TODAY I finally felt like a reeeeaaal anthropologist. Oh, it was wonderful. I went to the village of Kyakabeizi (pronounced chock-uh-beez-ee) to the community meeting, which consisted of a circle of empty plastic chairs in a field. The villagers, 90% or so of whom were women over the age of 70, preferred to sit nestled (almost on top of one another) on the ground, beneath the trees.
I went with KK, and EM, the young fellow that I hand-picked to translate for me and be my understudy (hoping to build capacity at the health plan after I leave). Sometimes EM would turn to me and speak in Runyunkole, and then catch himself, bashfully apologizing. He is so green (as a translator) and nervous, but he did a WONDERFUL job. I bought him a Coca-Cola and an apple at the convenience store where we made copies of the survey and he said, “Are you sure it’s not too expensive?” When I paid him the budgeted rate for half a day’s translation (roughly US$7 - remember, it’s paid relative to the economy here and I’m working under a NGO’s budget) he exclaimed, “Oh, it is a lot of money.”
The village of Kyakabeizi has their community meetings in this spot, I was told, because the entire village can be seen from boundary to boundary in the distance, green hills enveloping the place from all sides. The “community center” (silly me, I thought it would be a building) is a spot of grass and a huge tree in a clear valley, surrounded by rolling walls of banana trees. There are beautiful yellow daisy-ish wild flowers all around. When I mentioned how pretty they were, I was told that when yellow flowers cover the ground, it is said to suggest that there is gold below. :)
One by one, we met with “heads of household” that care for orphans, which have benefited from Tuchwemu Project’s solar light subsidies and Matre Group’s “Bednets for Orphans” program, i.e. within the past six months, they’ve received low-cost solar lights and no-cost bednets. Again, these were all (but 1) very elderly women, some of whom care for up to 15 children. When they approached me for the interview, they grasped my hands in theirs and said things looking directly into my face (translations whispered in the background) that were punctuated with gratitude and phrases like, “I wish you all of God’s blessings and peace for your journey,” phrases whose poetic translation was overshadowed by the women’s more drippingly poetic, thankful eyes surrounded by deep, chocolatey smiling wrinkles. Their necks featured brightly colored beads (some attached to tucked-in rosaries) peeking out beneath the collars of their long cotton dresses. Brightly patterned fabrics draped as shawls around their tiny, sturdy bodies as they looked into mine and EM’s eyes and told us how the items had benefited them (or not, for example, if their solar lights had battery problems). Patterned cloths were tightly coiled around their hair, they looked cool and protected from the sun, with gray curls winking out from beneath the edges.
Physical contact is so different in this culture, so much closer, relaxed moreover by the women’s age and isolation from the bustling world. It was amazing to watch as EM spoke to them, gently prodding them with his soft voice and my questions, he literally reached out to them (he and I were basically knee-to-knee with the women) and he would offhandedly grab their fingers or ever-so-slightly pet the edges of their shawls in their laps as they exchanged questions and answers (turning to me and speaking in English in pauses, sometimes the women excitedly continuing their narratives in the background). In return, the women would just hold EM’s fingers or hands when answering. The women were very animated, like Italians talking with their hands, reaching down to the ground, quickly pulling up grass, and then opening their arms wide to the sky to illustrate their points. In the distance, I saw an old man walking, he was wrapped up in a yellow cloth, just like a shepherd, and carrying a wooden staff to balance himself. Cows and goats sang moo and maaaa in the background.
Time and again, the women told me how much they spent on kerosene before the solar lamps, saying that now they spend no money on it. One woman’s grandson had taken her solar lamp to the mechanic and never returned with it. She said she really needed one, because she cares for a child in school who uses a lot of kerosene doing homework. She said the biggest reason she wanted a solar lamp was the money that she would save, and secondly, the smoke from the kerosene bothers her eyes when she’s reading. In Uganda, there is no good postal system or i.d. system to make people easy to track down. Interestingly, cell phones are emerging as the only way to get in communication with people. Most of these women couldn’t remember their cell phone numbers, and some of them didn’t have phones, but most did. The solar lamps have the ability to also charge phones, which is very important, I realized today. In order to charge their phones, people must pay for transport to a charging station (usually quite far). Then, they must pay to charge their phones. Usually, it takes almost an entire day to charge a phone at a charging station, then there’s the transport cost back. Sometimes, a phone must be charged more than once a week. Obviously, these lamps make a huge difference for these women. Some of them now spend NO money on electricity OR kerosene, whereas they were spending much money before.
We also asked them about their bednets and the number of times there had been malaria in their homes in the last six months. Guess what, all of the women and orphans that slept under bednets answered that they had no malaria. The ones who did not sleep under bednets had malaria in the past six months (usually more than one family member). Matre Group pays for the families caring for orphans to be enrolled in the health plan, so even the households that reported malaria were able to get affordable treatment and stay for a week in the hospital if they needed to - thanks to the IHP coverage.
When we asked if we could come to their homes to follow up on the survey, broad smiles crept across their faces. Each one replied how honored and overjoyed they would be, they would invite their friends and cook huge feasts for us. So, I better start building up my appetite. :)
I commented to EM about how most people in this village were older, and he replied that it’s because it’s a village. The villages are where the old people live. The young people move to the cities. The world is changing here quickly. What a wonderful, rewarding day. I think I’m in the right place.
Tomorrow I will teach EM how to input data and build spreadsheets (among many other tasks on my checklist). Wish me luck!