The Door is Open…

Here in Africa, the door is always open.

Am in Kasese staying with Cleous and his family. We met in 2012 when I made my first trip to Africa. He is a vice principal at a top secondary school in South Sudan. Like many of the other faculty, he was trained and lives in Uganda. He is home for the month on leave.

I join him, his wife, Becky, twin boys Peter and Paul, and daughter Jennifer in their smart, modern home. The three children are under four years. It is a great experience to share life with an African family. The hospitality is wonderful. Feel at home? I can do that!

Today at breakfast, we were joined by a friend, who ate with us. Two others stepped through the open door to visit and say hello.

I gave them my best Rukiga greetings. Um, not so impressive here in Kasese, where they don’t speak the neighbouring dialect. But those with the ear for the language were amused, if not impressed, with this muzungu’s efforts at learning the local tongue.

This is how relationships flourish.

It must be like America in earlier times. When neighbours greeted each other, knew each others’ families, knew each others’ health. They come and sit at the table and partake of whatever meal happens to be in progress. It is a pleasant experience and quite different from my neighborhood in California, where the front doors are double-locked.

A month ago, I was in Kabale, with my friend Bishop Enoch Kayeeye and his family. It was a time of grief, as the bishop lost his brother after a long illness. Their door was open.

Friends and well-wishers poured through for a couple of days. The bishop was away at the village, preparing for the weekend funeral. I stayed behind at the house. I would sit in the front room, and watch and greet the parade of people drop by. The community was amazing. The love. The shared lives.

An open-door policy in our hearts allows friends and visitors to join us and be welcome. Yes, it takes some time to get used to intrusions, but time and practice makes for an easy conversion.

Even in Africa, people have programs for the day, things to accomplish. They may not have a 45-minute commute through jammed, paved roadways, but there are responsibilities and chores. It is lovely, really, to share a moment in this busy world of ours.

The door is open…

Extended Family

The child’s shrill cry of “muzungu” heralded our trip down the hill, alerting others below that a pale-faced visitor was approaching.

I can’t believe Cleous drove the Toyota sedan up the steep, uneven path to begin with. It’s not like it has four-wheel drive. Still he pressed on as we lurched and rocked toward an appointment to meet his father at his compound. We parked because ahead was clearly just a footpath. Fortunately he chose discretion. As we got out of the car, we immediately were surrounded by a dozen children, half clothed and barefoot, interested in us.

This was their stomping grounds, as it was for Cleous a generation earlier. As we marched up the hill, the boys were in quick pursuit.

Patrick poses with Cleous' father and extended family.

Patrick poses with Cleous’ father and extended family.

In my second trip to Africa in nine months, I have made a point to accept and welcome each and every situation that comes my way. From sampling food, to standing amid a group of strangers, I believe I was sent here to see and experience all I can. Try it, you’ll like it, is my cry.

At his home, a tight, recently built structure on the outskirts of the town center, I was given a private room, overlooking the latrines and bathroom. Not a good idea to open the window.

I am very much a muzungu, at least in my definition. Somewhat clumsy in social situations, trying to find the correct or clever thing to say, whether in Rukiga or Lukonzo. Spoiler alert: I keep my iPhone handy with my growing list of appropriate phrases. I go along with everything. I eat everything on my plate. Even ask for seconds of obushera, a sorghum porridge, which is definitely not delicious.

As a spoiled westerner, sure, I prefer a nice flush toilet. In South Sudan, I eschewed the hole in the floor, for a raised seat, when arriving for the morning constitution. There was no such luxury in Kasese. Last year I was concerned about my aim and dropping my waste within my waistband. However, with my newfound serenity about these things I crouched to let it fly. Successfully, and on target, I might add. OK, enough about that…though I really could go on.

As we climbed toward the house, I noticed long glances as I walked past neighbors and their homes. We arrived, entered the front room and sat on comfortable chairs, with food awaiting beneath netting on the table. Though we had just come from his in-laws house and their feast, Cleous advised that it would be disrespectful not to sample the fare before us.

His father, Vincent, arrived for introductions. He has a serious mien. He’s now a peasant farmer having had a career in the public sector. Then the extended family showed up and filled the room. More introductions were made, and after rehearsing my line for at least 45 minutes, I managed, “Wasibire,” or good afternoon, in Lukonzo. Smiles and laughter. Did I say something wrong?, I would later ask my host. No, he said. There were surprised and pleased to hear me say that.

More friends and more introductions. Then gifts. An uncle presented me with his handmade walking stick. We assembled for some photos. Africans, I notice, are not keen on mugging for the cameras as their American counterparts. These are proud people in the photos.

So it’s time to return to the car and Kasese. Bags of fruit and vegetables were carried by members of our entourage down the hill.

At the car, it was time for another round of goodbyes. The children smiled for a photo by Cleous. As they were focusing on him, I managed a profile shot of their grinning faces.

When I mentioned that I would also like to take a photo–permissions are required in most settings–they quickly split.

In the car with the windows down to enjoy the soft sunshine and warm air. I can see and hear the children running alongside and behind us. We’re picking up speed as we nose toward the main road. They gallop after us, shouting after the visiting passenger.