This morning as we prepared to brave the 40km journey into Lugazi from where we are staying in Bugembe, we had no idea that we would be spending the day with the Chairman of the Wale… district, Chairman Livingston. Uganda is divided into districts, each of which includes many villages and are the equivalent of states in the U.S. The Chairman is the government representative of each district, and the equivalent of a congressman. When we arrived to meet Wilson at The Youth Outreach Mission (TYOM), Chairman Livingston came to meet us and invited us to join him for a visit to a remote village in his district where they were celebrating the National Labor Day holiday with a football (soccer) tournament. When the invitation was extended Lauren and I looked at each other wondering what we should do… we had a lead on a house, yet nothing was confirmed and we still had so much to do; however, we decided to honor his invitation and venture into what they referred to as “the real Africa” or “the heart of Africa”. Six of us piled into a small car, the Chairman comfortable in the front with the driver and four of us, including Lauren and myself, stuffed into the backseat literally on top of one another. The landscape was absolutely gorgeous! We drove past mahogany trees, sugar cane and papyrus plantations as the road wound deep into the villages of central Uganda. Rain pounded the car as the small holes in the road became huge canyons. Maneuvering the vehicle around these crevasses, the winding of the road itself, the braking of the vehicle, being squished in the backseat with my “pungent” friends and the windows rolled up, I began to feel very motion sick. About an hour into the drive I asked the driver to pull over so that I could grab some Gravol or Dramamine from my bag in the trunk and get some fresh air and a drink of water. I stood out in the rain for relief and dreaded getting back into the car as my friends were calling me in for shelter. A few minutes had passed and I was again stuck in the back seat, now wet, pushed up against my colleagues. I finally got to the point when I could not endure the back seat or the drive any longer and seeing my gag reflexes beginning to act up, Lauren immediately asked the driver to pull over. As soon as I gasped the fresh air I was ok, still we had a good part of the unpleasant ride ahead of us in order to reach the village. The Chairman so kindly gave up his seat in the front to be squished in the back with the others. I tried to refuse him and assure him that I would be ok, but being the wonderful man that he is, he gave me his seat in the front. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the village of Ssi. As the car came to a stop, my stomach came to a start and I flung the door open and bolted to the side of the road. I couldn’t help myself, everything came up. The Chairman made his way over after greeting some people and put his hand on my back as I was bringing up my breakfast. Right when I turned around there were four people waiting to greet me. I shook their hands as tears rolled down my face, I felt SO BAD! But I suppose that I should be grateful that nothing came out in the car or on any of our partners… especially the congressman! I had to assure everyone that I was fine and didn’t need to see a health nurse.
After that incident I began feeling better and I was able to enjoy the great celebrations of the village. Hundreds of people had walked for miles to attend this celebration, an occasion that is rare, and it was special to be a part of it. The soccer field where the tournament was taking place was huge! And I have never seen such incredible “football” players in my life! We were able to meet and shake hands with some of the players, I was pretty excited about that, but for them it is a way of life. Robert, the manager of TYOM, came with us and explained to us that each village chooses its “footballers” and who will compete and that they train for many months before events such as this.
The women had a small court to the side and they were competing in an event called “net ball”. It was much like basketball with a few ultimate Frisbee rules thrown into it. The object of the game was to put the ball through a metal hoop to score. It was pretty rough, but very fun to watch. In Africa it is considered disrespectful or disgraceful for women to wear anything but skirts, mid-calf skirts. The thigh is a sign of prostitution and “looseness”. Of course we have been respecting the culture and dressing each day with skirts, but as I watched these women play, I couldn’t imagine playing basketball in one!
Smart Choices, a local Non-profit group, MC’d the event and the purpose of the large gathering was to promote abstinence to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. All of the music played carried with it this message. It was played throughout the day, and every time it came on the kids would jump up and start dancing. At one point, I decided to get up and start dancing with them and attracted the attention of the whole crowd! I guess they didn’t know that Mzungu’s could bust a move! The MC on the microphone commented “Thank you sister for showing us your moves!” It was pretty funny! By the end of the day we were dancing and having fun with the kids. By the time we left, we had trails of children literally climbing on us. I would venture to guess that most of the people deep in this village in the “heart of Africa” had never seen a white person before, not one that had “moves” anyway.