I sit on a folded-up yoga mat next to the bed so I can be eye level with the 86 year old mother of Annette, whose home I’m in (and whose land I’m living on). As she lays, reclined on the bed, I hold her tiny, long, brown skinned arm in both of my hands. Annette’s sister, Miriam, is sitting on the bed next to her mother. Both Miriam and Annette introduce me as Megan. I’m told to call her Kaka (grandma).
We talk and talk… Kaka doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak her language so she talks and Miriam or Annette translates for me and then I talk and they translate for me. They talk with each other. I talk with the sisters in English. There is laughter. Much laughter.
They tell me how, when Kaka was younger, another mzungu came to their village and invited the children to come to the school that she had built. But villagers told Kaka’s parents that the whites would eat the children, so she missed her chance to go to school. We laugh about this and yet part of me cringes… what might have been different for her had she received an education?
I talk with Miriam about the dress she is going to make for me. I tell her I love the dress she’s wearing… how I want it to flow like hers but with a different top. She gets an idea… she says, I’ll make a dress for you. You’ll have it by Friday. And that’s that. I ask her to tell me more. My inner control freak wants to be in charge. But then, I surrender… let her surprise me, I think. Let go and see what beauty she creates for me.
I am told Kaka is so happy that I am here; she is so happy that she came to stay the night with this side of the family so she could meet me. She said God brought me here and I’m a blessing to this family. I tell her I feel like God brought me here, for this family has been so generous and kind to me.
Miriam tells me she is praying for me, for my health and that I meet a good man. You will have two children, too, she says. I know this woman is a powerful prayer. So I thank her and then share how at 44, I’m not planning on having any children. You will see, she says to me, full of confidence and authority. It will be good to have children. I had a dream about it. We will just wait and see, she says. Kaka says she will pray for me, too.
Kaka says she likes me because I sit and I talk with them, I hear their stories and share my own, and I touch her. Kaka says that other white people see her skin, their skin, and won’t hug, won’t touch them, as they see their black skin as dirty.
That’s not me, I say, and please, please tell her that not all white people are like that. I put my arm out next to hers and touch my skin and then hers. I see beauty, I say. They are different and yet both are beautiful.
Annette brings dinner in for Kaka. It’s time for me to leave so she can eat and I can go to sleep. But we’re not done yet. The sisters have something to show me.
We walk out into the dining room and Annette pulls out a dress for me. It’s the traditional dress of their tribe in Western Uganda: the mushanana. They have picked out the fabric and had this made for me so that I can wear it at the traditional “giving away” ceremony tomorrow, where their niece will be “given away” to her soon-to-be-husband.
They have me put it on and show me how to wear it. They stand around me, adjusting the draping top. They talk about what shirt I shall wear underneath it. They pull the skirt up and show me that I’ll tuck my top in. They comment about how I have a big butt and how this is a good thing as it fills out the skirt. Linda, the teenager turning 14 this month, pulls out her eyeliner and talks about how she’s going to give me smoky eyes. They have me put on a pair of shoes they want me to wear as they go with the dress much better than my sporty teva flip flops.
This is so beyond anything I ever imagined when I was dreaming about coming to Uganda. To be welcomed into a family like this, to be able to engage in the day to day activities and the traditions and the ceremonies. To be treated like an honored guest and as family. I feel absolutely privileged to have gotten to spend the evening with three generations of women.
I wonder what tomorrow’s giving away ceremony will be like?