Being home from Uganda gives me new perspective on regular life practices. I find it refreshing not to have to hope for electricity and Wi-Fi to work when I sit at my computer. I especially love to drive myself around and get errands done quickly without congested smoggy traffic. I like to open my fridge and find apples, raspberries, blueberries and edemame. Most of all I like a hot shower.
Perhaps I ought to entertain you with the process of bathing that is practiced most commonly in Uganda. I say entertain not because it is funny that they do it, not at all. It makes perfect sense for their climate and conditions. It’s entertaining because I tried to do it for a couple weeks. Jack did it too and didn’t fuss or complain.
There’s a plastic basin that fits inside an arm’s hug. The sides are about six to eight inches high. They are used mostly for doing laundry, but also for bathing. At the children’s home there are indoor toilets a bathtub and a shower. There’s a squatty potty indoors too which is kinda nice for those who prefer that style. I passed. The children aren’t allowed to use the indoor facilities for two reasons. First, they make a horrible mess and leave it for someone else to tidy. Second, they need to remain authentically Ugandan and use outdoor latrines. We don’t want to Americanize these kids.
Outside behind the house is a small structure. On one side is the potty and on the other side of the wall is the bathing room. Every night at around 5:30 the children are sent with their yellow jerricans to go to the well down the hill and bring back their water for the baths. They go to their rooms, strip off their clothes and wrap up in their towels then wait in line for their turn in the outdoor bath. The older ones are paired up with a younger one to make sure the bathing is completed. Otherwise the little ones would hide and skip their baths as often as possible. I love how most things with children are so cross culturally similar. Denis is responsible for bathing our little Marvin. They are not related, but both were under the care of the same jjajja. Marvin gets cold water poured over his face and soap scrubbed into all of the little places without a single complaint. Kira on the other hand screams and stomps her feet. (She is no doubt completely Americanized.) After bathing it is time for devotions, and then it’s dinnertime! Then they are off to bed.
At Phiona’s apartment I filled a teakettle with water and boiled it. I mixed it with cold water until it was a comfortable temperature. By the end of a hot sticky sweaty day I was desperate for anyway to get myself clean before climbing into bed. In her bathroom she has a standing shower, but it’s only a pitiful dribble of cold water. We put the basin of warm water on the shower floor, pull the curtain and the cleaning begins.
At first I didn’t know the method I had to make it up as I experimented. I first tried to stand in the water basin and splash myself wet. It was barely big enough for my two feet and the water was instantly brown with dirt. Then I discovered standing beside it was better. Conserving water for rinsing the soap was a concern and took practice. Once wet I could stand straight and soap up, then squat back down rinse off. Cupping the water in my hands to reach all areas of my body was a skill I barely accomplished. The amount of water left in the basin is used to hand wash panties. It’s offensive to hand off your underwear to anyone else to clean, nor do you want to face the giggles and disgrace of anyone seeing your delicates hanging to dry in a public place. No Ugandan (except Phiona) will tell you not to put your undies in the regular wash but they will whisper about you!
Washing hair is another issue. Ugandan women get their hair washed for them in the “saloons”. Rarely does a woman ever wash her own hair at home, unless she wears a short clipped afro. When I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to wash my hair it took a couple extra basins of water and I would kneel on the floor, tip my head upside down and float my hair in the bowl, shampoo, and rinse. To condition I used a second basin. Oh to have clean hair was wonderful, but it used so much water I felt it was important to conserve and go dirty for a few extra days.
It is dry season in Uganda, which means the dust from the road has a life of its own swirling and flying in the air after each passing vehicle. It has Velcro sticky hooks to cling to the hair. Ugandan women are smart and use a scarf when walking alongside the road to protect their hair from the dust. Next time I will too! Even riding with the open window leaves my hair redder from the road than freshly washed. The gift of a bandana is the most useful item to give a Ugandan woman.
When I am in Uganda, and it’s been eight trips now, I always feel like the simple things about living can be a struggle for me, but for the Ugandans they whistle as they go through the process. They dig up their meal for the day from the ground. They whisk the dirt off the floor with hand made stiff grass brooms. They do not have plug in vacuums. They weed wack the lawn and rake it up. I even saw women hand pulling long grass! They simmer food on charcoal stoves for hours and hours. They scrub their clothing with bars of soap in small basins to hang to dry on lines in the yard. Chickens must have their heads cut off and their feathers plucked before entering the cooking pot. Water must be hauled a long way and boiled before drinking. (sorry, I am a bottled water only girl in Uganda. Some things I can’t do.)
I always take the opportunity to get vigorously involved in the way they work hard and enjoy the simple ways of living. It is humbling for me and reminds me that when Jesus walked the earth he probably did life very much the same way. What’s good enough for him has to be good enough for me. It’s a good thing I love camping. My husband outright admits all of these ways of living are outside of his ability.
I can’t close without admitting Jack, Kira and I took two days at a nice hotel with beautiful gardens and hot showers before traveling home. After two weeks living like a Ugandan, I needed to feel refreshed and rested before attempting to travel for 30 hours with two children. I am so glad I planned ahead for that event because I was strong enough both mentally, emotionally and physically to make that trip keeping my sense of humor and a level of good patience. And coming home to my own bed was a great reward. Best of all, because time is a valuable resource to me, I love knowing now that I’m going to put four photos into this blog it isn’t going to take an hour and a half with no guarantee of working. The little things can still make me so happy. These trips continue to help me appreciate the little things in life that can make me so happy.