“Do I look like a dirty little bush girl? I do, don’t I?” Words I never thought I would utter, but I did. My former hutmate Julia and I were going to town for the day after being in the bush for a few weeks. “Nooo you don’t,” she insisted, “you just look relaxed.” Great…relaxed=slob. I was wearing my only clean outfit—a long flower skirt and a white ribbed tank top. My hair was in pigtails, and my feet were filthy . While this was all perfectly acceptable in the village, it made me feel uncomfortable to look like this in town where I might spot another mzungu.

Well after spending three weeks in Gulu, I got to know a lot of mzungus. I didn’t know so many even existed in northern Uganda and here they were all in one place. I felt oddly out of place in my bush attire and got overly excited at their French pressed coffee and tiramisu coffee creamer. I even said “Apwoyo” and gave a Ugandan handshake (distinctly different than a normal handshake in the U.S.) to one American guy. He looked confused. So did I.

Some girls wore leggings with long blouses and belts…like legitimately cute clothes. I didn’t even bring anything like that to Uganda! They had a real concrete building with couches and a kitchen sink and flushing toilet. This wasn’t the Ugandan life I had come to know at all, yet this is how all of them were living. I became aware that while most others working for organizations in the area may travel to the villages to work, they do not actually live in the villages but in town with most modern amenities that we are accustomed to in the U.S.

Even though my hut in Lukodi is only about 19 kilometers (about 12 miles) from our office in Gulu town, the dirt road is so bad that it takes about an hour each way. “So you come to town a few times a week?” some asked, “then why don’t you just live in town instead of traveling all those hours each week?” “Yea, why don’t I?,” I thought. If all these other organizations can put their people up in these nice places, why can’t mine? But then I realized that this life of mine is what I’ve wanted for so long. Why would I come all this way just to live the same way as I did at home, go work in an office and hang out with the girls and kids once a month?? No way. I came here to live like the locals live, to get to know them on a personal level and to love them. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

After talking with some family members and friends I realized that they also aren’t totally aware of my lifestyle here. So here are a few details about day-to-day life in the bush…

Bathing

Each day the girls go to the borehole and collect water. One girl is assigned to me, Janet. She gets my water for me each day and thank God because I fail miserably at it every time. (The last time it fell off my head and spilled all over me leaving me soaking and on the verge of tears in the middle of the field… I finally decided to leave it to the experts.) Anyway, so we get a plastic container of water called a jerrycan and a plastic basin. That’s it. Stand in it, stand over it, everyone’s got their own technique but I usually just splash it up on myself and make a mess in the process. There are special bathing areas for this in the compound. This is a wooden platform surrounded by straw mats, open air. Since I’ve got my own hut now though, I usually just stick to that rather than venturing outside. To wash my hair, I kneel on the ground and hold my head over the basin. I’ve gotten this part down pretty well.

The shower hut. The bottom is a wooden platform. It's nice to watch the stars at night though while you shower=)

Latrine

I’ll avoid too much detail here. So no running water of course. We keep TP in our own huts and carry it with us to the latrine when we need to. There are a few options to choose from here. You can get the squatter style (hole in the ground) or the port-a-potty style with a plastic seat. Both involve a certain level of skill—holding the TP in between your neck and chin with 1 arm holding the door closed and the other balancing yourself in place so you don’t lose a shoe. I could make a lot of inappropriate jokes here, but like I said, I’ll stick to the basics. Long story short though, we’re actually pretty lucky. We have proper latrines because the organization had the money to dig them, but most villagers are not lucky enough to have their own latrines so they just go to a spot in the bush and use tree leaves. I’m living the good life, what can I say?

My basin and jerrycan of water. This is how I usually bathe.

Washing

Clothes and dishes are hand washed in the basins and left out to dry. The girls use charcoal irons to make their clothes nice and kill any bugs that got in the clothes while hanging outside.

Clothes dryer

Sleeping

The girls and kids sleep on bed pads with mosquito nets, but I prefer the hammock. It’s not like our outdoor hammocks at home with the rope. It’s a slippery mesh-like material on the bottom and netting on the top. You jump in and zip up, keeping you safe from nasty bugs flying around and critters on the ground—best of both worlds. It curls around you creating a natural “pillow” of sorts. You have to lie diagonally to be flat. If you lay straight then you dip down which makes your feet go above your head and you wake up with sore ankles and well…sore everything actually. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually quite comfortable, like a little cocoon. I genuinely missed the comfort of my hammock when I was staying in town.

My comfy hammock

Food

Uganda has wonderfully rich land with lots of vegetation most of the time (minus the few months of extremely hot dry season). However, they don’t grow a lot of the same vegetables we do in the U.S. Lettuce is almost impossible to find around here because there is too much sun; same with cucumbers. They have lots of onions, tomatoes, eggplant and corn. That can all get expensive though so at the center they prepare the basics—beans and either posho, millet, cassava or rice. Traditionally, food is eaten with the hands so these starchy, sticky things like posho are meant to be easily picked up and formed into a scoop for the soupy beans. Once a week we have chicken or fish. The fish is whole—scales, eyes and all. I usually opt out on that though—too much work for food. For breakfast, the girls make bread rolls and tea almost without exception. The ladies cook these things using a charcoal stove and mud oven fueled with firewood.  Impressive.

Electricity

Thanks to a new solar energy system, the center has electricity for more hours than ever before. It stays on from about 7 PM to 7 AM now which allows me to get on the computer and charge my phone. This is a recent development at the center and I’m very grateful for it.  Sometimes if there is a storm or there wasn’t much sun that day, then we won’t have it, in which case we just use lanterns and go to bed early.

Even though I sometimes miss showers, carpet, air conditioning and other little niceties of modern living, I am grateful for my experience living among the native Acholi people of northern Uganda. I fall to sleep to the sound of the villagers drumming and singing and wake up to the sound of roosters crowing. The sunsets and stars in the wide open African sky are unlike any I’ve ever seen in my life. No doubt this is God’s country, and I love it.

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