Kakira and Jinja
There’s a small country on the other side of world from everything familiar that has stolen my heart. The people are so kind and so beautiful and the landscape and wildlife makes my heart skip a beat. But more than all of this, like a punch to the gut, I’m captivated by the great juxtaposition here-amidst a backdrop of what appears to be extreme poverty in parts of the country, the people exude a joy and graciousness unlike I’ve ever seen or experienced.
We drove a couple of hours from the capital city of Kampala to the smaller but well-known town of Jinja. Jinja is a popular tourist destination. It’s nestled right next to Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world to Lake Superior, and is also the source of the Nile river. Green lush hills that roll up from Lake Victoria and the Nile command attention, as do the monkeys and other wildlife that call Jinja home.
The Ugandan countryside
Our view of the Nile River
Baby monkey playing early in the morning
Set against the backdrop of this breathtaking place is the village of Kakira, known for its sugar cane factory and its production of bootleg booze made from sugar cane. Alcohol making and consumption has taken over this village in a number of ways. The women in the village do all of the brewing process, bent over burning barrels, inhaling smoke and the toxic putrid vapors that are given off during the fermentation and distillation process, while their babies hang in slings on their backs. While the women are doing the heavy lifting in the community, the men are often out of the picture or too drunk to function.
Learning how the women in Kakira make alcohol
When we got off the bus, it was apparent that this village didn’t get many visitors. The women were excited and gracious to host us and show us how they provided for their families. The kids that surrounded us muzungus (local term for American) had wide eyes and snotty noses, many wearing tattered and dirty clothes. I smiled at one of the girls nearby and she quickly looked away, unsure of what to think of me. As we were listening to how the women brewed their alcohol, one little boy eventually warmed up to me and showed me his doll made out of a piece of sugar cane. The doll had hair made out of dried sugar cane fibers and a pair of shorts from an old shirt; this sweet boy was so proud of his simple toy. Slowly but surely our smiles were met with giggles from the kids, many of whom didn’t speak English, and before I knew it there were at least 50 kids walking with us, holding onto whatever they could, a finger, an arm, a hand.
Sweet kids and the sugar cane doll
These children, noticeably unhealthy, many of whom were orphans or had fathers who were absent alcoholics, living in conditions that appeared to be lacking according to every US standard, were anything but lacking. They overflowed with joy and love and held onto us, not wanting to let go. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language, it didn’t matter that we looked different, it didn’t matter that these kids had experienced such devastating loss at such a young age. Nothing hindered their ability to love us strange looking visitors.
Some new friends
My world was rocked that day in Kakira. My first world problems became so minuscule in the light of these sweet faces with pearly smiles shining back at me, arms and hearts wide open. My world was rocked because of the sacrifice these women make for their families and the sheer strength and resilience they have to keep pressing forward, full of joy despite their circumstances. My world was rocked hearing the shouts of excitement as the women spoke of wanting to learn new trades to support their families that were less harmful to the health of their children. The incredible people of Kakira have forever changed the way I see the world. Even though I have since washed the red clay off of my hands from those sweet children and mothers, my heart is forever stained.