Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ugandan Farm Girl

I just got back on Sunday from my rural home stay in Kapchorwa (a district in Eastern Uganda) yesterday. I spent the week with one other American girl, Erika, but it was a fun chance for us to get to know each other because she lives with a family in town for the entire semester and so we didn’t know each other very well. We lived with Miria and Felix right on the edge of a cliff. Kapchorwa is very mountainous and has many waterfalls, including Sipi Falls which are the largest waterfalls in Uganda. The cliff that we lived by happened to be near a smaller waterfall that we could see from our yard. We spent the week walking around some of the nearby terrain because what isn’t cliff is mountain farming, which is also very beautiful. Ugandan women are incredibly hard working and Miria, our mom, was no exception. She taught us how to milk a cow, feed chickens and gather their eggs, cook over a fire, roast coffee, cut dead leaves off matoke (banana) trees and cut them down to harvest matoke, and even carry matoke on our heads for about a half mile on a dirt path down the mountain to our home. Felix, our father, was able to be home for the week for a funeral we went to on Monday, but spends most of his time living in Kampala because he works as security for Museveni, the Ugandan president. Their eldest daughter, Lillian, is 24 and is living at home. Her other 5 siblings were all away at boarding school, though we did get to meet 2 brothers, Andrew and Mark, because they came home with their father for the funeral. Church was an interesting experience and we got an authentic example of the Ugandan perception of time. We were told that church started at 10am but we didn’t leave until shortly after that to hike up the mountain. When we arrived, though we expected to be late, we were actually some of the first to arrive. The service probably started about an hour late and then lasted for a mere 4 hours, which we were told was actually shorter than normal. The entirety of it was translated from the Sabine (the tribe we were staying with) language to English which made it slightly more tedious, though the subject matter did not help. The pastor was turning the parish over to another pastor and so most of the service was spent giving an inventory of every single material object that the church possessed, as well as all of the pastoral responsibilities and committees that the new pastor would be taking on. The next day was then the funeral, which made for another long afternoon. We went to a 2 hour long funeral service followed by an even longer burial service. Though it was long, it was interesting to see how much of that really was the same as funerals in America.

Over all, it was a great week to get to know the family and just see a different way of life. Though I do not prefer using a pit latrine or a bucket to bathe, we were very comfortable the entire week. It was interesting to see how helping to wash dishes by hand just felt normal and routine, and even the longer time to cook over a fire wasn’t really that big of a deal because there was normally multiple people in the kitchen so it was a chance to spend time together as well as cook. Miria was very proud of her kitchen and showed us how her “stove” was modern. This meant that instead of just having a fire or a charcoal chimney to cook over, she had a dirt “stove” in essence- it had a place to make the fire and then three holes on top to place pots over. Before coming here, I would have thought something like that was an example of poverty or primitive even, and now I have realized how nice and convenient it really is, in this setting. Even our meals were an example of a different lifestyle. Everything we ate was extremely fresh and straight from the garden or farm. We had eggs and milk tea every morning for breakfast courtesy of our cow and chickens only an hour before we ate. One night we held a chicken and then a couple hours later it was on our dinner plates. We often had bananas with our afternoon tea, which were carried from our family’s fields only a couple days beforehand. There is so much real poverty in Africa, but living like that is not an example. It was another good realization of what simplicity and comfort can look like, even if they are living like that out of necessity and not by choice.

The importance of community is something else that was emphasized in my mind over the past week as well. Beyond the experience of living in a small community in which my family knew pretty much everyone, we had one article to read while we were there. It was about homelessness vs. homemaking and illustrated how our university education system in some ways educates people to leave home. This in itself is not the problem except that in some ways the goal has become for people to travel and work towards an upward mobility, so that they are in some ways almost vandals of communities and places because they only consume. It was a very interesting article and made a lot of good points that I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly thought or discussed before. It was really good to consider, because after college I always think about how cool it would be to live in different places but in actuality I don’t think I really want that or realize fully what that would look like. Whether I return home or move somewhere else, I want to settle in and become part of the community there and really engage. And even more than that, it makes me appreciate even more the fact that I have grown up in the same area and that I have such strong family ties. I think I could be completely happy living near my home or somewhere across the globe, but it is good to know that wherever I end up, I will still have a home and community to visit in Cincinnati.

I have also been reading a book, The End of Poverty, written by Jeffrey Sachs, an economist. It has been interesting because I’ve realized that I really enjoy the subject of economics when it is practically applied rather than just the basic theory that I’ve learned in my introductory classes. But beyond simply an interest, it has helped me think about how not only do non-profits and charities play a role in solving world problems, developed governments and economies will have to play a role as well to make a significant difference. It is really encouraging and frustrating all at the same time, because I have realized that I really could work in corporate America and do business more than just with integrity, but really try to make a difference in regards to global issues. But at the same time, it is overwhelming and frustrating to see all that America alone could be capable of and isn’t doing. So more and more I still don’t really know what my life will look like after I graduate and still am okay with that, but excited to see where God will open doors because at this point I’d be open to pretty much anything and know that God could use me in different ways, depending on the setting. We are also reading part of Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution for a class and that has been challenging and encouraging, thinking of how even right now I can start changing my lifestyle in practical ways, not just in thinking about the future.

From our home stay, we were picked up and spent the weekend in the area along with several Honors College students. It was good to be reunited with all of my USP friends to talk about our weeks and have a debrief session. We spent pretty much all of Friday talking about different things, just happy to be back together and then even more excited to be back with some of our Ugandan friends as well. Saturday we had a couple groups go hiking, I chose to go on the longer 6 hour hike with several friends. We saw the tops and bottoms of 3 waterfalls, as well as enjoying hiking around the mountains and cliffs. It can also be fun and adventurous because it was very muddy and slippery and some of the bridges definitely looked rustic. We even climbed on some rocks and stood under one of the falls. It was absolutely gorgeous and was definitely one of those times where I was just overwhelmed at how amazing the whole situation was- hiking around mountains and waterfalls with Ugandan and American friends I was just meeting a mere two months ago. And then Sunday we came back to Mukono and reunited with the rest of our friends. It was so good to be back and we stayed up late catching up and hanging out with people. Life here is just amazing and I’m trying to enjoy every moment because I know this will always be a special and important time in my life to remember all that I learned and experienced.


  1. Sounds like you had an awesome week out there in real Africa, Amanda! Glad to see you blogging again though! Hope all is going well, and keep the blogs coming now that you can again!


  2. I LOVE the description of simple life and living off the land! This sounds like such a beautiful week!
    (and thanks for blogging! i love reading about your experiences!)