MotherhoodBy: Rebecca Bell , Assistant Project Coordinator It has been a busy first three weeks here at Shanti. Amidst the unavoidable culture shock, name learning and sunburns, there is work to be done. The other interns here are phenomenal: inspiring, committed and hard working. We discuss the challenges we face, laugh over the staff’s antics, and share nightly pineapples (Luwero must have the best pineapples in the world!). Although at times the estrogen-filled house can feel a little small, these women share what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a sister and a woman in both subtle and overt ways.
Our Project Coordinator and two of the Shanti interns out for lunch on the weekend. Conversation ranges from what movies to download when we have WIFI to why corruption runs rampant in the Ugandan government.
I’m at that crazy age where some friends are getting married and having kids, while others, a decade older, are just starting to settle down (and some never will!). Personally, I am by no means ready for motherhood. The logistical part of the equation, the one that would seem the biggest challenge back home, barely comes to mind here. The women who come to Shanti haven’t had a chance to save up for the college fund, there are probably no babysitters lined up, and, if they are lucky enough to get maternity leave, they often begin their 3-months off the day the baby is born.
Rather, it’s the role of being a mother that occupies my mind.
Mothers here are strong.
It’s part of the culture that women make little noise during childbirth. Sitting outside the labour room at the birth house, you’d never even know someone is giving birth right on the other side of a thin wood door. We often see brand new mamas washing pots and pans and cooking food only an hour or two after delivering. Then they ride off on boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) with their newborn back home. One of my favourite images so far is of a woman I walked past last weekend with a baby strapped to her back, a whole stalk of matoke (like large plantains) balanced on her head and a machete in hand.
Mothers here are inspiring.
Yesterday, I spoke with Yvonne, one of the women in the Income Generating beading group. She told me that she moved to Luwero with her husband 15 years ago. When he passed away, they were only renting their home. She has now been able to buy a plot of land and a house where she lives with and cares for her own kids and several grandchildren. She mentioned that if the interns ever have extra soda bottles, to please pass them on to her—she’ll use them to bottle her homemade pineapple wine! Did I mention how entrepreneurial women are?
Mothers here are supportive.
Yesterday at Shanti, there was a workshop on making liquid soap. All the women in the Income Generating Group were invited, as well as any interested staff. All who participated were invested and engaged. Some of the women also brought their kids along or sent their kids in their stead if they were unable to participate. When the facilitator brought around caustic soda and water, the women eagerly held out their hands to feel how the chemical reaction had made the cup hot. When the stirring began, multiple women got up to put on gloves and lend their strength to 45 minutes (!?!) of stirring. Long after the facilitators had left and the soap had been distributed, the women stood chatting, cooking and sharing food. It is energizing to see them under the hut each week, sharing their knowledge and supporting each other through their individual and shared challenges.
The WIGG women gathered around the liquid soap workshop facilitators, paying close attention and taking notes.
What is most remarkable is that women are respected and their potential is recognized. As we entered a schoolyard on Monday for Liberation Day activities, the sign at the edge of the road displayed, “Educate a girl and educate the nation.” I have no doubt that my perception of motherhood is changing daily and that I will leave Shanti with hugely different ideas than the ones I came here with. Who knows? Maybe I will leave convinced that I would like kids of my own someday.