Shirah, my "sister" (the sponsored child of my parents) took me to her grandmother's village for Christmas this year. The journey started at 7 AM and took us through exorbitantly overcharged taxi routes to a dirt road where we both clambered onto a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) and rode 10 km to arrive at their family home. I've been in the country before but this is "really really" in the country. Very few cars travel along that road, only the bodas and bicycles. There is no electricity, and I didn't even see any solar panels. Needless to say, no Christmas lights or lawn ornaments.
We celebrated Christmas morning with 3 hours in church. Comprehending only a tiny portion of the content of the service, I contented myself with singing English lyrics to the carols I knew, and contemplating the people around me. I've known that statistically, half the population of Uganda is under the age of 15, but here it was plain to see. Adults sat on benches, mostly well-dressed, but scores of messy children rustled noisily at our feet, unheeded and unminded. Tiny babies nursed from impossibly skinny mothers, or were passed from lap to lap. The pastor had to step over and around the children to get from pulpit to lectern and back. Even when a child (or two or more) was crying, the pastor simply preached louder. He had no microphone or amplification, but then again there were a lot of things the church didn't have yet -- a roof being one. This was the first Sunday in the new building, and the portion of the roof that hadn't been funded yet was covered by a tarp. We had an auction at the end of the service to try to complete the project.
Shirah's uncle introduced me to the congregation, near the end of the service. The deacon said "Clap for her! When else will we have a muzungu in this church?" I stood up and said Merry Christmas in Luganda and the place shrieked with happiness. Afterward everyone wanted their picture taken with me. I must have posed about a dozen times.
Back at the family home we had a traditional Ugandan meal featuring matooke and chicken. Their home is nice but sparsely furnished. I and two uncles were given stools to sit on and forks to use, while the other few adults and a dozen children sat on mats on the floor eating with their hands as is traditional. After eating we took all the mats outside and sat or sprawled in the shade of a tree while the teenagers did the washing up. We sat there much of the afternoon as neighbors came by to visit, eat cake, and catch up with the family members they hadn't seen in a long time.
Shirah's sister took me on a walk around the village. We greeted many an astonished child and some elderly women as well. "Thank you for coming to our village" was a refrain I heard often, and some of the villagers backed up their thanks with gifts. I came home with three large bags of just-picked peanuts, which we've been shelling for a few days now and plan to roast soon.
Back at Kiwanga that night, we had a teen-oriented Christmas party. Sodas and cake were the main refreshments, and camera flashes the main entertainment as people posed with their sodas, new clothes, and friends. I had brought a suitcase full of donated clothing which served as my Christmas presents, and these were the only presents I saw exchanged this year. I was happy to see some people wearing them at the Christmas party.
My sister Cassie & I used to blog together, back in the day (at http://tandcinuganda.livejournal.com), and she always had some profound closing remarks. In her absence, I invite you to insert profound remarks here by leaving a comment.