Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Going to the Village

"Going to the Village" is a phrase often used in Uganda when someone is going to go to the rural areas of the country. From a western perspective we may not understand what is meant by a "village" although we may think we know. A village, in the African context, means a rural area of people living in relative proximity to each other but each family having their own piece of land. The homes on this piece of land are located along a village path which may be only big enough to accompany foot traffic but sometimes a rural access road that may be well maintained but is usually a muddied pot-hole filled road only negotiable by skilled drivers and/or 4WD vehicles. Each home is about 50 - 200 metres to the next. The villager's land may extend far behind the mud hut to their gardens of maize, beans and bananas and other crops. The land may be from about 1 -20 acres in size. The compounds (yards) are well swept, level dirt areas where the locals can dry their crops during harvest season. If you want to buy goods such as soap or paraffin you will have to go to the local trading centre (town) where there are a few shops, perhaps a school and a church or mosque.

"Going to the Village" means leaving most of the modern benefits of civilization and entering a much more primitive way of living. Light is provided by hurricane lanterns but more often home-made open-flame lanterns that are a piece of cloth twisted into a wick and inserted into an old metal tin that has been modified to hold the wick. Cooking is done on open fires using the three-stone cooking stove or perhaps on a charcoal stove (called a sigiri) if you are a bit better off. Housewives and children suffer from chronic eye problems due to their continual contact with the smoke from cooking. There is no running water in most rural areas so people get their water from a hand-pump bore-hole. Many carry their water for over 1km, so it is used sparingly at home. Homes are built of mud walls and a straw roof but may be built with local fired bricks and iron sheets if someone has a bit more money.

"Going to the Village" also involves a change in mentalities as much as it involves a change in living standard. Villagers are infamous for their inability to keep time. A wedding scheduled to take place at 1pm may not start until after dark. Also, the concepts of direction and distance are also very difficult to get used to. Some one may say that the home you are looking for is "just ahead" which may mean 100meters or several kilometres in front of you. It is also difficult to hear someone use the terms left or right. They may say "the other side" or "there,there" or "near the other mango tree" (of which there may be more than one in the area). There is also a prevalent attitude of dependence on those who are white or who may be a rich local working in the city. I recently heard of a wealthy Ugandan who distributes over $1000 during his trip to the village during Christmas to acquiesce the locals demand for beer and other giveaways which may help the rich man gain a reputation as a someone great.

Leaving alone some of the more negative or interesting aspects of going to the village there are many positives. Villagers tend to be very kind and welcoming to most visitors. The visitor is King in the village setting. People greet each other as they pass in the local trading centres and along the village pathways. All village functions are accompanied by ample amounts of food and sodas and/or beer. Whether a burial or a wedding great hospitality is extended to all guests.

The population of Uganda villages is deceivingly high. You may not see many people around although they are always scattered along roadways and gathered in the evenings to enjoy life of the life of their small towns. Each home may have 5-10 children and other relatives as well as the parents. The population density of Uganda is well over 100 people per square km. A lot lower than our Canadian rate of about 3 per square km.

I've only scratched the surface of what it means to "Go to the Village" but, maybe one time you will have the chance to "go to the Village " with us...


Charity said...

I look forward to "going to the village" with you all sometime soon! mybe before the end of this year, wouldn't THAT be fun!

violet said...

Chris, you make me want to pack my bags and get on a plane (having had all my shots first, though!). Wonderful post.

We're praying for all you dear ones -- and missing you in the flesh.