Dictionary.com gives six definitions of the word 'introduction' and none of them give much of any insight into what Heather and I experienced last Friday. A week before, we had been approached by Sylvia and Jesca about attending Bogere's “Introduction.” Several attempts at prodding to discover what exactly we were getting ourselves into left us with the general concept that we would be taking gifts to his fiance's house and they would introduce us to the family. We were all about an adventure, a cultural experience, supporting a staff member in this exciting life event, but we had no idea it would turn into a 14-hour nightmare that Heather would deem “a day from Hell.”
All of the arrangements had been made. Jesca had borrowed gomesis (traditional Ugandan dresses with pointy sleeves, pronounced go-MAZ) for the two of us. We were all to be dressed and ready to leave Bogere's house by 10am. It was made very clear by several individuals that this was not African time. They emphasized that we should leave Bogere's house at 10am, not our own houses at 10am. And we were told we'd be done by 4pm, so we added a buffer in our heads of 6pm, thinking we'd be back in time to do dinner with Patrick, who'd be returning from Kampala.
Ali arranged for Lourie to pick Heather and me up on the boda at the Green House at 9am. We'd gone through our Boy Scout list of what we might need for the adventure: water bottle, pb & j sandwiches, bandannas to dunk in water if the heat was unbearable, T.P., hand sanitizer, sunscreen...a sweater and a headlamp just in case the 6pm buffer was not enough. We picked up our gomesis from Jesca and scoured the house for three “strings” they told us at the last minute we would be needing to hold them up. Our Boy Scout list, along with the gomesis and strings (cut strips of fabric), were wrangled into bags we could sling over our shoulders as the two of us climbed on the back of Lourie's motorcycle about 9:30am.
After rides to various villages over the bumpy, crevassed, dirt roads in the back of Wayne's white truck, I was pleasantly surprised by the smoothness of the ride with Lourie. I was still glad that my mother wasn't there to see Heather and me bouncing bare-headed behind the helmeted driver. After about 15 minutes, a fairly slow and graceful navigation of all the ruts, Lourie delivered us to Bogere's house and our suspicions, that our 10am departure would not be happening, began.
We were the first of the girls to arrive, but as we had no clue how to clad ourselves in gomesis, we began taking photos of the village children who inevitably show up when there are muzungus around. All of the action was happening in the compound next door where they were tying together a log frame for a tent that would provide a covering for the wedding the following day. We eventually wandered over and were welcomed by a couple of familiar English-speaking faces a midst a sea of kind African matrons, busy with wrapping gift baskets, peeling sweet potatoes and preparing food, along with the group of men (one of which had troubleshooted their lack of a ladder by standing on the rear rack of a bicycle that was balanced by a trusted friend) puzzling together the structure of long skinny poles, tying them off with rope.
Introduced to several of the women, we knelt as we shook their hands and greeted them, “Waasuz Ottia.” We were returned with beaming smiles as they appreciated our attempts to show respect. Wanting to join in the action somehow, I was eyeing the women peeling potatoes around a giant pot. My wish was his command - one of our English-speaking friends had us set up with knives and secured with spots in the circle lickety-split. There was lots of laughter as the women watched the muzungus wield a knife. Not like it's something we don't do at home... Heather did get reprimanded for not shaving the potato down to a golf-ball-sized smooth whiteness, but she pushed past her training against wastefulness and the knowledge that all the vitamins are in the skin, and dug that knife down deep. They laughed at me as I missed the pot every time I tried to toss in my peeled potato, it tumbling to the dusty ground below.
It was fun to feel to camaraderie that came with joining in with such a mundane task, but along about 11am the rest of the girls had arrived by bicycle or boda and we were pulled away to eat breakfast, a generous portion of plantains topped with mystery sauce. Squeezed into the shade outside the outdoor kitchen, we visited with Jesca and she shared that she had malaria. When we inquired as to whether she'd been to the clinic, she said, “They have given me tablets. They think it is typhoid.” We are often discouraged with the quality of healthcare here...
Heather and I were both taking photos of the children and other random things, just hanging out when Jesca gave us a lecture - “When we get there you must be polite. And no snaps (pictures)!” It seemed sort of out of the blue. How are we to know what it means to be polite? So we tried to get them to tell us what being polite meant in Uganda, as Jesca herself was sitting sprawl-legged in skirt rocking back and forth on her stool. “Walk slowly slowly and do not smile. Kneel when you are supposed to kneel and do not talk. Sit up straight and do not cross your legs. No Snaps.” It was as if our grandmother was afraid ``to take us out in public.
Maybe 11:30 or so they all pulled out their compacts and lotions, picks and combs. They looked at us and urged, “Aren't you going to organize your faces? How 'bout your hair? Aren't you going to organize your hair?” Heather and I looked at each other and snickered. Like it would do much good in this heat. And where would we plug in the curling iron? What they see is what they get.
There we are, still standing in the middle of all the action when they tell us it's time to put our dresses on. With no suggestion of exactly how or where to accomplish this task I buttoned the gomesi around myself and wiggled out of my shirt beneath it. I'm sure there was some skin peeking out, but what do you do? They did some fancy accordion folding of the large flap of extra fabric on the gomesi before they tied one of the strings around my waist and covered it with the giant sash, secured by a huge knot at my front. One of the older ladies had stepped in to help tie me off, but was having trouble communicating to me how to make the dress work. She rattled something off to a man nearby and the next thing I knew, his hand was inside my dress, tugging on a piece of fabric. Well, ok then.
Shiny whales we were. Adding injury to insult, when the other girls dressed themselves, they wrapped their lower bodies in tablecloths, tied with a string and doubled back over to create a ballooning effect to “shape” their dresses. Simply put - in Uganda, they like their booty big!
The van to transport us finally arrived around noon and we piled about 19 people into its 12 seats. The majority of the female passengers were wearing their floor length satin dresses with high heels but for us, flip flops and Keens were the fashion. Who brings their high heels to the bush? And as if we weren't packed tight enough with just people, we each had a gift basket to hold in our lap.
Whew, we were all in. Finally, we could be on our way...or...we could sit in the driveway for another half-hour. The music was going and all the matrons were whoopin' and hollerin' doing the booty dance around the van. They scrimped together short pieces of tulle to tie to the van and the car Bogere was riding in, also tucking little tufts of greenery under the windshield wipers.
About 2.5 hours behind schedule, we finally departed. We soon realized that our Boy Scout list was incomplete. They all pulled out giant pieces of fabric and draped it over themselves. “Aren't you going to protect your gomesi and your hair?” Well, maybe we would have if someone had told us to bring such an item! We did the best we could to shield ourselves with our bandannas. At times we closed the windows when the dust got too bad, but we couldn't breath for long with that many people packed into a van in the hottest part of a 100+ degree day.
After maybe 20 minutes, we came to a stop, the door rolled open, and they squeezed in another passenger. Thinking that perhaps this last squeeze would only be a short distance, we asked Sylvia how much further, only to find out that “the journey had just begun.” We settled in, trying to make the most of the situation. Loud whooping and hollering erupted every time we bounced through the tiniest village. In between, though, we were driving through the bush. Literally, branches screeching across both sides of the van as we plowed down 3-ft-high grass in the middle of the road, dodging goats and cows along the way, doing a little rock of the clutch to get the weight of the van up and over the humps. Let's just say that I was closing my eyes trying to think happy thoughts about my stomach, so I can't imagine what the little bean was telling Heather as it swam around in hers.
to be continued...