One of my favorite things about living in Uganda is the friendliness of the people. Random people greet me when passing on the road and friends often invite me to their homes where we usually end up staying most of the day. They always feed us, often cooking meat for the special occasion when mzungus visit. For the past few Sundays, Hannah and I have visited our friend Maureen. She always cooks for us and is disappointed if we don’t stay for more than a few hours.
Maureen used to work for CVI making beautiful necklaces out of beads made of paper, but now she is trying to start a small business selling manual washing machines. In Uganda, where most people wash all their clothes, bedding, and linen by hand, laundry is quite the chore! (I know from experience.) CVI has introduced a manual washing machine with a large bucket and plastic plunger specially designed to mimic the swirling cleaning motion of Western washing machines. Rather than scrubbing each piece of laundry by hand in a small basin, women can fill the large bucket with dirty clothes and push the plunger up and down for a few minutes. It’s so much faster! Every Sunday, we help Maureen with her laundry to check that she understands how to use the machine and talk about how she can sell the washers to others. Maureen’s quite the pro at using the washer now—even her husband sometimes joins in! Although it’s easier than washing by hand, it’s still quite a lot of work to gather water, push the plunger, rinse the clothes, ring them dry, and hang them inside out on the line. And I thought laundry in the US was a chore!
After finishing the laundry, we usually sit and talk, eat, listen to music, and play with the children. Maureen lives with her husband and her brother and sister in law who have 9 children! This mother of nine is amazing! In her fancy red church dress, she cooked for us and her whole family, picked ticks off their two dogs and sprayed them with powder, shaved her children’s heads (with a bare razor blade!), and played with her children by chasing them around the compound. Meanwhile, Maureen scrubbed and washed every single shoe she and her husband owned. Clothes and shoes get very dirty in Uganda, but cleanliness is very important to Ugandans—they clean their things better than I do in America! The more I get to know them, the more impressed I am with the strength, vitality, and joy of Acholi women.
On Hannah’s last Sunday visit, Maureen and her family made our time extra special! After finishing the laundry, Hannah and I helped Maureen paste boyo (a popular Ugandan green pronounced bo) for lunch. After she added g-nut paste (kind of like peanut butter) and mukene (small silver fish), we stirred the pot over the charcoal stove. We also hung out with the kids (they love having their pictures taken!). One little boy had made a football (soccer ball) from plastic bags, so I kicked the ball and played keep away with him. Our game provided quite the entertainment for the others.
We sat down to lunch of boyo and posho (corn flour and water cooked together). They always say we don’t eat enough and tell us to take more. Since it was her last Sunday, Hannah had made macaroni and cheese to share with our hosts—they loved it!
After lunch, we made some of the beautiful beaded Ugandan necklaces for Hannah to take home with her. Maureen had already made the beads, so we just strung them together. As we sat on the mat, listening to American country and then Ugandan music, my eyes grew tired from straining to string bead after bead, but I knew this was a special moment with Maureen and her family that I would always cherish.
Sometime in the afternoon, the live chicken hanging upside down on the motorcycle in the compound had disappeared. I thought, “Well, we’re having chicken for dinner.” A few of the boys had taken the chicken to the bushes, slit the throat, and de-feathered it. After bringing it to their mother, she cut up the bird and placed nearly every piece of it in a pot. Even the stomach she slit open, removed the contents, and cooked! The only part that didn’t go in the pot was the intestines.
As it grew dark, we finished our beads and headed inside for dinner. Eating the traditional Ugandan way with just your fingers is a little difficult, but the chicken and rice were delicious! I’m so thankful Maureen and her family have welcomed me to their home and shown me Ugandan life. Doing laundry together, playing football with the kids, talking about harvesting sim sim, and discussing Chelsea FC, are some of the special moments I will remember of my time with them. They’ve also taught me about hospitality—Ugandans always welcome visitors, even without prior scheduling—friends drop by anytime. They don’t eat the last piece of meat in the pot, so that just in case a visitor drops by they’ll have something to share. Ugandans live open, welcoming, genuine lives. There’s no need to prepare or put on a public face. They’ll spontaneously receive visitors as they are and spend time talking and valuing people even while they’re working. When I return to the US, I will take with me Maureen’s friendship and her lessons in hospitality.