Timelessness (Part 1)

There is a timelessness here in the village.

Questions like, ‘What time is it?’ and ‘How old am I?’ and ‘What year is it?’ seem not only irrelevant but also, somehow, unanswerable.

It’s time to get up when we get up. It’s time to take tea or eat when food is on the table. It’s time to head out for the day’s outing when we’ve all taken tea and bathed. It’s time to head home when the moon is high up overhead. It’s time to sleep when we’re tired and the last visitors have left.

The time it takes to get anywhere or do anything is the time it takes. We’re always passing people the family know so we stop the car in the narrow dirt road and shake hands through open windows, exchanging pleasantries in Rukiga. (The local language, pronounced ‘roo-chi-ga’.) One man even brought his little girl over to my side of the car so she could touch the ‘mzungu’ (white skinned person).

We drive through herds of long horn cows and goats, all tended by a young man or old boy. I saw one boy running barefoot along the rocky edge of the road to catch up with his herd of goats.

We drive along the bumpiest dirt roads I’ve ever ridden on. The car rattles and our bodies shake and bump into each other as we cross over rocks and holes and crevices cut through from rainstorms and floods. And yet the countryside we travel through: rolling hills, terraced gardens all along the hillsides, fringed leaves of banana and matoke trees waving in the soft wind, green life and signs of fertility everywhere, make the crazy drives worth every bump.

Everything is beautiful, different, new. Yet there’s also a familiar rhythm of cleaning, cooking and doing laundry; while all done in different ways here, they’re the daily tasks women have done together for eons.

(Sweeping is done with a broom made of some kind of stiff hard grass; cooking is done outside over charcoal fires; laundry is done outside by hand in plastic basins filled with cold water; the wet laundry is hung on bushes to dry.)

There are so many children around. They stare or wave and smile. ‘Mzungu!’ they call out. After church the other day I was surrounded by about thirty kids. At school they’re taught in their local language, not in English, yet some are able to ask, ‘How are you?’ and ‘Where are you from?’ We play high five and enjoy smiling and laughing with each other. I sing a call and response song with them. ‘They are happy to see you here,’ I’m told. Mzungus are rare sightings here, and held in high esteem.

I see the ancient ones here, too, with their gap tooth smiles, moving about bent over with a walking stick in one hand. They tie their lasso (shawl/sarong) around themselves like a sideways cape to keep warm in the mist filled mornings and chilly nights. They still dig in the gardens and pick tea leaves and do their part in taking care of the family while also being taken care of.

As we drove through the hills last night towards home, after an outing in the wild bush at what felt like the top of the world, Ronald pointed out the three lights in the distance that marked their compound. Most of the rest of the village rested in darkness. Only a few people have small solar panels on their roofs. This allows us lights at night and enough power to charge our phones; a rare luxury in these parts.

As we got closer to the center of the village, we passed women carrying jerry cans (plastic jugs) full of water on their heads; children carrying smaller jugs at their sides, all of them heading uphill away from the village tap. I gave thanks for having a tap in our bathroom for showers and a tap in our side yard for all else. (If you want hot water it needs to be boiled over a charcoal fire first.)

When we arrived home there were a few people waiting outside to visit with the family. Waiting is just part of life here. We women had waited earlier, as the sun sank over the horizon, talking and laughing in the car together, while the men went off to finish their surveying of recently purchased land.

We didn’t know how long these visitors had been waiting at the house, nor did they know how tired we were, yet they were invited in to join us for dinner when we arrived home. Their laughter and conversations continued long into the night after I’d gone to bed.

As I write this, something small and black runs by the open doorway, followed by the teenage daughter of the family I’m here with and her cousin. I realize the black creature is the hen they’re trying to catch for lunch. (‘Aren’t you tired of beans?’ Annet asked me this morning.)

After I write this I’ll go outside again and do my laundry in the cold water. Annet is out there, preparing the fire for the hen. She’ll soak its body in hot water to make it easier to pluck all its feathers.

I hear the chickens clucking. Other birds are singing their melodies. The wind is whispering through the big banana tree leaves, inviting me to stop writing about living, put down my phone, and return to the timeless flow of activity that is daily life here in the village. So here I go…

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