Green upon green upon lush fertile green.
Markets alongside the road.
Store fronts with 2 walls
White manikins with dresses of all styles and colors. Why are they white? I don’t like this. They should be a golden brown like chocolate to resemble the beautiful people who will be wearing these clothes. The white bodies are lifeless, while the chocolate ones are rich with life. The chocolate people either walk slowly with a willowy dignity, or they are still. Only a few run, and then quickly. Most are still.
I think of Jesus.
And in my imagination, he is also brown like chocolate.
The roads are teaming with people; the traffic weaves in fast and tight like varied threads in a rope of yarn. Way too fast and reckless for anything back home, but somehow it works like a blended symphony. I don’t know how, but it does. I relax into trusting the driver. Or I close my eyes. I would not pass at this moment — there are 2 cars headed our way and a large truck coming from the other way and 7 bodaboda motorbikes on either side of the narrow red road and yet (I suck in my innards as though I could make our car skinny) — we squeeze by in the middle with less than an inch to spare.
It happens often, and everyone just bends.
There is no complaining.
I bend for you, you bend for me.
And we adjust.
This is the way in Uganda.
“Sistah” a voice calls to me through the window. We have stopped and are now swarmed by vendors. Suddenly sticks of BBQ chicken and bananas and bottles of pop and water are reaching into the car right in front of our faces. “Sistah, you buy banana!”
Bananas - wide and stuck in a thick bunch, 10 at a time. Green bananas you cook up for breakfast with beef and taste like a potato… Rich yellow bananas that taste full and sweet and not too mushy… naked roasted bananas handed to you through the car window inside paper: woody, but filling and tasty like a sweet potato. Bananas, bananas, bananas… Its trees are massive and peeling, its leaves are huge fronds fanning out to create shade.
Tea fields are an intense light green; happy in ancient fields. No need to replant; just a hair cut every so often like a hedge.
All is green and red and rich.
I am in the land of perpetual growth. I was not prepared for such a fertile, thriving place. I am on the equator where the moon fills from the bottom, not the side. And all my expectations have to slip sideways as well.
I am in a land of greens and red earth. These colors contrast to form a startling glow of vibrant life. Alive and full and fertile and rich in moisture and love. All year round.
Even in the remote villages where I assumed life was hard and water was scarce… where I was expecting dry brown desolation — I see lush vegetation.
The father of our sponsor child David has a grove of oranges. They are not orange, so we can’t see them at first on the trees; they are the same color as the leaves: bright green. Weston calls them lime oranges. Inside they are a light peach color. They are tangy, but they are also sweet. And they are delicious.
David’s father sees that we like them, and when we leave he gives a bursting bag full in thanks.
Both he and we are full with gratitude.
Everywhere we go — the World Vision office in Saroti, David’s school, David’s home, a second school — there is protocol. First, chairs are set up for each one present. Then we wait for all to arrive. Then — introductions. And there is an order for this too. First the host, then the honoured local guests, then the unusual visitors. Each of us stand and say good morning or hello, how are you and there is a communal response. Then we state our name and a bit about where we’re from or what we do. It is brief and formal, and there are white smiles all around. They especially love the young. Donovan and Weston are assertive and kind and I see they are loved instantly as they are transparent and guileless.
At David’s house there is a tent top set up with a hand-hewn pole. Plastic chairs are arranged in an oval in its shade. It is hot, but this special event has brought out all the hospitality in the village. Tied bouquets of bougainvillea show the way. Foot paths have been cleared and made ready for our wide jeep. Food has been prepared for the special guests, and the whole clan has turned up.
First there is the leader of the village, He is tall and serious, willowy and deep. When I shake his hand I say, “yoga” which is the way of saying hello how are you? He is taken back by this as though he sees me more clearly. There is a light in his eye. Later he welcomes us and gives a short speech in English.
“David’s father,” he says, “is a bastard.”
We do not laugh or comment.
All are at ease with this phrase as though he was commenting on the weather. A massive black wasp zips through the tent in the silence and no one budges.
The translator breaks in.
“In our language, bastard means a child who is not accepted by the father; one born out of wedlock.” Husband David and I nod. And we go on.
After his speech, the ancestral head of the clan speaks; and then the father… each one is welcoming us as distinguished visitors and expressing heartfelt gratitude to World Vision, to us, and to all Canadian World Vision sponsors who have supported such wonderful improvements in the lives of the people of the Gweri region.
It dawns on me that we are some of few who have visited. This is rare. And it is even more rare to have a whole family. We are the representatives of the thousands back home, and now we are reaping all the glory of gratitude and heartfelt appreciation. We must take time to see each latrine that was built, the lightning harvester, the new buildings. This is what our money has gone toward. We feel like we can take no credit for these improvements, but recognize it is important to hear their thanks. The headmistress of the school speaks into me with tears streaming down her face. “Tell your people, we are so grateful for their gifts. Now girls can stay in school when they get their period; they don’t drop out, because we have a change room and supplies. Tell your people thank you for us.” I nod and vow inside to try and do this. I am painfully aware for our small monthly donation and the odd letter, but because we are there in the flesh we represent all who give. For them we are royalty and treated as such. It is both odd and wonderful.
Back at child David’s house the wives and children of each distinguished member of the oval are squatting outside in the heat — Grandfather and Grandmother, cousins, friends, aunts, uncles, great aunts. There must be over 30 gathered from the village to honour us.
The children are adorable and they can’t stop staring at us.
It dawns on me that they have never seen white people. We are the first. How is that still possible? They are shy. Some wave. Some draw near to shake hands or fist bump and then they giggle. Many of the girls curtsy deeply when they shake my hand and smile. The world vision helpers tell us this is a sign of deep joy. Even the older women go right down on one knee and bow when they take my hand. I do not want them to submit themselves this way, but it is their pleasure.
When it comes my turn to introduce myself I am overwhelmed.
I had been fighting tears several times already this day, from the fervent prayers of the early morning devotions at the World Vision offices, to the welcome song from the students at David’s school, so now when it is my turn to speak… my heart is in my throat and the tears spill down.
The bright of eyes of David’s grandma smile at me. She understands.
“My heart is full.” I say to the translator and he echoes each short phrase to them as I breathe. “I am okay, even though I am crying.” They smile and nod after he tells them this. Ah good. They recognize this dual feeling of being overwhelmed by joy and the significance of the moment. “Thank you for honouring us, and taking time to share with us.”
We only have three hours scheduled at David’s home, but they are filled. David, our sponsor child, is slight and much shorter then both of our boys, even though he is already 14. He has changed from his school uniform and is now in his best clothes.
After we share a song that we prepared, the adults now sing a welcome song for us. Both at the school and here, the people are surprised that we have a song and the women burst in with high pitched “lilililili!” trills to show their favour. It is thrilling to have them respond in this way. And for a moment, I think our smiles might be as beautiful as theirs.
And then it is time to eat.
We are each given a bowl and then we eat with our hands from a shared mound of cornbread-polenta like dish and then some kind of salty meat with fat and a sauce. There are also bitter greens cooked with peanuts. I know this is an extravagance. All is tasty and new and we eat with child David and his friend Clement and the World Vision staffers, as the villagers watch.
Next we give David his special gift.
We have brought a hard rubber soccer ball and small pump that we found in Italy.
Weston presents it and shows David how to inflate and deflate the ball using the pump and needle.
David’s smile is big. It is rare to see it from him. Since we met him at the school he has been shy, quiet and serious. He stands to give his thank you speech, and through short translated phrases says,
“I am full of joy at your coming. Thank you for this rare gift of a ball.”
He loves it. All the children light up and soon we have a large circle out in the sun of about 20 of us kicking the ball to each one. There is little talk, but there doesn’t need to be. We all know what is happening. The watchers from under the tarp smile and watch each moment as the players on the flat reddish earth pass the new ball from foot to foot across the circle, like passing the peace of Christ from brother to sister and back to brother again across the cultures.
And it is good.