Village day.

Before he’d let us in the van that was to take us to the village Sharon was born in, our loyal driver, Richard, had one warning:

“The road to the village is like life. Sometimes it has its ups, sometimes its downs. Sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes not so much. But we’re together and we’re okay.”

We spent the next three hours bouncing around seatbeltless on roads that would be deemed impassable in the states but here are just fine, so long as you watch for oncoming traffic veering into your lane to avoid the goats/cows/small-car sized pot holes and hope they do the same for you.

When we got close to the village, Sharon taught us to say hello/goodbye (‘Jambo”) and a few other simple phrases that we yelled out the window, ill-timed, to the children waving and running towards the van, elated at the chance of any visitors, but especially mzungus.

After arriving, the headmaster gave us a tour of the Arise and Shine school, which is not actually a building but rather clusters of benches beneath trees and inside abandoned brick structures. Students grouped by grade greeted us with welcome songs and shy smiles, obediently answering our questions translated by the teachers.

Then came Faith. She rode towards us all smiles, pedaling her bicycle with steel arms and greeting us as long lost friends finally returned home to her.

Faith’s story is one of trial greater than any I have ever known.  But as she sat in front of us with her arms around her children, and told us through tears about how she lost her legs, her husband and her children, she framed her story as one of many blessings: to have met Sharon, to have found work despite her handicap, to have earned her babies back and to have us there to hear about it.

“I’m never complaining about anything again,” Katie whispered as we got up to continue our tour.

Next Sharon showed us the sewing room where women trained through the Arise and Shine jobs program come every afternoon to work. Fifteen seamstresses in dresses spanning the color wheel sat sewing traditional Ugandan garments to be sold in Jinja, many with one baby at the breast and another on the floor beside them. They exploded into song and dance when we walked in, bright teeth beaming through the dim room and beckoning us to join them.

Just down the road, another group of women sat beneath a drooping Marula tree stringing beads onto rolled paper necklaces to be taken to the market, where they would be sold for 5,000 shillings, or about $2 a piece. The money would be used to supplement the income lost during these dry months, the most difficult for the subsistence farmers.

When it was nearing time for us to leave, the headmaster called us back over to the school to say goodbye to the children, who had lined up in rows in their bright orange uniforms. With three of the older girls taking the lead and a teacher on the drum, they began to stomp, clap and sing as if they were born with rhythm flowing through their veins, pumping song straight into their hearts. It was deep and rich and of God, and I realized these people weren’t poor at all.

It rained on the drive home, and everything looked different. But Richard was right. We were together and we were okay.

~Maggie Shafer

(photos by Grace & Salt)