Donny boarded the plane last night to go home. Saying goodbye at the house was a sad moment for him as he peered down at his sleeping sister in his arms and realized how strong his feeling were for her. I think he will plan trips home from the university just to see her, forget the family he’s known all his life. It’s now all about Kira. I was satisfied that he has spent this time in her home country, learning about the people, making friends, and understanding how strong community is here. I believe he returns to America changed because of the experiences he had with the people of Uganda. It’s the most valuable Christmas gift we could ever offer him.
At the airport the man at the door would not allow me to entrance to check in with him. I had to go find the office at the end of the airport who issues special tags of permission for parents to enter. The man there refused to give me entrance as he smiled at my silliness when he found out the boy I want to help is eighteen, a man. “He can do it on his own, he doesn’t need his mama there. When I was a boy I travelled alone at twelve years old. It is part of his education to become a man.” I’m sweetly stubborn so I smiled deeply and made sure he noticed the exact color blue of my eyes as I gave a few good reasons why Donny might need my assistance, and he said, “No. You can watch him through the window and be sure he gets through check in but you must allow him to do this alone.” I conceded. This is an excellent example of how in this culture people are all parenting the children. He wasn’t going to allow me to spoil my son and he stood in the way. In America I would have become angry, but here, I was charmed.
He passed through without a blip, and waved good-bye through the glass while I said my prayers for his journey by myself. He was excited about his first stretch around the world as a lone traveler. He is becoming a man indeed. Phiona and David drove with us to the airport. They have become like family, so it was natural that they wished to come and send Donny off properly. As we left the house and the good-byes were satisfied, Jack rushed to my window in the backseat and expressed a little separation anxiety from me, and said, “I love you.” Phiona was moved deeply and told me that when she has children she wishes to show emotion with them like our family expresses it with one another. She admitted to me that she cannot tell her mom that she will miss her or that she loves her. Never in her life have they shared the words “I love you”. There is no doubt between them that the love is deep and strong as they show it in different ways, but culturally there is no physical expression of love or words to accompany it. She also explained in the Lugandan language there are so many words to describe love for another person that it takes too long. I laughed at that because I couldn’t imagine. Then she and David began to recite what would be required to say I Love You, and it really did take a long time. She snapped her fingers and wished she could write it with a few words like the English language.
I am quite attached to Phiona and love hearing stories about her childhood. She is a strong woman, with a mind of her own, a vivacious personality, and a heart so full of compassion. She is wonderful with Kira, spending as much time sharing the care of her as she can for the pure pleasure of it. She will be a fantastic mom. Growing up, she spent three years living in a village with her grandmother so she could finish her primary education at a lower cost, age’s nine to twelve. She was the only girl there with several teenage uncles who tended the animals and spent a lot of time in the “man hut” sitting around. She told us that when they were hungry was the only time they would come around to the girl hut where she alone was feverishly working to prepare food. She described her duties to me while my jaw wagged loose in disbelief as I tried to imagine a child Jack’s age with all the responsibility. She collected fire wood to fuel the stove. She collected the food to be cooked and had to transport six, twenty liter jerricans full of water on her head each day. The walk to the well for each can was thirty minutes each way. Traditionally the person who cooks is not allowed to eat with the people it is served to, who are mainly men. The men are served the best pieces of meat and are allowed to return for more food until they are full and satisfied before the woman has permission to eat, alone in the kitchen. She described that when she was in school she had one hour for lunch when she would run home gathering firewood along the way and then she would make her fire, boil the water, make a bread with millet, wash and sort beans to add and then mingle it all together so she could have something to eat. She was proud she could finish it all in less than an hour and run back to school to be in time for her classes, where she reported she was always the top student. She believes that she is resourceful and responsible today because of the lessons she learned during those years living in the village. She told us that when she has a family she will not cater to the man like they do here in traditional society. She loves the way my boys are always helping in the kitchen, clearing plates when everyone is finished eating, washing up, serving food and helping with the chopping or stirring. David said his father would have beaten him and his brothers if they were found in the kitchen. We tease David a lot now in good fun because he is completely helpless when his hunger overtakes him, and it makes him utterly dependent on the women around him. It is a good thing he has a sweet smile. Really it is shocking for everyone here who is Ugandan to see how involved my sons and husband with the kitchen work and baby work. I wonder if the men are intimidated or judgmental- they will never say, but I know the women are inspired.
For dinner last night Alitia came over to show me how to cook on a sigiri. It is a little stove that sits outside the back door, is filled with charcoal and then the pot of beans is put on to cook for a couple hours. Everyone arrived for the traditional African dinner, except for my guacamole which everyone loved because I put citrus in it. We ate seasoned beans, rice, matooke, g-nut sauce, steamed pumpkin, and steamed sweet potatoes which are white and starchy, but nicely sweet. Alitia taught me how to prepare all of these dishes in the traditional Ugandan way. Remember, she is Australian, but married to a Ugandan and so she has committed herself to learning to cook like a true Ugandan. Everyone at the table applauded her results. The most traditional food here is matooke and g-nut sauce. Matooke is green hard banana that is peeled and steamed then mashed. It’s really awful all by itself so they make this g-nut sauce which is unlike anything we’ve ever tasted before. G-nut is short for ground nuts, which are raw peanuts called g-nuts because they come from the ground unlike other nuts which grow on trees. The raw nuts are ground into a meal then mixed gradually with water boiled with some chopped onion. As the sauce thickened she continued to add water all the while cooking it on a sigiri outside on the patio where we all sat around in the courtyard telling stories and laughing hysterically. At the last minute of the cooking the oils in the nuts are released and it becomes purple and creamy, and that is when the salt is added. If the salt is added too early the nuts will curdle and the sauce will be ruined. When the g-nut sauce is mixed with the matooke a magic happens and two things that are awful alone become delicious. What I loved about cooking on the sigiri is the way everyone gathers around it like a camp fire sharing stories of the day, developing deeper understanding of one another and laughing together all in the open breezy air of an African day coming to a close.
Friends are never required an appointment to come visiting or to arrive for a meal. If someone sho
ws up for a meal there will always be extra food and it is a compliment when they arrive because they enjoy both the friendship and the food. In the villages Phiona tells me that people they don’t even know will arrive for a meal, and be fed, and after sharing that first meeting the friendship has begun. It is quite normal. I shared with her how we make appointments in America to share a meal with friends and sometimes it takes several months to find an open night to eat together. She looked horrified and said, “That’s weird”. I have learned while living here that indeed it is. I treasure the times we have here sharing meals with our new friends and when we must leave for America I will suffer greatly missing our times around the cooking and table with our treasured friends. The sense of community here is so strong and complete. It makes me wonder why Americans have become so self-sufficient that we no longer know how to make community happen naturally, but instead we have to schedule it into our calendar. I’m shaking my head. I don’t have an answer. But I am optimistic for a change in my own life when we return.