Over the years, I have been amazed at the number of times the thought “some things are universal” runs through my head while I'm in Uganda. I think I originally believed that a culture so different from ours in the US would differ from us in EVERY way. I worried about all the differences; how would we ever relate to one another? During the last Hearts & Hope mission trip, I was struck, once again, by a huge similarity in how we all, particularly women, are wired.
During some of our village visits, I ask our staff to arrange for us to make a home visit. I want the team to see how the kids live: where they lay their heads at night, how they eat their one meal a day, what keeps them dry when it rains. This is always an eye-opening, sometimes even shocking, experience for team members.
As we left the village of Nakabango, where Messiah Lutheran partners, I was told we would be visiting the home of Mary Ozele. Mary is sponsored by Elmer and Sheryl Williams; she is a beautiful little thing who always seems to have a smile on her face.
As we bumped along the road to Mary’s home in our bus, I was struck again at how many homes were tucked in the area around where the church and school are situated. So many people on the periphery! No wonder the number of kids always grows during the day of our visit!
We stopped on a narrow road and started to get off the bus. There were 16 of us plus 5 staff members, along with an entourage of kids who had followed us on foot. We walked along a well-worn path that opened up into a beautiful compound of small structures and a palm tree. Mariah directed us to one of the homes where a woman stood outside. Her hair was covered in fabric and there was a piece of cloth wrapped around her body, covering her dress. Violet spoke with her in the local language and translated for the team.
As always during these visits, the woman was thrilled that we had come to her home. Her smile gave that away. Ugandans ALWAYS make guests feel welcome. Not just to sit outside, but welcome to come INTO their homes. Homes that are 4 mud-covered walls where five adults couldn’t stand comfortably at the same time.
Violet reiterated to us that we were “most welcome” by the woman, whose name was Jennet. She is Mary’s mother. Violet continued to translate Jennet’s words and explained that she was embarrassed that she had just come from the fields, harvesting maize. Violet explained that the next day was market day and the woman would take the maize to sell the next day in the local market. This would be her income for the week that she would use to feed Mary and her five siblings.
When women work in the fields, they wrap their bodies in cloth that protects their dress (maybe their ONLY dress) from getting dirt on it. Jennet was still wearing the cloth and you could see that she wished she had known we were coming. She would have been prepared; she would have looked more presentable.
I stood amazed that this woman, who had spent the day picking corn, was most concerned that she wasn’t presentable to her guests. This woman who had probably been working since 5:00am in a dusty field was distressed that she didn’t look her best. Oh my – do I know that feeling? Haven’t we all been there, ladies? Guests drop by unannounced, and we take a glance in the mirror as we go to answer the door, wishing we hadn’t thrown our hair up in that pony tail at the end of the day and that we changed into a shirt that didn’t have an ice cream stain on the front?
Jennet slowly unwound the fabric from her hair as she continued to speak to us through Violet. She apologized over and over again, as we tried to convey our appreciation for her hospitality.
This woman, so beautiful, smiled through it all, even when she covered her face in embarrassment. Oh my, she was gorgeous. My mind raced with gratitude for her hospitality and for God showing me, once again, how similar we are. I loved her in that moment. I wanted to make her feel better; I wanted her to know she was perfect.
Isn’t that what God wants? For us to know we are presentable to Him, just as we are?
I knew the team was feeling it too. They looked at me with eyes that said, “what can we do?” I asked Violet if I could buy some of her maize for the team; not at “normal” cost, but also not at something that would demean Jennet. I ended up giving her 40,000 for eight ears of corn – outrageous by village norms, but the equivalent of $12 in US dollars. It was equivalent to almost two weeks’ wages for most Ugandans.
Mariah and Violet sorted through the ears of corn, selecting the best eight. They made the transaction legitimate by insisting on the largest, firmest of the crop. In the end, Jennet tried to give us all of her harvest – maybe 30 ears of maize. We finally convinced her to keep the extra and still sell it at the market the next day.
As we walked back to the bus, my mind buzzed with Jennet’s response to our visit – welcoming, but she wished she looked her best. I was right there with her; she’s a woman and we care about how we look! No difference between us when it comes to vanity.
I pray for Jennet. I thank God for introducing us to her and for showing me our similarities. And I pray for a great harvest for her before this week’s market day.
Hearts & Hope for Uganda
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.