The African Woman | International Women’s Day

There’s a red dirt road through a village they call Mirembe. Mirembe is tucked away less than two miles from the main road. Away from the boldly decorated taxis, the chapati stands, the trading center and zebra crossing.  Pineapple fields border the bush; various green crawling vines bring a tropical sense and aire of beauty to the quiet hills of Uganda. Brick houses are set just slightly back from the rugged road and there are many of them. The neighborhood is tight, both in sense of community and the distance between homes. 

As the golden light bathes the landscape, the village awakes. The school children have donned uniforms and are avoiding mud puddles on their way to school. Toddlers sit on the dirt outside their homes, playing with sticks and egg shells. Some children aren’t going to school, instead they’re headed to the community well with their yellow jeri cans. One boy is lucky enough to own a bike & it’s now burdened with full cans. He’ll push it back up the hill to his home. A man wearing a tattered white shirt and brown trousers moves slowly down the path. A hoe in his hand indicates that his next destination is the garden. His face shows sixty years, but it’s just that the forty he owns have taken their toll on his physical appearance.

On the step of her family’s compound, a woman stands to observe the world around her. Just for a moment, she’s quiet. Just for a moment. Her hair has been wound in a colorful scarf, a scrap of fabric she’s owned for many years. Her arms are strong, her back is straight, and her eyes are soulful and deep. She moves back inside and sits down at her sewing machine. Her foot begins pedaling and the familiar rhythm brings a song to her lips. She fingers the beautiful fabric, colors of blue and red blend in a bright swirl. She knows her customer’s daughter will look beautiful and she hopes the money she makes will allow her to buy her own daughter something. 

Down the hill, a young woman is bent at her waist, stirring something over a fire. Her midsection is large and another child will make its appearance soon. She’s weary, even though the day has just begun. She’s preparing porridge for her family with the small amount of corn flour she was able to buy last week. She prays that her husband doesn’t come home drunk and that maybe, just maybe there will be peace within her brick walls tonight.

A girl yet in her teenage years bends over, a baby lies on her back as she uses a bit of an old sheet to tie him on securely. She’ll move with her baby, toward the main road where she keeps house for another family. She carries the burden of bearing a child out of wedlock which forced her to drop out of school. Long before it was time. Her childhood was cut short at the birth of her own, at a mere fifteen years of age. 

Another woman uses a grass broom to sweep her compound and the road in front of it. She takes great pride in the orderliness of her swept dirt. After readjusting her worn out gomesi (traditional dress) she sits down on the concrete veranda of her home to begin another day of making pancakes. Her roadside stand brings in less than three thousand schillings ($0.80) per day and will help her purchase salt and kerosene; basic necessities that her husband can’t provide for the household.

A professional looking woman climbs out of the taxi she’d taken from the city. Her painted lips, dangling earrings, and plaited hair give the appearance of wealth. If only she could feel rich again. Her children’s school fees and her hopes for their futures weigh heavily on her mind as she begins her day’s work. The loss of her husband’s job forced them into a lifestyle change and suddenly even the simple things have become complicated. 

A crippled old woman dressed in layers of clothing moves slowly through the village. The walking stick she carries makes small marks in the dust. Her thin hands rise to greet her relative and a smile lights up her face. Wrinkles surround her bright eyes and she remembers. She remembers her life as a small child living in the grass thatched hut built by her father. She remembers how he favored her step siblings over herself & how that made her stronger…more determined. The stories her mother told her at night stayed with her and she remembers telling her own babies the same. She remembers the times she felt all strength was gone but how time on her prayer mountain restored her energy and faith. She remembers the day she walked with her oldest grandchild to school and how she knew he would change the future of their family. She remembers the day of sorrow that was when her second born son was claimed by the river Nile, never to be seen again. She remembers the strength and determination it took to hold her family together as her husband brought other women in and created a polygamous family. She can now see how each challenge shaped her and molded her. She can feel the struggle and pain of the women she called sisters, daughters, & friends. But she found  joy and can teach others how to find joy in their hard lives. 

Today, we celebrate the women whose voices may never be heard. We celebrate the ones who give so much of themselves to provide for their families and still smile at the end of the day. Their impact is immeasurable. It goes beyond their household and into their communities, spilling out into the culture and creating impact on the entire world. 

Happy International Women’s day!