Home Sweet Down

I just spent 4 hours cooking a meal big enough to kill a family of four.

Luckily there were about 12 of us. Viola and I live in a house in a part of Kyabirwa village referred to locally as “Down.” I’m not really sure why, but I never refer to it as that anyway. I just utter the two magic words: Mama Naafa. Mama Naafa is the sweetest little lady ever, and she and her massive family own one of the largest plots of land in the village. Our house was previously occupied by Stephanie, a former SOUL Program Coordinator who left about 6 months ago, leaving behind our doggie Buja, who apparently slept in this very bed with her every single night. While I don’t technically have a host family since we live in this house alone, it’s really nice to have such a big family around to spend time with when we so choose.

And the family is always changing. There’s always grandchildren on holiday from schools all over Uganda coming to visit, sons and daughters that live nearby or come from afar to see their loving mother, great-grandkids learning to walk and great-grandkids starting school and great-grandkids that speak more English than most of the rest of the family. Everyone is always so welcoming, so sweet, and definitely places an incredible weight on the importance of family. Which I admit, is something that does not come naturally to me – but something I’m working on (no offense real family, I love you, just not used to big family gatherings and quality family time being a consistent part of life). Very different cultural values here, and it’s a nice change of pace.

Mama Naafa is 94 years old. She reminds me of my late great-grandmother “Big Nana,” who lived to 93. Except, you know, Ugandan. She doesn’t look as old as she is, and I was shocked to learn of her age. I was even more shocked to learn her mother is still alive and lives a few villages over in Busia. She’s not sure how old she is (age is not really kept track of here like it is in the West, many people just estimate their ages when asked), but logically she has to have been born somewhere around 1904. Mama Naafa’s mother claims she was a child when Ugandans first began putting on clothing.

Right now there are a few more grandkids home for the holidays. She doesn’t really know how many grandkids she has. Here in Kyabirwa, I am not 100% sure I’ve met someone who isn’t part of a polygamous family. Most men with children seem to have around 3 wives (and the village is a nice mix of Christian and Muslim). I met a woman the other day whose husband has a total of 54 children. This is the sort of polygamy that would likely cause jaws to drop in the West (and yes, for the record, I find it appalling that men can take other partners without consent and women cannot…an inequality I will never be able to wrap my mind around, but I recognize the futility in gawking at cultural differences and try to go with the flow and learn as much as possible). But here, families seem to be incredibly strong regardless. Husbands and wives seem to get along great. There is certainly domestic violence. There are certainly abandoned wives. There is certainly a laundry list of issues that arise that have created such a necessity for SOUL’s programming that focuses on empowering women. Nonetheless, there’s so much love here, and you can feel it all around.

Blessed to live where I do. Blessed to have a truckload of food in my stomach right now. Blessed that a week and a half of stomach problems subsided. Blessed for the beautiful little bedroom I get to come home to. Blessed to have witnessed one of the most torrential downpours of my life today. Blessed to be so blessed.

And I will admit it: I am blessed to have the soulful sounds of John Mayer filling my ears right now. Mmmmmmm…


Rainy day at S.O.U.L. (after some perfectly timed field work)



Most rains everyone says it’s “drizzling”…makes sense after seeing this today. The roads literally become impassible in every direction after a rain like this. It’s going to be a reeeeeally interesting year….


Viola dishing out the goods


Matooke (banana staple of Uganda) made in banana leaves…so spectacular


Heaven on a plate. Followed by a food coma on a bed. Most Ugandan meals start out with what looks like a basket of fruits and vegetables, and you watch as they slowly transform into a sea of starchy carbs right before your eyes.