Sunday, October 7, 2012

Things to remember (9/28)

Things to remember:

Dancing in the dark
Mama Pico
Webele Nyo kale!
Under the tree
Labor support
Calling home
Belly ache
Coffee and chocolate/exports

I'm working through some things being here. My tears are coming so easily, I can hardly stop them once they start. I can't count the times already that a huge wave of gratitude has washed over me, that I get to have this experience. I get to be in Luwero, where everyone goes to get the best pineapples, and enjoy the most amazing pineapples at every meal. I get to hug, and dance, and kiss the women who have this intensity, and power, and quietness, and who seem so stoic to me, and be touched by their laughing and their appreciation and gratitude that we are here to be with them.

I don't know what is for the Ugandan women for us to be here, and the muzungu (white) people on the ground assure us frequently that that the people enjoy our presence very much, that they are grateful we would come here, and then we drive and I see faces that look so curious, and not always welcoming - and I realize I'm making a lot of assumptions based on driving past someone I'll never speak to, but it feels sometimes like I am just another white girl trying to 'make a difference' to those 'poor Africans', and I have to constantly challenge that cultural thought in my mind. 

This is an area that I am constantly turning over in my mind. For example, it's been explained that muzungus are viewed as privileged, and so it's considered to be a good thing when we are involved with the local people. I don't know if that explanation is accurate (and it feels so weird to me, weird, weird, weird, and uncomfortable) or not. What I experience is that taking my own perceptions of body language, that the women here who aren't already in relationship with us are quite deferential and permissive when we make requests. I am very serious and cautious about asking permission before I photograph someone, or their child. Without looking me in the eye, the eyes cast down and the head shakes back and forth like, "No", but what she is actually saying is, "No, I don't mind." So from my perspective, I'm seeing someone say, "I'd rather you didn't, but I don't want to offend you." From her perspective, she is saying, "Go for it." In between the lines of that, I'm experiencing the inner turmoil of wondering, is she TRULY okay with it, or is she saying yes because I am white? Is she saying yes because she wants to be easy going? 

And then I go further into the weeds of, how disempowering is it to not be taken at your word? If she says she doesn't mind, why can't I let it be true? So I snap the photo, still bewildered and concerned, and I walk away knowing that there is just no possible way for me to know the inner workings of a Ugandan woman after three rather isolated days within her own country, immersed and unversed in her customs and culture, wobbling around like a baby, bumping into things I don't understand and bonking my head on corners that I didn't realize where there, hoping that my ability to walk confidently here will just have to come with time. That is very difficult for me. I hear my Annie and my Louisa in my mind at all times, reminding me to make no assumptions, to never see myself as a rescuer, or as a person with the answers - which is not hard, because I don't tend to take those roles on - but like little saucy angels on my shoulder, they keep me conscious of my interactions as I am having them. And then I also worry that I'm thinking too much. It is hard to know where the line is drawn of what is overthinking, and what is maintaining integrity within myself- that I should be able to find a common ground if I make mistakes.

The power is currently going on and off, I go from sitting in total black darkness to lights but no fan, and then back to darkness. Fun! There was a little gecko or lizard on my door and Jane assured me it was a blessing because they eat the bugs that might be in my room (so far, I've only seen one dead bug in my room. Thank you, Gods of Africa, from sparing me that terror (so far!!)), and that I should name him. And that she named her gecko friend from her last trip here, "MC Hammer". I named my gecko Isaac but he chose not to come inside the room.

Let's talk about bugs - because while there are mosquitoes here and malaria is obviously an issue, it is not nearly the situation I thought I'd be walking into. From what I am told, the mosquitoes that can carry malaria are only out from about 11pm - 6pm and that a mosquito must bite someone with malaria pretty recently (like, within the hour, at most) and then bite someone without it in order for it to be transmitted. Considering that I'm tucked well under my mosquito net and that my whole room is doused in tea tree and citronella, I really haven't worried much about mosquito bites- and that's working out well because so far, no mosquito bites!

I made a list of things to remember from today - so much happens, these little moments that are so precious and exquisite and hard to believe they are happening to me, right now, ME, that I want to make sure I write them all down.

Yesterday we got to participate in the women's beading and textiles group- the local women come to Shanti and learn techniques for making jewelry and cloth bags and then sell them all over the world, via Shanti. It's a wonderful exchange and we were able to have the women come to Shanti where we saw their wares and were able to make purchases. The women were also able to practice their English with us which had us all laughing together. Mistakes are made and what I love about Uganda over Europe is that when attempts are made from the heart, they are seen as heart gifts, and not dismissed simply because I'm distastefully American. 

The Ugandans I've met know something important about graciousness, and warmth and tenderness, that I haven't experienced many other places, and certainly not in this way with perfect strangers. When we arrive, we are told that we are welcome here, that they are glad we are here, and their faces are lit up with real smiles and the hugs are genuine and warm.

Jane and Melinda and I are working very hard to make sure this workshop is valuable to the women who are attending it. We had a great outline thanks to Melinda on the topics we'd cover but we got barely any time ahead of our trip to actually flush out the activities- and then we all three have different teaching styles so working through that when we've never taught together is interesting. I feel like I am a balance of Melinda's methodical, analytical self, and Jane's free flowing, comme ci, comme ca perspective. There are definite things we each want everyone to get out of each activity and it's so beautiful and inspiring how we can dance around and through and under a topic together, finding our own tension points, honestly claiming them and moving forward in trust of each other, even if we don't see eye to eye. Each one of us is good at letting go when the time comes for us to do that. I enjoy these women very much and for different reasons, and I'm grateful that for the rest of our lives we will tell the story of our trip to Shanti, and be in each other's hearts. Kind of like attending a birth.

Last night, I was too tired to write about it but I wanted to make sure people knew about their donations. Everything that I received came with me, meaning I have only a few changes of clothes and a desperate, desperate hope that I won't have any issues with mango flies hatching their little eggs on my clothes if I end up needing to hand wash them (please, please don't make me have to do that!! Mango flies, eww!) We each brought a similar amount of stuff, most of which was baby clothes and took several suitcases full of things to the Volunteer House where we had spaghetti and pineapple with the Shanti volunteers who live down here for the term of their internship. They were shocked at the amount of things we were able to bring and it felt so amazing knowing that I was leaving things here that will literally save women's lives- directly, no bones about it. I am leaving things here that will help improve the health of pregnant women and their new babies- directly, no more direct way to wrap that. Literally making a difference, right here, on the ground. We all did that together, so if you're reading this far, I want you to know that the money that you gave so that I could come here, the purchase you made so that I could come, or that I could bring things with me, the donations you collected - you've touched the women and babies, and the staff as well, with your thoughtfulness and generosity. Nothing here is taken for granted, and nothing goes unappreciated. I want you to know that you were each in my heart as with teary eyes (that's happening to me a lot here!) I offered the donations of YOUR hearts - so thank you, from Shanti and the mothers, and from me. Thank you so much. You can't know how such a simple thing affects someone else's life until you actually do it!

Today we got up and only Jane, Kelli and I were away at an early hour, so I hid under Jane's mosquito net and in our pajamas we had ourselves a good old fashioned bull session. It was really awesome to have some time to get to know some of the team in a deeper way. Last night I was having dinner at the Volunteer house and I looked around the room at all of these incredible, daring women and I just felt so humbled to be counted among them all. The highest caliber of human beings- and I am here, with them. It's a precious experience for me to be with people who had principles, who took risks and made huge, enormous sacrifices because they believed in something so profound, so strongly, that they couldn't live without doing it. I know how that feels. I've been on the edges of that, and I was just so grateful that I could be in their presence. They laugh so easily with each other and it's clear that their affection for each other is deep, and they are wonderfully, amazingly brave in ways that I do not know myself to be- and that is perfectly okay because I think that's true in opposite as well. It's wonderful to be with strong women who are not in competition, and who seek only to make sure that each other's needs are met, that they are speaking the truth to each other, and that love is ever present in all interactions - and maybe they wouldn't say these things but it is apparent to me that these things are true.

I'm still writing, and getting tired- and I have barely scratched the dusty, red surface of what Uganda is, and what I am experiencing here. Goodnight for now.

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