Monday, November 5, 2012

Dancing Muzungus (10/1)

After waking up yesterday at 5:30 and not going to bed until 1, I slept hard last night and really didn't want to hear my alarm go off at 7. Here I am, I'm up, with my warm cup of instant coffee and the quiet of the morning.
I just need more words- I need a broader vocabulary, perhaps to learn to speak in other languages. This experience defies definition and continues to expand in my consciousness.

Yesterday, our much anticipated day at Shanti, we enjoyed a lecture from Florence Nagawa and shared lunch with her as well. We'd all been looking so forward to getting to have time with Florence outside of Shanti, to hear her experiences and share with her. 

Traditional birth attendants are essentially the African version of the 'granny midwife' of America. Women who grew up watching their mothers or grandmothers attend women in labor, who knew local herbal lore and generally cared for the community, would grow up and step into that role herself. There was no formal schooling as we like so much in the West (and for good reason, mind you!) The neat thing is that learning in this model tends to be less formulaic and requires a more intimate, hands on (literally) approach than the distance we often feel in the West between ourselves and our providers. I digress.

Florence and me :) 
Florence was born in 1964 watching her grandmother attend the women of her community.  As a girl, she always knew that she wanted to grow up to be a midwife, and sought every opportunity that came available to learn. When she learned of a training that came available in the next village, she walked six miles each way every day to attend it.  In 2001, Florence herself became certified as a Traditional Birth Attendant and was able to formally assist families. Who knows how many families she helped in between and after that time? Her job as a Health Officer brought her to the homes of the people of her village so she developed strong relationships and as a result is known to everyone, and highly respected.

I want to describe the scene but I also don't know if it will translate well. It has taken me to come all the way to Africa to let go of some of my assumptions, my prejudices, my ethnocentricity- and I don't want to put this incredible experience out into the world and know that it will be heard in a way that is anything but of deep, mutually shared respect. I also do not fully understand the dynamics at play so maybe I will leave some of the details out and say instead that Florence taught us about herbs, and shared her home with us. Her children were beautiful and healthy, and Florence feels strongly that we need to use local medicines (food, herbs, clean water, hygiene) to care for ourselves. She is paid by Shanti Uganda to do several jobs and everyone in our party fell in love with her and felt so honored to be with her that day.

She told us about becoming a birth attendant and then about some of the local herbs she grows and uses for different things. I think she's able to integrate some of her knowledge into Shanti (I'm not sure about that) which if true, would be a good use of her experience! She was much relaxed at home, her voice at Shanti is quiet and she seems to lack confidence in her English speaking skills. In her home, she is bright and colorful and energetic with a quiet strength and deep love for her family, and for Shanti Uganda.

High fashion, my friends. High fashion.
We enjoyed lunch of a soup made of pumpkin, g-nut sauce, matoke chunks over rice, which was so generous, and then the fun began. Florence pulled Ildiko out of the room and when she returned, she was bedecked in a bright orange gomes - the high shouldered formal wear of the Ugandan women. It's many layers of sari material so not at all practical for Uganda. Sadie tells me that someone came to Uganda and felt their traditional dress was too revealing so introduced the gomes, which is more of an East Indian style dress. I am doubtful this style has evolved in the last 60 years, and I see women wearing them everywhere. One by one, Florence grabbed us back and each of us got squeezed (in my case, anyway) into a brightly fashioned gomes. Then we went outside for photos and Florence began to sing and dance for us. 

As we all started to clap and dance together, we moved toward the tree in her yard and her grand children appeared to drum for us. We all danced for several songs and then finally were able to sit down, sweaty and laughing. As the crazy muzungus wearing African dresses danced in Florence's front yard, a crowd began to grow -and quickly. They laughed with us and were so excited to see us, and thought we were so funny! Someone brought a chair, another was carrying a keyboard- we really had an audience of about 20 people in a very short amount of time, all of them tickled pink.

"Kristina you are most welcome! Kristina you are most welcome. Let us kneel and pray to the Lord! Shanti Uganda is going to shine again!" 

Florence and I dance. :) Mwebele Nyo, nyo!!
I'm not sure any experience here can compare to that one. 

A little break and now we try to resume

It's been a bit of a stressful month, but I think I am finally in a place I can write again. I'm eager to keep talking about Uganda and sharing the stories - I think I'll post a video today rather than photos since it's just less work and probably more interesting anyway!

I want to keep telling you about Africa, about my trip, and I don't think I can until I write this post, transitioning who I was before my mother died, and now, afterwards, who I am discovering myself to be.  The night I posted the last entry here, I found out that my mom passed away. She wasn't terminally ill so it was a huge surprise to my brother and I. As anyone can imagine it swept away the luxuriously slow integration that I was making between Uganda and home, and forced me to -be here now- in a way that I didn't like at all. I feel a bit cheated of my experience while also grateful that I was home when she passed, and not in another country, so far away.

It took some time to feel like I could write about anything except her passing so here I am, almost a month later, and I'd like to continue sharing with you if you're still out there, listening.

Lisa Saper-Bloom talks about the reaction she had to her 
malaria meds, and I breathe hard for some reason. LOL

It's fascinating to me that as I weave my way through the maze of mourning my mother, that even at this time I pull the lens of Uganda in front of me and see it all through that. I guess I'm marveling a bit that I can't go backward, I can't be who I was before I left, forget what I learned, unravel the threads that my trip wove through me. I think about the many women I met there, who are raising grandchildren because their daughters died of AIDS. The sorrowful, rich, heart of Death that is in all things. We were gathered at Shanti when we heard some children had found a black mamba in the bush, its dead body had now become a plaything in the street. Death truly is in every corner and touches us all, and it's something that as human beings, every single one of us, no exceptions, have in common.

We all have to grieve our dead. We all have to wonder, what will the future be, without this person we love? Each culture has its rituals around death. When we sat at the bonfire on the last night at Shanti, Stella, one of the midwives, told me that they don't usually have a bonfire unless someone dies, and that now people would wonder if someone died. We both had a good laugh as we danced around the big fire.

I have to wonder, what would happen if I grieved in Uganda, in Kasana? How would I be held there? What would be expected of me, of my family - how would the community feel the loss? I won't know these things, but that's okay. It feels good to wonder, to have access to Shanti in a new way.

The next thing I'll post is one of my entries from while I was gone. I still welcome questions, is there any specific thing you want to know about? Hit me with your ideas and inquiries!