I am a self-professed terrible cook. It is no secret that even my slice-and-bake cookies are more often than not burned to a crisp rather than gooey and delicious. Yet, determined to learn a thing or two in the realm of culinary arts whilst in Uganda for the summer, I have gleaned from the housemates some insight into decadent food preparation (they both are phenomenal cooks). So far I’ve learned how to make some killer guacamole, how to fold dumplings, and that garlic burns quite quickly. Maybe I’m not ready for a slot on Food Network, but this is serious progress compared to my prior knowledge that only extended to various ways of preparing eggs.
Yet this morning I learned, from a most excellent teacher, how to make some of the most excellent pancakes I have ever consumed (if I may say so myself). A mix of cardamom, flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and a pinch of salt rendered a stack of piping hot, fluffy and flakey breakfast delicacies.
But, believe you me, dear reader, I could never have done this without the tutelage of my beloved friend, mentor, and host in Gulu: the feisty, strong, funny, loving, wise, and optimistic Sister Rosemary. Her firm and informed guidance- even in making something small and simple like pancakes- makes apparent how incredible a woman and teacher she is.
We have spent, on either end of our journey to Juba, five days with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart at St. Monica’s Tailoring /Vocational School, Day Care, and Clinic compound. The center was founded as a rehabilitation place for those traumatized, in various capacities, by the 25 year-long war. And, in the words of Sister Rosemary, the entire idea of the tailoring school began with the mending of a single button. In her words, when a button pops off and your shirt lies open and you have the ability to mend the hole, you have dignity. It is a beautiful metaphor for what the school is; Ugandan-founded, Ugandan-run, for Ugandan women as an empowering institution, teaching vocational skills to women so that they can empower others. And they make the most beautiful things; beaded jewelry, bags of all kinds made from pop taps and fabric, beaded bags, catering, all lovely and unique and made by the sisters and students alike.
The grounds themselves reflect the profound beauty of the insitution proper. They are abundant in both fields of agriculture, sprawling and viney trees, and filled with children and students and guests. There is something to the very air here, like a little piece of earth carved out as a haven to be safe and protected and forever beautiful. Every morning I’ve awoken to the children in the day care singing songs and almost every night shared in a meal with all the sisters discussing everything from feminism to their favorite soap opera, Marimar.
My favorite moments have been when the Sisters burst out in song. It first occurred when, after a lengthy dialogue about empowering women, Sister Rosemary burst out with ‘I believe in womennnn, something good in everything I-I seee!’ (to the tune of “I Have a Dream” by ABBA). There was dancing involved. Twas wonderful.
Then, while waiting to cross the border into Sudan, Sister Rosemary insisted that I as ‘the baby’ (a name I am called more often than anything else here, which is perfectly fine with me) have pockets stuffed with chewing gum. When I asked why chewing gum was so important to gnaw in, the sisters all joined in to sing their rendition of “A Spoon Full of Sugar” from Mary Poppins. In the middle of the customs line, crossing into South Sudan, under the blistering Sub-Saharan sun.
Basically, I’ve been in Von Trapp heaven here.
Living in community with the Sisters has been like magical medicine (Felix Felicis, if you will*). Their ease with sharing and love for each other spills over to all who reside, however temporarily, on this compound. Life in Uganda is not always easy- in fact, it rarely is. I might be so bold to say that this is true of any expat life, for the constant learning and readjusting and trying to not offend while building relationships can be positively exhausting. And I’ve only been here for 43 days, which is a blink in many expat stays. But ease is relative to the comfort of my life in the states, and I relish and grow from the deep-rooted challenges I quite viscerally encounter everyday.
Yet even though I know that from our greatest pain comes our greatest art, having time and space to rejuvenate and meditate and be nurtured by such a loving and wonderful community is the most I could ever ask for.
And, you know, who doesn’t love a good sing-along with a crew of nuns?
current jam: “i have a dream” abba
best thing in my life right now: pancakes
*So, I know tomorrow is the BIG DAY. The day when my childhood ends, when the era comes to a close as the final installment of the Harry Potter saga in film form is released. I haven’t talked about it in part because I’ve been too busy, but also because…well, if I’m honest, it is too emotional. Judge me all you like, this is huge. But we four have a plan to see the film, a plan to be divulged soon enough!