Image credit: Lucy Oribi
It is a beautiful sunny February afternoon in Palenga, a trading centre about 13 kms from Gulu town on the Kampala-Gulu highway, in Northern Uganda. The place I call home, my village home. It is scotching hot. The splendid afternoon quiet is broken only by the sweet singing of birds and rustling of tree leaves.
I am visiting Professor Beron. At over 75 years, Beron gets her title from the wise counsel she gives whoever cares to listen, and she doesn’t mince words. Professor is my grandma even though she did not birth any of my parents. She earned it when she looked after my father- when he was starting out. Beron lives a stone throw away from my parent’s home, what used to be my grandparent’s home.
Professor is seated on a papyrus mat under a tree. “Latin na, Amito-Acholi (My child, Amito-Acholi). Bin kany (come here),” she recognizes me from a short distance. I kneel, then quickly fall into her embrace. Her warmth engulfs me like a winter blanket. And for a moment, I am lost. “Latin na, man in?” (My child, is this you?) It is 5 years since I last saw her. She squeezes me tightly, then holds me at arm’s length. She examines my face. I smile brightly. “Oh, it is you! You haven’t lost your smile, your white beautiful teeth,” she carries on. At this point, am quietly thanking God for her good eyesight.
We exchange pleasantries. I ask how she is doing. I ask about her child, Atim and grandchildren. She asks how am doing. She asks about my husband, whether am looking after him and my home well. Before I have a chance to respond, she slips into her reverie; she shares her experiences of survival and resilience, and how values were passed on during evening campfires when she was younger. She shares stories of happiness, happiness that came from within, from shared values and strong communities. Sadly, she acknowledged that times have changed, more so for city dwellers.
“Your mother told me you were busy studying in the land of the white man,” she quickly changes the subject. Latin na, you make us all proud. “Do not bring shame to your mother, she is a good woman. Do not bring shame to us, women of Palenga,” she cautions. Look after your husband well. Keep a clean home and cook good food; healthy Acholi food. That is what an Acholi woman should do. “I will make some roasted groundnuts for you to take with you when you go back”
Image credit: Carol Ocheng
In Acholi, one of the tribes in northern Uganda, a girl child must be taught how to cook, clean and generally look after a home. Her mother bore the shame if she wasn’t. In the olden days, insults like “careless like your mother” were hurled at careless women. Some unhappy husbands even sent their wives back to their mothers for further teaching. And what a shame this brought to the mothers and the women of her village.
“Latin na, I must tell you this before you go; when your husband makes abrupt demands, don’t give in. He needs to be good to you. You both need to be ready for it. You both need to be good to each other. When a woman is not ready, it is very painful. When you are not ready or don’t want to do it, tell him and you must hold your own. You must hold your own. You don’t have to accept to do it all the time; it is okay to refuse – sometimes. Do you understand me? The granary is not open all the time”. I quickly caught on that the professor was talking about sex. I listened and smiled shyly, blushing a little even. A passer-by stops to greet the old good professor. I get a chance to leave soon after.