Daily life in Lukodi is so different from America or even life in Gulu or Kampala. Simple, everyday tasks such as drinking water, cooking, bathing, and washing clothes take so much more time in the village, but living outside virtually all day enjoying the beautiful scenery makes up for the extra work. Every day is different and interspersed with surprises (like a snake slithering by), but each day is always full of baby cuddles, fish/aquaponics work, praise songs and drums, beans, laughs with the girls, and scorching heat.
I usually wake up with the sun around 6:30, sweep my hut, fill a bucket with water and put it in the sun to warm (cold showers are not fun), and liberally apply sunscreen. Sometimes I’ll go for a run while it’s still cool. Most people I pass greet me warmly, but some stare as if to ask, “Why is she running? Why expend energy for no reason?” In the village, running is unheard of, but it’s fairly common in town. When school is in session in Lukodi, I’ll pass streams of kids walking to school in their matching uniforms. They laugh when I say “Apwoyo” and sometimes run with me. My favorite is when one of the boys has a football made of plastic bags wrapped tightly together and we kick the ball along the road.
Most mornings the girls have chapel or Bible study. I love these times because we beat the drums, rattle a shaker, and lift our voices in praise to God. Sometimes dancing will break out. :) It’s a beautiful way to start the day. Breakfast is always tea (if I let one of the Ugandans make my tea, it’s soooo sweet! They love their sugar!) and either boiled cassava or sweet potatoes depending on the season.
After tea, the girls bathe their children and go to classes. My work varies everyday, so sometimes I’ll go down to the farm to check the water quality or construct an experiment while other days I’ll read about fish and aquaponics. Often I’ll walk around the compound trying to find Internet connection to send emails. Lately, I’ve been trying to track down materials to build an aquaponic system—some things are available in Gulu, and Kampala has everything, but imported goods are expensive.
If I don’t have too much to do, I like to visit classes. In saloon, the girls will plait my hair, and in preschool, the kids will sing me songs and tell me stories. My favorite is catering and bakery class because I get to eat what we make. :) I’m pretty good at making chapatti and donuts now, but my samosas still need some work.
Lunch is at 1 o’clock, and we usually have beans or lapenna (a local crop that’s kind of like a cross between beans and lentils) with posho. Posho is maize flour and water cooked and stirred into a thick, heavy blob. It’s not very flavorful, but it sticks to your insides and fills you up. Occasionally we’ll have rice instead of posho, and I get really excited. :) On Saturdays we get meat, which is usually very fresh beef straight from the butcher. I eat lunch with the teachers and enjoy hearing about their lives. We sit on a mat under the shade of a tree and talk; many of them lived through the LRA war and have crazy stories. They’ll often invite me to help dig in their gardens or visit their homes. One teacher told me that she works at CVI to earn money for her kids school fees, but she’s rented small plots of land throughout the village to grow sweet potatoes, sim sim, and other crops to feed her family. I don’t know how she finds time to commute to CVI, work here all day, cook and care for her kids, and grow gardens. I helped her harvest her sweet potatoes once—we walked about 2 km, dug up sweet potatoes and loaded them into a bag so full until I could barely lift it, then walked all the way back with her carrying this insanely heavy sack of potatoes on her head. Village Ugandans are extremely strong and hardworking.
Some afternoons the girls play football, and it’s so much fun! It’s worth braving the blazing afternoon sun. The girls are tough players who push and fight hard for the ball! I love running with them barefoot through the grass—when I score, they rush me and lift me high in the air while cheering. I feel like Carli Lloyd!
In the evening, the girls fetch water from the borehole. They fill jerry cans for the kitchen, for cleaning the compound, and for them and their children to drink, bathe, and wash clothes. I can barely carry a full jerry can, but they easily balance them on their heads with a baby strapped to their back. Some days I’ll do laundry—it’s quite the process to fetch water, scrub each piece of clothing several times by hand, rinse a few times, turn inside out, and hang on the line to dry. I sit outside my hut, scrub, and listen to country music. Thankfully, one of the girls helps me with my laundry or it would take me all day!
After bathing with my bucket shower, I love to sit and watch the sunset. It’s my favorite time of day because the sunsets are always spectacular, it starts to get cool, and I’m clean. :) I quietly sit and read or journal and reflect on the day while drinking in the fantastic scenery.
After the sun sets around 7, I head up to dinner which is whatever we had for lunch plus the girls usually make me eggplants, tula, or cabbage cooked in a sauce strongly flavored with Royco (a Ugandan spice mixture they put in everything). The generator runs from 7-10 pm every night, so I can charge my laptop and phone and we have light in the reception area. I usually hang out with the girls in reception for a while. They love to go through my phone and look at pictures we took. They also love to play with Snapchat filters! Sometimes the girls teach me Acholi and Arabic, and I write the words in my journal. Sometimes we watch TV; I laugh when they play Barney. Sometimes we pick boo (a leafy green) where each girl is given a pile of boo they have to pick the leaves off of for eating or drying. Sometimes I’ll do a Bible study with one of the girls who leads chapel. I cherish these moments of helping her sound out the difficult words and sharing what God teaches each of us. These girls may be younger than me, but they’re so mature about serious life matters. One of the former CVI interns worked on a literacy program because most of the girls are at an elementary school reading level and some can’t read at all because they weren’t able to finish school. The intern started teaching one of the girls to read, and now that she’s left, I sometimes continue it. The girl is learning so quickly! She started out just learning now the alphabet, then moved up to two letter sounds, then words, and now she can piece together short sentences! It was so exciting the first time she read a word—she kept sounding out the individual letters “d”, “o”, “g” then saying them together faster and faster, until finally it clicked! Smiling, she said, “Dog.” This is a girl who when she arrived at CVI 6 months ago, she laid in her hut for three days with no desire to even care for her newborn baby. Now she’s a wonderful mother (even helping with the other children), does well in classes, smiles and laughs with her friends, and is learning to read. She says she wants to be able to read bedtime stories to her son when he’s older and help him with his schoolwork.
Every night at 8:30, the girls ring the bell for prayers and everyone gathers in reception to sing and pray. This is another one of my favorite times of day. Some of the songs are lively, fun, and full of dancing while others are slow, heartfelt cries to God. No matter how my day went, even if I feel like I’ll never figure out how to build an aquaponic system in Uganda, singing these songs never fails to fill me with peace, realign my perspective, and remember that God has an ultimate good plan.
When the generator shuts off and everyone goes to bed, I walk down to my hut. The stars are always amazing! You can see so many, and some of the constellations are even the same as in NH! As I stand outside brushing my teeth and look up at the sky, it’s comforting to know that my family is looking at the same Big Dipper. They may be halfway across the world, but we’re still connected.
There are definitely moments when I’m tired of the heat, being covered in dirt, and itchy bug bites that swell to large red lumps. Sometimes I’m tired of taking bucket showers, always using a latrine, and eating beans nearly everyday. Sometimes I’m tired of facing snakes, lizards, mice, and giant spiders. Sometimes I’m tired of waiting for work to get done, waiting to meet people, and struggling to get complete answers. Sometimes I’m tired of picking up kids with runny noses and wet pants (if they have pants at all J )and trying to learn Acholi and Arabic, but the girls’ love, joy, and friendliness; the kids’ cuteness; and the natural beauty of Uganda more than make up for the hardships of village life. I wouldn’t trade a child’s smile, a girl’s laugh, or a farmer’s greeting for anything. (not even a cold milkshake!)
I love climbing into bed every night and listening to the wind and animals outside my cozy hut. Tucking in my mosquito net, I feel protected against the little critters of Uganda’s night and thank God for this opportunity to live in Africa, work on aquaponics, and build relationships with these beautiful people.