So yesterday, me and two of our neighbors, Sandra and Keith, undertook the highly necessary but overwhelming job of cleaning the front of our house. This happened because I had just spent more hours than I care to admit washing my clothes (unfortunately the problem of procrastination in laundry which plagued me in college (ahem) has followed me to Uganda, and even more unfortunately, now that doesn’t mean that I have a bigger bag to throw down the stairs to the machines, but rather more hours sitting in the chair scrubbing) and I had left over water. I started by just mopping the front verandah with my soapy water, but soon Keith and Sandra were saying, Anna! Let us help!
This is something that I find incredible in the culture here. Children really really want to help. Every time I do my laundry, kids offer to help. Heck, every time I do anything, kids are ALWAYS offering to help. And then when you do accept them to help you with cleaning, they really enjoy it. It’s not a chore, it’s something to do, and something to do with other people you love and care for.
So I said, OK! And figured with the extra hands, maybe we could wash off the walls which have been engrained with dirt and mud over the past who-knows-how-long by dirty kids trying to be spiderman. (One of our neighbors’ favorite activities is to yell “SPIDERMAN!” And run at the wall, trying to climb up it. When they all do it in unison, it provides endless entertainment for us. However, this activity results in an INCREDIBLY dirty wall).
Thus, a few minutes later saw me turning on my music as loud as it goes, and with Keith and Sandra, beginning to attack the wall. Literally, within minutes, we had a crowd of kids and some adults staring at us, both from inside and outside our fence, laughing. One thing I’ve learned here… people here almost NEVER laugh AT you; rather, when they laugh, they are usually either happy or surprised (not mutually exclusive). I’m sure we were a sight, though: a mzungu who didn’t really know what she was doing, with two small children who were directing her, all at various heights and standing on various pieces of furniture, knocking down spiderwebs, cleaning rags, and scrubbing at a wall. Besides all that, as we worked, occasionally either Keith or Sandra would yell out, “Stop working! It’s time to dance!” and we would take a dance break for a song or two, then resume our cleaning.
I looked to the side of our house, and all the older females of the neighborhood were gaping at us, and calling me over. One asked me, “Anna, why are you cleaning?” I answered because it was dirty. To which she then replied, “Ah yes, we were wondering if people even lived there because it was so dirty. But now people will not doubt that you live there.” Oops. That’s embarrassing.
I learned a few things. First of all, I learned even more deeply and truly the importance of cleanliness to this culture. It’s an interesting thing… in this town of constant dust and mud coating everything, people are more concerned about cleanliness than anywhere I’ve ever been in America. It is not uncommon to sweep your dirt, to make it look cleaner. Now, I was a little embarrassed that we haven’t measured up to the standards held by the local culture, but now I have a determination to do the best I can. It even seems like a respect issue… I am respecting you, my visitor, by having a clean house. An interesting thing.
Secondly, I learned something about the love of a neighbor. These two kids spent their entire afternoon helping me clean, instead of playing with the football like they usually do. But they saw what I was doing, and helping me was way better than playing games.
Thirdly, I think I learned something more about the dignity of work, and in doing hard work, that one can take pride in. Keith and Sandra helped me make the front of our house spick and span, and as soon as we were finished, yes we invited all the watching children to come and play on our porch, but they made sure that everyone washed his or her feet before stepping forward. So, as we spent the next half hour playing sports together, we left our completed work, but with a feeling of accomplishment.
Fourthly, dancing. This is a yearlong lesson: When there’s an opportunity to dance, take it.
Sending love from Africa: keep dancing, my friends.