My good friend Erica joined us this recent trip to Uganda. She’s the unsung hero of our non-profit. For two years she’s been guiding Phiona in doing our accounts so that we can prove every dollar we send to Uganda is used for the purposes of helping the children. Erica might put in as many hours as I do. There’s only so much she can do in the U.S.A while the spending is happening in Uganda so I insisted she join our trip, and it wasn’t hard to convince her. I think her bags have been packed since she joined us two years ago.
She worked with Phiona the entire week training her to do the accounts in a systematic way with good workflow. We hope the new process will help Phiona stay current. Erica receives the scanned receipts from Phiona and reconciles every penny/shilling. Phiona enjoyed the attention and learned so much. Likewise, Erica learned a lot about how buying household goods is done in Uganda. Local shopping is a major cultural experience and receipts are unheard of.
Grocery shopping is something that needs to be experienced to understand. So one day Erica and I joined Auntie Julie and Robert to do the “big” shopping. I thought we were going to the local market nearby, crowded and smelly but not too big. I slung my big camera around my neck and hopped in the van promising Jack I’d be back in a little over an hour. I can leave Kira with the children to do errands now because “they are her brothers and sisters” and she plays with them without noticing I am gone. I hoped this day would come because we spent many workdays with me hiding in the back of the van as we exited the compound. Jack always had to bribe her with a lollipop to be good and wait til I returned.
I was surprised to learn we were going to Oweno in the city center to do our shopping. This is the wholesale market for all the little shops in town that sell produce. I immediately regretted bringing my big camera. There isn’t a word to describe the sort of crowded that this place offers. My stomach began to flutter as we approached the market. One person actually hollered at Robert and Julie, “why did you bring those mzungus here they have money to shop in the other markets”.
I didn’t dare lift my camera to my eye for photos in that place. I was hardly welcome and no one there wanted to be the subject of a “tourist”. But, I am not one to miss the opportunity for some cultural photographs so I set my camera up carefully and did all my shooting from the hip. These photos you see here are “hip shots”. I had no other choice. I admit it was great fun seeing what I could get without having the luxury of composing the frame. I would look left while I pointed my camera right and click away, then once I passed that area I’d take a peek and squeal. It was so much fun.
We followed Robert and Julie from one vendor to another. They have their favorites who give them good prices and hold their goods while they collect all the food they need. We then hire men to help carry the heavy bags to our van. There are no shopping trolleys in this place. I find it admirable that Julie and Robert will go all this way into town and endure a kind of chaos that cause me to shrink into my turtle shell- just so they can save some money on our food budget. It shows us how much they appreciate how difficult it is for us to raise these funds to keep our home operating.
When I wasn’t taking hip shots with my camera I scribbled what I experienced with all my senses into my notebook. Here’s the rough list:…at least ten thousand people in a small area, and who knows how far and wide the market stretches could be a hundred thousand for all I know, it seemed never ending…dust crunching in the teeth…sweat…grime…diesel fumes…bikes, carts, bodas overloaded with merchandise… men sitting watching with steel eyes…not an inch of personal space for anyone…men covered in flour as three men heft a two hundred pound sack over a man’s shoulders to transport…get out of his way as he passes through the narrow alleys or you’ll get knocked down by his load…shantys and shacks stuffed with food lined up as far as one can see…children taking care of small children…cars pass with three inches of room…scales hanging from the door jambs…babies jostling on mama’s backs…ladies selling trays of cooked food to workers…bags of coal eight feet long across shoulders… holes in the food bags repaired with twine and a long needle…business phone numbers scratched on walls…men sleeping on wooden benches…four foot deep gutters between business and road flowing with sewage…vultures circling over head…bumped…squeezed…hard cold staring eyes…
What I didn’t see is another mzungu. We did our best to stay close to Robert and Julie. It is the kind of place where a person could be swept away in the crowd and disappear. The ladies complained loudly gesturing towards me and gave me narrowed eyes. I asked Robert what was wrong and he said they couldn’t believe I wore such a short dress in a public place. My dress came to my knees, it was open and flowing not clingy at all. He said there is a new law passed against women wearing skimpy clothes in town. These women have been grasped by a crowd and undressed naked to shame them publically. I certainly didn’t want all my old lady white flesh on display in this market.
There were a few vain souls who begged for their photo to be taken as they posed with muscles bulging or smiles stretched wide. As I photographed Robert and Julie loading our van a woman on the street pushed me over because I was taking pictures. She was behind me, not even in front of my lens. I had enough. I couldn’t get into the van fast enough. I ought to mention this shopping trip occurred the day after a thief swiped my phone out of my hand. I was fed up with public places.
The important thing is that Erica and I had a clear appreciation for the work Robert and Julie do for our home. This shopping takes place every other week and they shrug like it’s not a big bother at all. “It’s what we are used to here.” I said prayers that night thankful to have more orderly shopping to do.