(by Becca Waterloo)
Getting woken up by a rooster directly outside of my window was a great way to start my Christmas in Africa. It was the day we were to head halfway up the mountain to Geoffrey’s home to attend church service and dinner. Again, the car ride continued with more driving by local villagers and their homes, saying “melembe” to each other and getting smiles, waves, and “mzungu!’’s back. When Africans see a van full of mzungus (white men), they open their eyes widely and wave, and usually walk/run up to the van. We were almost like celebrities or Miss Americas. Geoffrey’s was a continuation of the hundreds of warm welcomes we got. We were greeted by Geoffrey’s wife, Rose, who welcomed us warmly into their tiny living room and served us freshly squeezed passion fruit juice.
Each one of our presences there was acknowledged. Yes, we were a group, but handshakes and introductions from each of us were expected. As we kicked our feet around Geoffrey’s house for a bit hanging out with his adorable children, it was time to head to the Christmas church service.
That feeling I had in Kampala, the safety of our fishbowl completely keeping our skin from being exposed, started to fade as we got closer to the church. I heard children, tens, hundreds of them playing outside the building. They started chasing our mutatu once they saw our faces peeking out of the windows. We got out, and that was it. Hundreds of children’s eyes, all of them dressed in Sunday’s best, staring us down as if we were literally aliens.
(Usually when you arrive late to a service, a movie, or a play, you quietly sit in the back as to not to disturb those around you. When twelve mzungu guests arrive in a Christmas service in the village of Gibuzaale, the service stops, and everyone looks up. The group is then brought to the front two rows of the congregation, and there is a long introduction from each of them, translator included.)
It is a lot to take in for everyone, as every movement is watched and there is no anonymity like there is in the city here. Geoffrey introduced us, and we all introduced ourselves. (See ‘Christmas speech’). Everyone was so welcoming, so I welcomed them back into my home. No one else from our group had done that yet, and it was about time we showed some hospitality back. It was amazing how every single person we approached welcomed us. I can’t even explain. “You are welcome. You are welcome in our home.”
(I had later figured out we arrived two hours late to their service.) Three hours later of sitting on a hard wooden chair squished between two group members, we had seen and heard the lugisu Christmas service, offered our shillings, seen a goat being auctioned off and given some children our sweets and candies.
Another brilliant gift one of the students brought was bubbles, about 6 small colorful bottles of them (other gifts were silly bandz, chocolate coins, lolipops, and jolly ranchers). We were sitting around Geoffrey's yard under their tent (after which it had rained and gotten the back of my shirt all wet from the leaky holes). The bubbles were brought out and I immediately grabbed a bottle to play with the kids. I ran over to the road where a lot of children were playing, and of course they noticed me approaching. I told them to come closer, opened the bubbles and started blowing them. All I got after a few bubble blowings later were cocked eyebrows and a giant “WTF?” The little ones came closer and I showed them how to pop them. I frantically kept going until they understood it was a harmless, entertaining idea. That’s when the best part of my whole trip began.
More students came by with their bottles and the kids really started getting into the bubbles. They all started laughing and chasing the bubbles, igniting the laughter inside of me. I gave the bottle to one of the kids to try… I had to document this. I started taking pictures of the kids, and decided to show them what they looked like through the camera. I showed them one photo and the laughter roared. Twenty more times of taking pictures, showing them, and laughing ignited this huge euphoria inside of me.
It was time for food. Rose and the kids prepared an amazing meal of chapatti, beans, peas, turkey, beef, chicken, rice, matoke (and some bottles of their yummy soda Krest and Stoney) that was to be eaten by fingers. It was a spectacular meal. It was an excellent alternative to Christmas in Chicago, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else that day.
It was after delicious African tea and cake at the deacon’s house, more welcoming and socializing with the village locals (including kids our age, all at the university in Kampala), it really hit me how real this trip was that evening. I had spent summer mornings in Brookfield, told the story to family members and friends about this IPRO project, and spent two semesters working on the project with no knowledge of what life was like in Uganda. The lives of us students and the farmers we have pictures of up at our campus coffee shop finally collided. We rely on each other to live, us drinking their coffee. We were sitting in their home, practically holding hands after being half a world away (three long flights and a long mutatu ride). It was unreal, and I was again, happy as can be. We were halfway there, the more important half of this project.
(My Christmas speech:)
My name is Rebecca, I’m an architecture student. I’ve dreamed of coming to Africa my whole life, and it is even more beautiful than in my dreams. Thank you for being so welcoming, you all are welcome in my home. Wanala Nabi and Merry Christmas