Sitting in a taxi eating corn on the cob.
That’s what I was doing at 12:40 p.m. on a Tuesday. But take whatever image you’ve conjured up in your head and delete it: I guarantee you it’s not what you’ve imagined.
It’s not a yellow or black taxi, and it’s nothing like an uber. It’s a van with carpeted seats that is filled with too many people. Loud, exotic music is playing, seemingly squeezing you and the other passengers even closer together. You’re practically on each others’ laps, and sometimes you’re literally on top of each other. The smell of human bodies is almost overwhelming. The taxis have You’re sticky from humidity and crave the gasps of wind coming in from the open windows. The corn (maize) was bought on the street, right out of the van door, and its texture isn’t the sweet, salty goodness that fills summertime at home — it’s chewy and coarse, half kernel and half cooked.
Everything here in Uganda so far is foreign, and yet feels strangely familiar at the same time. It’s a paradox, and yet this is a country of paradoxes from what I can tell. I want to lay them all out on a table and compare the absurdities. There’s the harshness of the environment juxtaposed with the kindness of the people and the sweetness of the fruit. The bright colored clothing and the bland food. The submissive role of women and their resilient strength.
The taxi left us in Atutur (in the Kumi district), where we met up with volunteers from the local NGO Keep Alive Missionary Ministry. Six of us split into three groups to teach business classes in neighboring villages. I walked with our translator to Apuda, asking the Iteso word for what I saw around me. I can now say goat, cow and pig in Iteso, along with the phrase “God bless you.” I can identify the cassava plant. I know mounds more than I knew this morning, and yet I still know nothing. We’re the teachers but our students teach us so much: plants, animals and rural culture, humility, generosity and minimalism. Let’s add that paradox to the list.
When we walked back to Keep Alive Missionary Ministry, dozens of children came running out, sprinting full speed ahead with clouds of dust behind them. Their force literally stopped me in the dirt path as they collided into me. All of them were trying to hold my hands. If they couldn’t touch my hands because of other children, then they’d grab hold of someone who was touching me. It was as if there was some energy I was oblivious to flowing through me and they needed it.
Then for the taxi and home to Mbale. Through the red dirt roads and the rolling green hills, I’m headed home.