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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment