Shaking Your Booty Under a Mango Tree

Thursday was simply too big of a day for just one post!  There were so many “firsts,” I don’t know that I could possibly speak to each one.  You know how it is when you first get a job, even if it’s the dream job you’ve always wanted and prayed for, there is just so much to take in on the first day and there’s a temptation to think, what in the world did I get myself into?!  Yeah, it was very much like that.  Except in AFRICA!  No complaints, just a lot of new to process!

First lesson: there ain’t no welcome like an Ugandan welcome!  I fully expect to arrive home in Charlotte to my friends with feathers in their hair, drums, dancing, singing, and carrying me in their arms to my special seat of recognition in front of a great assembly of pretty much the entire population of said residency.  (So start the planning now people – my flight arrives on August 12th around 8:45pm and security can be a pain). 

There really is no preparation worthy for a greeting of this magnitude.  These women in the program utterly adore Beauty for Ashes’ founder, leader and friend, Mama and soul sister, Brandi.  Their hearts are overflowing with desire to convey their affection, their gratitude, their joy and their hope.  And they like to show it in a big way!!  A group of about 20 women met us at the airport in Soroti with enthusiastic hugs for all, Ugandan style yelps and dancing.  Little did we know this was a very small introduction of what we would experience over the following days. 

These greetings are serious celebrations at every village; they aren’t messing around!  The women and children are celebrating our arrival, celebrating their love for us, celebrating the help and hope that BFA has provided in their lives, celebrating the Lord’s love, provision and promises.  It is full and it is wild.  You haven’t really partied until you’ve danced with feathers on your head and flags in your face while shakin’ your booty under a mango tree.  Just saying.  These single mamas know how to get their groove on.

You are barely out of the van when anywhere from 10-50+ women (plus additional children) come running, usually with flags or sticks, and embrace you like you are gold.  There is no time nor need for formalities – you are immediately embraced with a firm hug around the shoulders and hollered over, usually dancing and carried off towards the center of the celebration, either pulled excitedly by the hand or if you’re lucky, carried by the enthusiastic arms of the women, anywhere from 20-70 years old, to a seat of honor.  But don’t get too comfy – you need to be on your feet again to join in the group circle of continued dancing and singing and usually drums, which can last anywhere from 15–30 minutes or longer.  These are worship songs, mostly sung in their Atesso language, but sometimes they will know a few choruses in English.  “Come Lord Jesus” was a popular choice.  Can it be any more heavenly than to sing praises to our one Father in different languages yet same sentiment of heart?

Personal Fave: Well, I have 2 favorite celebrations.  One, an impromptu worship song led by Brandi and I in the middle of the dance circle.  I am well aware that singing is not my anointing from the Lord, but I adore worship so we threw together a little “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest” lyric and melody and did our best.  If we did nothing, we led them into a joyful noise unto the Lord at least!  Two, joined the percussion band and grabbed a drum with one of the village women leading the base beat, alongside Brandi and one of our photographers, Ashton.  How fun was that?!  Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when you can pre-order our album on Amazon.

Most of the time, we were able to meet the women in their own center of the village.  These villages are out in the bush, often in the middle of nowhere where we have to drive on “roads” nothing more than a bike path through the tall grass.  A few villages still don’t have clean drinking water available to them.  The meeting place for the village could be a home or church made of dried mud bricks and thatched roofs.  Though considered man’s work, the making of mud bricks and constructing a home has often been left to the single women. 

In 2003, there was extreme violence and many of the men were killed.  Thousands of children were left without a father to lead them.  Unfortunately, foundational family problems were already in place so the dysfunction was exacerbated.  Men and women seem completely ignorant of the value of their gender roles or biblical worth for familial roles in the Atesso area.  Men view women as nothing more than tools to serve their pleasure – whether physically or most often, sexually.  If a woman isn’t useful to them, then the woman is seen as worthless and treated with contempt and disregard.  Brothers will steal land, shun and even threaten to kill their sisters.  Sons will abandon their widowed mothers who are looking after the grandchildren on their own.  Fathers will abandon their children and never return, never care nor provide for them.  Husbands will neglect their wives, often leaving them to live with another woman.  Sometimes husbands will return long enough to impregnate their wives or infect them with HIV/Aids just to leave again to be with another woman.   Unmarried men will either impregnate a woman without any commitment, or rape women, sometimes multiple times, sometimes with horrifyingly young aged girls.  The percentage of rape in this area is staggeringly high, at least 90% of women.  This type of behavior is characteristic from the men.  Women and young girls don’t have much power to fight back or even realize families should be a safe haven where each member is nurtured and given freedom to grow. 

The two driving areas of focus for the mamas are the need for land, to meet immediate needs for food and potential business, and the desire for education for their children, to meet future needs.  The poorer villages just new to the program are focused on obtaining these; the villages that have been in the program the longest are focused on maintaining them.  Every single mama I interviewed spoke to these two areas with great concern.

Michelle NeeseComment