Obanga mi gum!
How are you?
My name is Alexa.
I'm from America.
God bless you!
These five lines became my Luo-introduction to the women of the women's farmer cooperatives I have been and will be working with during my time in Lira, Uganda. I say my bit, they cheer and laugh, and connections start forming.
The view walking to Lira, Uganda.
The last two weeks in the bush have been packed full of sweet and genuine moments. The formalities are starting to fade, and I'm finally finding my footing. I think this happens in all situations when "home" becomes somewhere new. For a few weeks, you run around crazy settling in, getting familiar and trying to prepare for the "new normal." But soon, the to-do lists get shorter, the pace slows down, and you find yourself fully immersed in the new place and all it has to offer. My favorite part comes when the interactions start happening.
It's no secret to anyone who knows me, but I am a "people person." I am an extrovert. I find my energies in interacting with those around me. Thankfully, these last two weeks in Uganda have been full of those special interactions with these special, special people.
Playing patty cake while on break with the children of the Dokolo District School.
Last week, we attended church at a local children's home, Calo Me Lare, and I witnessed the most genuine and loving worship led by a group of children all under the age of 17. After the service, I received handfuls of hugs from children who didn't even know my name. I also went to another agriscience training and, while waiting for the women to arrive, taught a group of 20 primary-level (elementary) students how to play "Patty Cake" (and again got away with hundreds of hugs!). After the training, I was able to give food away to some of the most gracious and thankful hearts – and yes, I got even more hugs.
Distributing food aid to the women of the Dokolo District.
I had a sit-down meeting with Field of Hope's Uganda-based partners on the direction of the cooperatives and saw first-hand the passion these two leaders have for helping their country. Twice, Ryan and I stopped on the side of the street to play mwesu (a board and chip game) with a group in front of their store. They spoke little English but taught us the rules and helped us learn how to play, and they even laughed and clapped when we won (mainly when Ryan won). We got to go into the market unsupervised (aka, we had no local to translate for us or tell us where is best to go) and were able to barter and navigate the culture with the unbelievably kind people in town. We met pastors in town for a training, I got to hold two unbelievably adorable kiddos during worship at church this last Sunday (both of whom walked up to me having never even seen me before). We've been playing mwesu nonstop with the hotel staff, and we were able to have lunch with a new local friend.
I've been loving these interactions and trying to take them all in. This week has been spent traveling to the four districts to discuss changes in the program with the women. Instead of donating seed for the women to plant, Field of Hope is looking into donating a start-up grant into the women's cooperative account to begin the lending processes. The women have a weekly meeting, so Agnes (the lead coordinator with Victory Outreach Ministries, partnered with Field of Hope) and I have gotten some true one-on-one interaction with all of them.
Planting in the garden
I love being able to sneak into their "normal" routines and see the women outside of training. As I said, the formalities disappear and instead of listening to retain information, the women are interactive and involved. They make comments, ask purposeful questions and take charge of their group's direction. They all encouraged each other to keep working hard, and they planned together on how best to utilize what they have. They discussed how to execute plans and expressed their sincerest gratitude for the food we handed out previously. They joked around, poked fun and just enjoyed one another. They even took the time to teach me some Luo, hence my newfound introduction "routine." (Agnes may have had a large part in that, as well). Many of them volunteered to participate in my research, dedicating their time to help me, a complete stranger, accomplish a goal.
These interactions have been so encouraging and so rewarding. I wish you could see the faces of these women when they realize I'm back for a second time or hear their laughter at my terribly accented Luo-attempts. Their appreciation and kindness is physically visible. Being 8,000 miles away from home isn't always fun and games (although most of it is). There have been days when I've been exhausted and slept every minute in the car only to step out to see them and immediately be so thankful I woke up in Uganda. There have been days when I have been sick and wasn't sure I would survive a three-hour meeting. But as soon as the women break out in a praise song and dance, I forget all about how I feel physically. These interactions with these special Ugandans make the little inconveniences forgotten notions and make me contemplate staying forever.
The women are more than excited to receive their start-up grants, and I'm more than excited to continue interacting with them, as well as the other Ugandans I'm blessed to know now. I'm settling in to this new, albeit temporary, home, and I've definitely found my footing – right next to the sweet souls of northern Uganda.
Apoyo metek. Obanga mi gum.
Thank you so much. God bless you.
Alexa Major is a 2017 MIAP-Noble Fellow serving in agricultural development roles in Uganda. Major is from Fowler, Colorado, and is a student in the Master of International Agriculture Program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on business and rural development. This fellowship is sponsored in part by the Noble Research Institute.