During our three short weeks in Uganda, we have been fortunate to have time to visit various NGO’s serving individuals facing addiction and learn about their recovery programs. One particular visit was especially welcoming and heart warming in a unique way.
Immediately upon arrival, before we even exited the bus, the women and children expressed their excitement through song, dance, and smiles.
As many places we have visited, the warm welcome comes in the form of dancing as a performance for their visitors. However, this performance was different than all of the others because we were asked to participate! Traditionally, the dancers wear sashes, ropes of fabric, or fur cloths tied around their hips to accentuate their hip movements. Once they had done their introductory dance, they made their way to where we were sitting, intrigued by their movements. Before we knew it, they had untied their sashes and looped them around our waists, pulling us up to join them in celebratory dancing. It was so special to be included in their dance, even though most of us had trouble keeping up. It felt like a very genuine gesture and one that is unique to Africa.
It was wonderful to see the women and children so appreciative of the small generosity expressed through our bag of donations of clothing. They eagerly pulled them out of the bag and started putting them on one another. Then, they would hand use a clothing item and have us place it over the head of a woman so that she could wear it. It was a very humbling experience to be a part of clothing these women with our donations from friends and family in the US. While the women were dressed up in their very best outfits, some of the children appeared as though they had not received new clothes in months. Although it was not a big imposition for us to bring our gently used clothing, they made us feel like it was worth a lot to them which made it very much worthwhile.
Preparing for our trip to Africa, I tried to get an understanding of the severe level of poverty that exists throughout Eastern Africa so that I wouldn’t have an overwhelming initial shock and not be able to process all that I would see. However, the reality is that you can never be prepared for the conditions that individuals in a developing country live in day after day. As a social service worker, I have always had an interest in helping vulnerable populations overcome their struggles and improve their well being. However, despite the frequent visits to the dilapidated neighborhoods of Atlanta where I have served the homeless population, they do not compare to the severity of poverty in the neighborhoods we have visited in Kampala, Uganda. The level of poverty I have seen here is different from American poverty that I have witnessed in terms of sanitation and available basic needs. Basic amenities such as clean water, accessible food, reliable shelter, and ample clothing are scarce. Many families have to walk to a nearby pump or well to retrieve their water. In many cases, nearby is a relative term.
Some of these pumps may be more than a mile from someone’s home. It is collected in containers, called jerry cans, and then transported by hand or bike back to the home. They typical jerry can holds 20 liters of liquid. Image the weight! However, this amount of water retrieved seems small when taking in to account all that it is used for-drinking, bathing, washing clothes, and cooking for the household. Additionally, it is not clean in nearly the same standards that we have in America, making it even more difficult for an outsider to understand how the majority of people in Uganda live a healthy lifestyle.
On average, individuals living in Kampala earn less than a dollar a day. While many items for purchase or trade are less expensive in Uganda than in America, it is still challenging for a vast majority of the population in Kampala to live in a healthy, productive way. We have learned that the unemployment rate is reported at 75% for the country, so this puts a lot of their lifestyle into perspective. Despite these unpleasant conditions, I have found the people of Uganda to be unbelievably happy and carefree in their lifestyles. They are a welcoming, friendly, and curious nation that I have never experienced anywhere
else. Their way of life has been incredibly inspiring to me in that their happiness does not depend on social status, income, or material possessions. It has made me reflect on the values that we as Americans place on things that seemingly aren’t relevant to happiness for Eastern Africans.