must choose one carefully and wait patiently for all of them to be hers. If ultimately she doesn’t like them, I’ll be happy to see them and always remember these weeks of our adoption in Uganda.
One of the shops had the most beautiful and colorful paintings of women that I’ve seen this far in my search. I would have liked to take them all and splatter her bedroom with them. The women were shown in many of their daily duties with their head high, their clothes colorful and magnificent and exuding a dignity and peace that I covet. The woman all had babies tied to their backs, a bundle on their heads and their hands busy working with something. It is an accurate representation of what I observe on the dirt roads of Uganda as I see women everywhere in motion, and peacefully working without ceasing always beautifully dressed.
Of course the man wanted to sell me one of the paintings. I really couldn’t choose, it seemed that they all belonged together. I was simply appreciating them as if I were in a museum, and I wasn’t in the mood for being mzungu’d with the price. He wanted two hundred dollars for a large painting, but here, that’s really a lot. I would pay double at home, and half here. So I couldn’t bring myself to face the hypocrisy. I denied the offer to bargain with him saying I didn’t want to offend the artist, I just wanted to have a moment and appreciate art. I bought a tshirt for my husband to make the shop keeper feel better.
I feel a deep sense of appreciation and wonder for the women of Uganda. Their lives are so hard. I have been trying on their role now and then to see how I can hold up. I want to believe I can develop similar strength and resolve without holding pity parties for myself. One morning while the boys had school I strapped Kira onto my baby carrier in the front, put my camera and purse into a tote and walked for fifteen minutes to the supermarket and the food market. We needed chicken for the curry stew Emily was making. I had also decided to begin doing my own laundry so I needed supplies for that. I had two whole frozen chickens, a large wash tub, a jug of detergent, and some vegetables to add to the load I already carried. I was determined, and foolish to do this. So I walked home in flat shoes that had no support, just like what the women here wear. I had a heavy bag heaved over one shoulder, the wash tub in one hand and the detergent in the other. I must have surely caused more stares than usual. Five minutes into my walk I was already aching and pouring sweat. I seriously considered putting everything but Kira into that tub and carry it on my head. I suppose if I were to attempt this ridiculous chore again and again I would begin to toss it up there without a second thought. I will never know how the women stride so effortlessly with heavy stacks on their heads and not use their hands to balance it. The roads are so uneven and rough I tipped every which way, I just know I’d never master that skill. It was one of the longest walks I can remember taking. When I finally reached the house I looked like I’d been to the gym. Do you see what sort of independent and willful personality I have? Even the African women here at the house told me I was foolish to try and shop like that. They take bodabodas. No thanks.
We do not have a dishwasher, nor is there running hot water for dishses. We boil a pot of water and then use it for the soapy water. I also boil a pot for sterilizing Kira’s bottles. There’s no trash pick up so Julie has a pile in the corner by the cement wall where she burns the trash. There’s a pit latrine in the back where she drops the diapers. And the plastic and glass is taken away for recycling. She has a vegetable garden out back where she has quite a variety of plants growing. Every scrap of food is dumped on a heap near the burn pile so it can compost into fertilizer. Not one thing is ever wasted here. There are no “disposable” things. To cook there’s a gas tank in the oven that needs to be replaced when empty. I watched Julie wrestle that thing last night. She was more shocked than I was to see her method that our gas comes to the house through a pipe and it never runs out. We have to light a match and risk burning our fingers every time we turn on the stove. The oven only heats to 225 degrees. We haven’t used it. We think maybe we will try meringue cookies. There is a laundry machine, but I am told it doesn’t work, and more emphatically it takes too much electricity to run it and no one wants to pay that bill.
Phiona does the laundry for us. She’s in and out of the house, as she works in the office at BridgeAfrica. To have our laundry done for us costs 1000 shillings per item. (50 cents). After a few big bills and stiff dingy results I decided to learn to do my own laundry and she was relieved because we make so much of it so she gave me a friendly lesson. She was wearing a pretty cotton black dress, sleeveless, belted and with a flirty flared skirt that stopped at her knees. She pulled on pink rubber gloves and filled four buckets with water. She washes about eight things in one bucket, no regard for color mixing, and she was using cold water only. The powdered soap is called Ariel, and I remember using it in my British expat days. She then began to explain “you must wash, and scrub the dirty parts really hard using a lot of strength, African strength, not American strength. It’s hard work. Then squeeze all the water out and put it in another soapy tub and do it again. Then it must be rinsed and squeezed in two separate buckets. Then hang it to dry. I was impressed. No wonder the women are so trim here and never go for regular workouts. Their daily lives offer more exercise than I would get at a gym, especially considering that strenuous walk I took.
So now I am doing my own laundry except I know a few things that matter to me. I boil two pots of water first and let the clothes soak in the soapy hot water for a while. That way I don’t have to scrub the life out of my fabrics! I also put some fabric softener in there. I do it in my bathtub and then use the running cold water for rinsing. We strung some line on our balcony and hang the clothes to dry out there. There was some strange satisfaction and relief to be taking care of my own laundry. For the really big items like boys jeans that pile high, I will give the earning opportunity to Phiona. But for my nice clothes and Kira’s adorable brand new outfits, I prefer to be responsible for ruining them. Even so my results are only a few degrees more improved, evidenced by Jack’s complaint: “Mom my socks feel like cardboard.” It’s true.
Ultimately, I continue to watch the women here with respect. They do all the cooking, cleaning, food growing, child watching, shopping, and selling without ever seeming to lose their humor, shiny faces bright with life, or their joy. I hear over and over from women everywhere who labor hard that they serve a Big God who watches over them, protects them, and provides. There’s a beautiful ribbon of gratitude that winds around everything they do. I wonder if I can find some of that and bring it home to America? Is it sold by the yard?