Saturday, September 25, 2010

80's Pop Music Reaches Gulu Market

by Kate von Achen

I had committed to not watching the sun rise this morning, but was too excited to sleep apparently and watched the last half. Beautiful! And the early rise was a good thing because our day was just as packed as the one before, and of course many things took a bit more time than anticipated.

The day began as usual with Nescafe instant coffee and a hearty breakfast of a boiled egg and mandazzi (basically a plain cake doughnut in a less organized form…i.e. a big, fried wad of dough). We then visited the Coffee Hut so I could have a red eye and went to put fuel in the car while the temperature was still low.

The price of fuel, as well as the availability, has been nightmarish over the past few weeks. There are two Shell petrol stations a block apart. I saw the sign at one read 3,500 shillings/liter (about $1.75 for a liter) and proceeded to the next. The sign at the other Shell read 4,000 shillings ($2.00/liter) so I pulled around and went back to the cheaper station. Obviously. And so had many other people. After waiting for my turn for about 20 minutes, we pulled up to the pump only to find that they were also actually charging 4,000 shillings per liter. I totally lectured the gas station attendants. I’m guessing the sign still reads 3,500 shillings. Argh!

After putting some fuel, we proceeded to the central market to hang with the tailors. I’m pretty sure that the guy with the music shop near Lucy’s stall in the market just discovered 80’s pop music. We jammed out for a bit to Cyndi Lauper, early Madona, Fine Young Cannibals, etc. while the tailors laughed at me and my singing and dancing while organizing fabrics.

Lucy and I had an appointment to meet someone to look at a space in Senior Quarters for a possible workshop and Hanna remained in the market to do some quality control and counting of finished product. The meeting which Lucy and I had was a last-minute meeting organized on Friday after Lucy informed us that the Gulu City Council has plans to demolish the entire market and then rebuild. This could take 1-3 years. The tailors need a new place to work from! This is presenting a HUGE problem. Lucy would like to keep her shop in town so she can continue to benefit from local orders in addition to Awava but the rent prices in town are ridiculously high as well as scarce. So yesterday I called a friend and there was a possible space in Senior Quarters but the man we were to meet delayed too long and we had other work and meetings to attend to. While we were waiting, however, Lucy and I got to have a nice long chat about our future and about the upcoming presidential elections which take place early next year.

Lucy has never voted in a presidential election because "all of the parties lie". She does vote in the local elections though (which I think are the most important anyway). The candidate from northern Uganda, Chairman Mao (not the Chinese dictator, the Local Council 5 chairman of Gulu District) seems to be the best candidate in both of our minds. Mao has made tremendous strides in the north working for peace. He is the Acholi people’s candidate (I’m not intentionally trying to make more ties to the Chinese dictator, I promise). He will not win this year.

Out of time, Lucy and I drove back into town so that Lucy could get more work done and Hanna and I could meet with Konye Keni to resume our work on the new jewelry designs, pick up some product, examine their progress on the accounting skills we had taught them in the August workshop, and place a new order.

The jewelry designs are difficult but they seem to be getting the hang of it. I’m excited to see their progress next month! And their record books were great! Not flawless but close! I was impressed. We told them women that we wanted them to try and that if there were errors or questions that we would work some more but I have to say they were quite good. It seems we did an adequate job with the business skills training! Yay! Go team Awava!

After saying our goodbyes to Konye Keni, Hanna and I took 15 minutes to refresh ourselves and then headed back to the market to finish counting and packing up product and to help clean up the shop before we all piled in the car to head back out to Lacor to visit Esther and her beautiful family. This is where the real fun began!

Luckily today we took the better road out to Lacor. I think Lucy only prayed twice on the way to Esther’s home. On the way out of town, Lucy showed pointed to a junction and told us about a bad car accident she had been in right there in 1993. She was in tailoring school at St. Monica’s and was in a car that flipped about a mile away from school. Lucy had broken many bones in her body including facial bones, her collar bone and ribs. She remembered nothing of the accident but it turns out that Esther was one of the girls who helped her to survive. Esther was a young girl selling cassava on the roadside near where the accident took place.

We were nearing Esther’s home which is located near the back of this small village constructed predominantly of local huts. Rosemary was directing me on “roads”. These roads were meant for pedestrians, bicycles and bodas, not cars. At one point she told me to proceed straight but this would require me to drive over some small bushes that someone had clearly recently planted outside of their home. I refused to pass so Rosemary got out, went and found the home owners and the children came out and uprooted the plants. I was perplexed and Rosemary told me to proceed. This time I did, feeling a little bit horrible.

We winded between huts, turning this way and that, and finally reached Esther’s home, just as the rains came. We found shelter in her living room as the sky opened up and poured buckets upon buckets of rain for what seemed like hours. Lucy continued with stories of how she came to know Esther’s husband, Geoffry, a sweet man who works as a counselor in the local government. After Lucy’s first year in tailoring school, she was forced home because of the war. Her family had no money because their cows had been stolen from Karamajong warriors and one of her brothers had been killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). She went to her home village for one year and returned to St. Monica’s for a visit and they insisted that she stay. They feared that if she traveled back home she too would be killed by the LRA. With no money, the parish found work for her to do around the church to pay her fees for tailoring school. She remained for two years living with Geoffry’s mother who has since passed away. Lucy represented his mother when he and Esther wed eight years ago.

A cute pig and chicken at Esther's house.

Esther and her daughters (Emily, Tracy and Maureen) had been working all day to prepare a delicious meal for us. There was posho, rice, cassava, beef stew, maloquong (my favorite) and bo. I really need to bring these ladies to Kampala and prepare a huge American feast.

Shortly after finishing our delicious meal, Geoffrey, who had been trapped in the torrential downpour, reached home and joined us. I was impressed that he didn’t seem intimidated by a room full of five tough women and three little girls, but he managed!

The rains had stopped so we decided to get some family pictures (Irene, the cat, successfully made it in to a couple….I insisted).


And of course, a family photo with Irene, the cat.

The sun had disappeared and it was time to head back into town and get Lucy home. We gave big, long hugs goodbye and piled in the car and Esther walked in front of us leading us out of the maze of huts and back to the road meant for cars. On the way we passed Emmanuel, Rosemary’s husband, in the small trading center, picked him and dropped them both at home on our way back to town.

And here we are! Tomorrow morning we will meet Lucy in the market, pick up our amazingly beautiful new products and be on our way back to Kampala. I must say I am sad to go. I’m always sad to leave. But we’ll be back in a few weeks time so I have that to look forward to!

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