DAY 5: HOME VISITS
A Day with Betty:
5am – Wake up and bathe
Make breakfast for children (typically tea and bread or maize porridge)
6:30 – Feed children and see the youngest off to school, which is in town
Clean dishes from breakfast and from the night before
Clean home, mop floors, feed cows
10 – Eat breakfast with husband
11 – Prepare lunch
1PM – Eat Lunch (typically bananas, beans, dodo (wild Amaranth))
1:30 – Rest, watch films (Betty’s favorite are Nigerian films (30 minute DVDs that can be purchased in town) that depict families and how to best conduct a household. i.e. shows about foster parents or child abuse)
OR Betty will go to work at the Hospital (as a nurse) or to work in Mannu Bakery from about 10 to 4.
4PM – Dinner (porridge or mandazi (half-cakes) and tea)
5PM – Children come home from school
6PM – Begin preparing Supper (Rice and meat or beans).
9PM – Go to bed (Sometimes the family watches TV after dinner, although electricity is often unreliable, so they typically go to sleep when is gets dark.)
Mike, Esther and I woke up early this morning so that we could be at Betty’s house before dawn. Since it was pitch black when we left, we didn’t want to take a boda-boda. Instead, we arranged with our taxi driver who had driven us to dinner the night before to meet us at Mt. Elgon at 6am. He was running late in the morning because he had to go to Morning Prayer as he is a Muslim. We arrived at Betty’s home right at 6:30 and were just in time to see her two youngest kids leaving for school.
I was sad that we did not get to have breakfast with the children, but we did get to meet Betty’s husband, Francis, and three of their children. Francis is a coffee farmer who does very well, and Betty is a nurse at the hospital in Mbale who is also a member of the Women’s Group who started Mannu Bakery with a loan from Partners Worldwide. Compared to their neighbors’, this family has a nice home and stable on a large piece of land. They can afford to own a TV and to eat meat 2 or 3 times per week and fish once a week. Though I did not ask about the family’s income level, I can assume that they are members of the middle class.
Like most families in rural Uganda, they grow much of their own food in their garden. Though it is a bit larger than others, Betty’s garden is comprised of traditional Ugandan plants: bananas, passion fruit, cassava, green peas, dodo (which is the native relative of Amaranth), maize, millet, coffee, and a field of greens for her cows, Vivian and Diana.
I found it interesting to learn that Betty does not grow Grain Amaranth in her garden; only once a month does she buy porridge from town and serve it to her family. When I inquired about this, she told me that though she is the one who tends to the garden, her husband controls what is grown. She would like to grow amaranth, though, and is fairly sure that her husband will allow her to plant seed this upcoming season.
While the three middle Kissa children were mopping the floor and washing dishes, I helped Betty peel “Irishes” (potatoes) and green bananas to make a dish called “Matooke”. Peeling with a knife was a challenge for me, and Betty and her daughter laughed when I told them that I have a special utensil for peeling potatoes. Betty then boiled the potatoes and had them sent to her patient in the hospital. After that, we got to work on preparations for “tea,” which is often taken between breakfast and lunch. African tea is made by boiling tea leaves and other spices in milk. We also made “chapati,” which is a traditional food that resembles Indian naan or thick Mexican tortillas.
When the chapati was ready, we called Esther and Mike in to have tea. Betty’s family let us alone at the kitchen table to eat, which was fortunate because I was somewhat hesitant to try the milk-tea that had started to develop a filmy-layer after sitting out. After we were finished eating, Betty gave me some “ripes” (yellow bananas) and yummy avocados to take with me. We thanked Betty and Francis for welcoming us into their home, and I gave them a bag of my favorite granola that I buy at home as a token of gratitude. I have learned that it is very appropriate to bring something like bread or sugar to your host, and I plan on picking up some bread from town to gift to the other women whom I visit later this week.
Gertrude lives with Stephen, her husband of 27 years whom we did not get to meet, and they currently care for 5 children: 4 of her brother’s orphaned children and one other orphan. Throughout the years, the couple has cared for many children, who have since grown up and gone off to work. It is very common in Mbale for families to take in children who have been orphaned by HIV-AIDS.
Stephen is a farmer who wants to begin growing Amaranth and has developed an idea of growing amaranth in the “Village.” He has already been taking amaranth to the Village for others to taste; both he and Gertrude are passionate about expanding the growth and consumption of “God’s Gift Grain” so that many people will benefit from it. According to Gertrude, “We have so many sufferings kids here, and we want to help them grow strong.” The entrepreneurial couple also runs a retail store in town for additional income, and Gertrude says that she works there in the evenings.
In addition to her work and family commitments, Gertrude is also part of the Women’s Group that runs the Bakery (currently volunteer work). But that’s not all that this energetic woman is involved in; she participates in many other women’s groups in her village, and she told me about a few of them. The first, called “Knowledge is Wealth,” partners up its 60 members, who buy gifts for each other (things that they need for their homes). There is also another group that makes and sells clay and grass stoves that are desirable because they save energy (charcoal). There are three “professors” of stove-making in each village, and Gertrude is the coordinator for the whole district. Finally, there are two groups for savings and credit. Community members, mostly women, give each other support to encourage saving. Secondly, the groups provide 10% interest loans to members of the group who need capital to expand their businesses. According to Gertrude, this system works very well because of the community-accountability system, and more and more people are beginning to form similar groups.
“We live a simple life, but we are comfortable with it.”
Gertrude’s home is very modest; she has neither a TV nor a kitchen table, and she has a very small plot of land in a neighborhood that is more crowded than the one we were just in. The couple also owns a second small home in town, where more children live. It has taken long for them to develop their homes because they pay school fees for all of the children. But this has not stopped Gertrude from keeping a beautiful garden as well as cats, chickens and goats. She just purchased a small plot of land adjacent to her own in order to expand her garden, and she also plans to buy a cow in the near future.
You may have already guessed that Gertrude grows Grain Amaranth in her garden – on a small scale, of course. After harvesting, she pays only 100 shillings per kilo to grind the grain into flour at a nearby mill and then stores it for consumption. She feeds her family amaranth porridge (50/50 mix of amaranth to maize flour) twice a week at most because she has such a limited amount, but she wishes that she could feed it to her kids every day.
Gertrude also feeds her family posho (maize porridge) and millet, which is given out free by the government to those who need it. When the Uganda Amaranth Project team brings popped amaranth from the US, Gertrude enjoys it very much. She will usually mix it with maize porridge because she enjoys the taste and health benefits. (Popped amaranth has even more health benefits than does the flour.) If one were available, Gertrude would love to have an amaranth popping machine.
Ignoring the Bottom of the Pyramid
A quote to reflect on: “We have many friends from the US who come to assist us, but we find that most of this assistance goes to those who are [already] well-to-do.”