In the wee hours of the morning, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, I felt a panic. “I can’t do this! I want to be at home now!” A friend asked me the other day, “what was your greatest fear in going?” My fear, and the reason for the panic, was that I wouldn’t do a good job, that the women I was working with wouldn’t accept me, that I wouldn’t know what to do. That’s it – I wouldn’t know what to do.
Uganda is right on the equator and morning comes at 6:30am, sunset at 6:30pm. We rose with the sun and went straight out for our first real Uganda breakfast of matoke, potatoes, chapati, “french” toast, a very white and flat omelet, chopped tomatoes, and pineapple.
After breakfast, Craig and I went back to the room to get ready, and a few minutes later when we came out everyone had already gone to the hospital. Well, ok, we’ll take boda bodas. Boda bodas are the little motorbikes that are the popular mode of transportation. People pile them high with families, goats, furniture, and anything else they can balance on there. These bikes then zip in and out of traffic, traffic that doesn’t seem to have any rules other than drive fast and wherever you want to. Oh and honk horns. I told the young man that I was a Ja Ja (old lady/grandmother) and to drive slow. He laughed and did.
We arrived at the hospital, regrouped with the others and headed off to our assignments. Deb, a nurse from SLC, Kelly, a doctor from Oregon, and I grabbed yarn and knitting needles and went outside to look for women. Most of the women are outside. Because they are leaking from their fistula, they aren’t allowed to roam about the buildings. That bothers me even to type it. There are a couple dorms set up where the patients waiting for surgery and their helpers sleep. Current patients sleep in the ward.
I had no idea how we were going to teach knitting, or gather a group of women to participate in that knitting when we didn’t speak the same language. I needn’t have worried. Fiber is a common language that women have been speaking since we invented textiles. We spied a group of women, then decided we’d just go sit down and start knitting and see what happened.
There was a patio area and steps where women were gathered, we started to sit and the women immediately insisted that we sit on the woven palm frond mats they had. This was a regular occurrence; we weren’t ever allowed to sit on the bare concrete, even though some of the Ugandan ladies were.
We pulled out our yarn and needles and immediately we were swarmed by women wanting to participate. At first it sort of took my breath away. I don’t respond well to too much movement and many people clamoring for my attention all at the same time. I took a few deep breaths, handed out some woozy (yarn) and m’piso (needles). Now I may have these words completely wrong. This is what we understood from what the ladies were asking for. Who knows? At any rate, this became part of our shared language.
After that initial mob, which tended to happen every day, we all settled in our spots with our knitting and began to learn from each other. I was so overjoyed to be a part of that moment, that miracle. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I have a fascination with the connection between women and textiles. As I said, this is a common language. For eons we have been coming together to help each other with our textile work. Women have always gathered together with their handiwork to support each other and offer companionship and community. Even if we speak different languages and our skin is a different color, working with fiber is a common denominator.
I’m crying again and dinner needs to come out of the oven. I’ll be back on Wednesday.