Foreword: During the Golden Week Holiday of Delta in 2018, I participated in a civil volunteer team to travel to Uganda, Africa for a two-week volunteer campaign of health education, helping and encouraging women in local villages to produce hygiene products from any materials available to them. To gain a deeper understanding of the local life, we carried out “Mom Pampering Day”, one day dedicated to helping local mothers complete their daily housework. The seemingly ordinary work has made us volunteers have profound and complex feelings. Through the story of the day, I would like to share with Delta colleagues the lifestyle of the people on this distant land.
“We are almost there!" Mike turned his head at the corner ahead and shouted somewhat encouragingly. He, at the age of seven, has big eyes and beautiful long eyelashes, and his body is as thin as any Ugandan child. However, the bashful smile on his face is rare among local children. Most of the children I saw along the way smiled broadly, showing two rows of brightly white teeth made conspicuous by their dark skin. They happily touched our forearms to feel the texture of the lighter skin. In contrast, Mike's shyness is different.
We had been walking for more than ten minutes and had made several turns on the loess-flying paths, climbing several small earth mounds. "Here we are!" Mike pointed to a small group of people who bent their backs. The villagers held yellow plastic barrels of the same style as ours and filled them with water in a small pool at the foot of the hill. The groundwater underneath the hill kept flowing out of the two water pipes on the wall. This is the only water source that the several nearby villages live on.
"We used to walk to get water every day since we were young," Christine said. She is a Ugandan volunteer who is responsible for regularly visiting families in need and assessing the subsidies invested. She told Mike's mother that she would visit this week but did not say the exact day so that she could get the whole picture of the real situation. “I can go very far this way!" After she filled the bucket with water, she shouted loudly before placing the bucket over her head, showing off the amazing head-carrying practice among the local women. Whether it is a bolt of cloth, a bunch of bananas, washbasin or something else, it can be carried off on top of their heads.
The villagers’ routine journey to take water; occasionally the water dried up.
The locals are good at carrying things on their heads. A person can even transport a bucket filled with 20-liter water on the top of his or her head.
We stepped into the pool in a clumsy manner and filled the bucket with water by following the local ways, thinking that this journey shouldn’t be wasted. However, in the return trip, several members reluctantly dumped part of the water because of the overwhelming weight of the water. I had to stop and swing my hands to relieve the pain at short intervals. "Oh, the handle of this bucket cut my hands! We don't know how to carry it on our heads..." It was very thoughtful of our members to come up with reasonable explanations for each other.
In our return trip way with the filled buckets, the volunteer team had to stop and rest from time to time.
The plan of this day was to help Mike’s mother complete her daily tasks. His mother was running a restaurant to support the entire family. The so-called restaurant was actually a roadside spot where a large pot was set, complete with a bench and a board for a dining table. We had to help her prepare the ingredients and peel green bananas. "Let her show you how to peel the banana." Christine worked as a translator and asked Mike’s mother to use a knife to demonstrate. After working awkwardly for a while, I looked at the finished product in my hands and said to Christine in despair: "We are KILLING these bananas instead of peeling them……”
Mike’s mother peeled the bananas deftly with a knife.
After a short break, Mike’s mother hesitantly pulled out a few washbasins and talked with Christine. "Mike’s mom was very sorry, saying that the job was exhausting. I told her you have no problem." She explained with a smile. Assigned to the work of dishwashing, I squatted by the washbasin full of dirty dishes, using a Uganda-style scrubber cut from the feed bag, and the gray water and soap in the washbasin to remove food residues. Then I rinsed the remaining soap out of the dishes with some water that we just carried back. When the clean water turned grayish, I was to discard the water but told not to. My Gosh! It turned out that the grayish water would be used again the next day.
The members in charge of doing the laundry used four washbasins filled with water to soak the clothes in the clean water, rub them in the soapy water, rinse out the bubbles, and then wring them in the clean water in sequence that was the same as that of a washing machine. When the first piece of clothes was done, it gave such a sense of satisfaction. However, as they kept working, the water in the washbasins turned into an indescribable color, and the members’ expression was increasingly complicated. After all, they finished washing a hill-like load of clothes. The laundry in various colors was hung on the ropes and fluttered in the wind.
While we were working, I learned from Christine's introduction that Mike's mother is an HIV positive, and unfortunately Mike is another one among the pair of her children. His mother was very actively receiving treatments and her condition stable. Mike was still young, and his family didn’t let him know what happened. After all, such an issue is very sensitive to local people. He only knew that he was in poor health, and sometimes he got to stay in hospital for a week. His mother told us that Mike was very brave and a great help in the restaurant and at home; she was very gratified with that. When the sun was setting, with the fluttering clothes as the background, we took pictures with the family. Mike, in the photo, still wore a shy smile.
I often thought about the day after I came back to Taiwan. I thought that from the moment the child was born, he was destined to face many challenges in his life, from the inside outside. And what virtues and ability do I own to have an easy life with a lot of resources available to me? Since I realize that the world is unfair, I cherish more what I have. When returning to everyday life, watching and listening to the water flows out of a faucet or the like, I don’t take it for granted anymore. When we take a shower, wash and clean things, or drink water, we should just take what we need and leave more convenience to future generations. I hope that these good things will not be depleted in my own generation, and I wish that our children will never have to be severely tested by the basic needs of their lives.