Jul 8, 2010

"Have you seen darkness?"

Jonathan asked me that question on the way to "up country" on Monday. We had set out for western Uganda with the objective of visiting four or five prisons. Jonathan is now my research assistant for the remainder of my time in Uganda. He also happens to be from western  Uganda, which was a plus for both of us. It was a plus for me because he knows the area well, along with the local language. It was a plus for both of us because we got to visit his family in his village.

Jonathan's mother and one of his brothers lives in a village outside of a small town or trading center called Lyantonde. They live on a small plot of land that is covered in matoke (banana) trees, avocado trees, coffee plants, tomato vines, and ground nut plants. They live off the land.

Lets just say that his mother and I were amazed by each other. I doubt we could have been much different. The only thing we have in common is our common gender. She is elegantly elderly. In her sixties. She has had nine children. Lost her husband in political conflict. She speaks a language that no one outside of western Uganda knows of or uses. Has lived in a village all her life and does not know how to use a cell phone. She maintains her home singlehandedly by hand. She washes and cooks and farms and peels and sweeps and builds by hand. (I watched her cut the peel off of a bowl full of bananas and could not help but wonder how many hundreds or thousands of bananas she has peeled in her lifetime.)

She muttered "momo" for the first 20 minutes after my arrival, the expression of shock and awe in her language. She asked if my hair would gray with age. I suppose, she was awestruck by its color and texture. And she wondered if my skin was too delicate to use a sponge. She was amazed that I was willing to carry bananas on my head and help load our vehicle with produce to take to town. She mocked my loud American laugh. She did not think I would eat the matoke or beans or ground nuts she offered, but I did and enjoyed them. She giggled when she heard I was 23 and still single and without children.

We could not speak to each other, but she continued to speak to me. Even when Jonathan wasn't around to translate. It must be something that comes with motherhood. She needed to tell me things, my guess is that she wanted to tell me what she thought of me. She would just look at me, and talk for awhile, then smile and laugh. Sometimes it was followed by a hug or a touch on my hand.

We spent Monday night in the village. It was truly dark. I have seen beautiful stars sitting along lakes in Wisconsin and from the hills of Arkansas. But looking at stars from a village miles away from spotlights and cars and cities in Africa is not comparable to stars seen in the most rural of rural Africa. It was darkness at its best, not scary but beautiful and calm.


  1. "elegantly elderly" is a beautiful phrase.

  2. village dark is the best kind of dark, especially when the stars look like millions of pinholes.

  3. That's fabulous, Julie. That makes me think of my grandmother. I loved that she talked to you even when there was no one to translate.