Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Feb 1.
I meet one of my sponsored children. She's bright, and beautiful with big eyes and long eyelashes, a recognized and honored leader in her school and lined up to graduate next year with her diploma. I'm so proud of her and I hardly know her.

Feb 3.
Reading “They Fight Like Soldiers, they Die Like Children” by Romeo Dallaire and thinking of so many connections between child soldiers and the youth I work with caught up in gangs; both in recruitment, normalizing to violence, maintaining order and recruits, as well as the struggles for rehabilitation. So many similarities, so many of the same roadblocks. But I'm feeling inspired, as well.

We drive north to Arua, and buy oranges, but without any change we end up purchasing so many oranges they are a pile on the floor of the car. We toss the oranges to the wild baboons that scramble for them, running under the car and scare me, popping up beside my window.
We make a random stop to visit an acquaintance of the driver; driving through a field in a Toyota sedan and I am amazed at the capability of this car to drive right through a field on what is basically a rough bicycle path. We unload the remaining pile of oranges to the children of the family, who dance around in awe that our oranges seem to never run out, and their hands are full, the pockets of their pants to capacity, their t-shirts loaded up and still we offer more oranges.

We stop to use the toilet at a roadside establishment and after they realize a white tourist (or 'muzungu') has used their facilities they demand that we pay something for the privilege of squatting over their fly-infested holes; $10,000 shillings to be exact. The equivalent of around $4 each, which is an outrageous amount for using a toilet even in North America.
Together we laugh at the absurdity and drive away.

Feb 4.
I went for a nice morning jog, came back to the compound to do some weights (which means lifting up rocks or bench pressing my friend's 6 year old). They think I'm strange and cannot understand why I would want to run unless I'm in a hurry, or why I would want to do sit-ups to work on my abs. “We like big women in Uganda!” one of them yells and I just laugh. They keep heaping food on my plate at meals in an attempt to fatten me up.
It is a compliment to your host if you leave having gained weight during your stay and are determined that I be bigger when I return to Canada.

Feb 5.
I visit Naima's grave and to my own surprise I tear up as I remember this woman's influence in my life. I thank God for her, and for her accepting me into her family. I truly believe she would have been proud of me.

Feb 6.

I didn't like ugali last time I was in Uganda. It is a starch that people eat with meat, stew, or really any sauce. Its a beige color, a mushy ball that is is pulled apart with fingers. It had the texture of raw pizza dough with a fermented taste and a gritty substance like heaps of sand.
This time around in Uganda I learned that it doesn't have a sand-like substance- it really IS sand.
I don't care how poor a community is, that is no excuse to eat sand on purpose!
They laughed at me when I told them why I didn't like it. After explaining that it does have sand, they further laughed at me. “You don't chew it! You just swallow it.” How silly of me.

Feb 7.
I declined to go to the wedding in Yumbe, even with the offer to meet a 116 year-old-man. Imagine! Someone born in 1898 (maybe 1897!!!)! Amazing.
But something didn't feel right. So I stayed in Arua with Hanan's sweet sister and her father. And I'm glad I did.

I practice my Swahili and whatever appropriate little medical knowledge I have as the father's blood sugar is remarkably high. After several international phone calls with his daughter who is a nurse, we discuss not having white rice and greasy, salty beef for dinner. He will take his medicine and have lentils.
An hour later dinner is served, rice and beef for him as well. “I will eat lentils tomorrow.” He promises me, tapping my knee to give me some comfort. I shake my head, unable to properly express in Swahili the importance of his diet when he has diabetes, I audibly say a prayer for him and remember that he has been eating this way, while living with diabetes for going on a full year, he probably will not die tonight. At least I hope so.

Feb 8.
I run in the evening. Bad idea. I was mobbed by 20 or more children who decided they wanted to jog with me, or chase me through the red-dirt paths. My sprinting did not shake them off or tire them out; only inspired them to try harder. I even tried faking a forward sprint, then doing a quick u-turn and running the opposite way. I think it added two children to the pack.
Finally, I run off in the wrong direction to get away and run too close to someone's private compound. I greet them and apologize for running pretty much in their front yard. They invite me over, and I have to come because I'm already on their property. And then they don't let me leave unless I demonstrate three “banana jumps” to them; which I decipher are basically squats-to-vertical jumps.
I pay my fare of three jumps and run away.

I run back home with 10 or so children in tow and Warida, sweet woman that she is gets mean and chases them away with a stick, threatening to beat them unless they get off the property.

Feb 9
I run in the morning this time, without collecting a mob of small children. However, as I complete some exercises in the compound's yard (including bench pressing and adorable little boy who lives with this family) I look around and see groups of children scattered in all corners imitating my exercise positions (the plank, then kneeling push-ups).

Checking blood Dad's blood sugar. The testing machine has an error and I am surrounded by a mess of papers as I read the manual, compare to the user guide, then translate it all with my Swahili dictionary in very rudimentary language. “Error” is 'problem' or 'kuna' in Swahili. Kuna Mbili, Problem 2. As I very poorly, and in terrible grammar, describe that Kuna Mbili means that dirt has entered the testing strip and Dad must re-wash, then re-sanitize the testing finger, then cleanse the testing machine and complete the process again.
The whole time I moved around the different papers and pamphlets, Dad held the French version of the user guide upside down and attempted to read it backwards, as he is literate in Arabic. It was quite funny and I would have laughed more had I not been straining my mind to translate.

Feb 10
I run in the evening, but take a path away from the huts to where Warida has promised I will easily find the church on a nearby hill.
I slow my jog through the tall grasses as I mentally calculate the distance of the game-park where tourists are taken to see lions. 2 hours away by car... that's far enough away that I won't be prime bait as someone jogging through tall grass...just as I round the bend of the narrow path and come face to face with:
a cow.
Tethered to a small tree, staring at me as it chews its cud.
I guess if its safe enough to leave a cow out here, I will be pretty safe, too.

I continue my run, after nodding to the cow, of course and jog up the hill. The church is easy to find; and really beautiful with decorative etchings and cut-out designs in the windows as no glass is available. The inside has local-artists depictions of Jesus in the 12 stages of the cross and I am relieved that Jesus looks distinctly African.
I exit the church and look at the view from the hill and immediately regret not having brought my camera. It's just before sunset and the lighting is perfect; I'm overlooking the neighborhood where I am staying and can see the clusters of little huts below, all surrounded in vibrant green. Here on the hill are winding red roads (real roads, not bicycle paths) and there are some school children totally immersed in their soccer game on a sloping hill; chasing wildly for the ball after a bad pass.
I continue jogging a little and take many mental pictures.

Sometimes when we see something too up-close, we miss it: the buzzing flies, the smell of the latrines, the regular dust, the cheap plastic utensils, the violence, abuse, oppression, corruption.
And then you climb a hill and you look out and see so much further than you could see in the valley and you see Uganda is truly a beautiful country with so much to offer, so much that hasn't even been realized.

After breathing in, and savouring the view, I took the boys up on their offer to play soccer. Of course. I am always up for a soccer game, even on a dusty hillside in Northern Uganda. Maybe especially there.

Feb 11
We drive back to Kampala.
We are stopped by the traffic police three times for speeding. The driver smiles, politely announces he works for the government; shows his official ID and off we drive (he was really a safe driver, just fast!). There was no bribery here, and actually, I have seen the same tactic used by a friend in who worked for the military in Texas and the son of a state trooper in Indiana. The world is often more the same than it is different.

I realize how crazy I was to travel in Northern Uganda on my own, during the dangerous time that I did years ago. My host, who works with the Ministry of Defense shares some statistical facts and relevant knowledge regarding the violence in the area when the LRA were active, pointing to specific fields, landmarks and commenting on deaths and raids that happened just beyond the road on which we drove.
We talk about our own experiences with silent, prayer-filled bus rides where passengers held their breath and prayed to whichever higher beings they believed in for the dangerous stretches of road, or the government-provided bodyguards to accompany vehicles during insecure roads (including mine, who sucked away on bags of cheap gin and then waved his weapon around, regularly pointing it in my direction and getting my attention by yelling “America!”. I did not feel very safe with him as our protector).
I thank God for protecting me, for keeping me safe and remember that while I was crazy and naively fearless, I also was called by God to come, and to come when I did.

Feb 12.
I picked up the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina (the brave man made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda).
I realize that I travel like a Rwandan: he speaks of the irony of a hotel in Rwanda saving the local Rwandan people, because hotels are foreign to them. There did not even exist a hotel, inn, guest-house or the like in the country until foreigners wanted to begin enforcing their own government. Why? There was no need. When the Rwandan people travelled, they connected with a distant relative or the friend of a friend and stayed in their home.
Yes, I am cheap (I like the terms economically-minded or at least, frugal). But that's not the reason I would prefer to stay with local people than in a hotel.
I learned how to make local dishes because I shopped at the fresh-food, open-air markets with Shamira and together we squatted over the charcoal stove, we chopped onions over bowls and stirred peas.
I learned two methods of making fresh juice because Warida showed me how to scoop out the passion fruit seeds and smash them over a mesh wire, while Shamira chopped mango slices and simply rung them out by hand in a cheese cloth.
Because I stayed with a local family I left with something better than souvenirs. I learned more of the language this way, including translating diabetic diet tips. I got to ride the regular public transit instead of taxis, having a random school boy fall asleep on my shoulder during his long commute home.
I played soccer with a group of local men on the worst soccer 'field' I have ever seen: trenches to dribble through, sand to attempt to take shots from and concrete with potholes to avoid breaking an ankle in.
I get wonderful experiences because I stay with families, I make new friends and I leave with memories I will cherish long after I forget why I took a picture of that flower or that building.

There are times when I will use hotels (honeymoon is a big one!) but on adventure trips? Please give me a local family that I can eat breakfast with, I can help wash dishes and we can together rinse out our hand-washed clothing. Because new friendships are so much better than an empty hotel room with a dust-free television set.

Feb 13
Flight to Kenya. All is well, I arrive in Nairobi airport to meet a friend of a friend whom I have spoken on the phone with three times, but have never seen a photo of.
I await, looking for a sign with my name on it among the arrivals crowd, and, seeing none, I take a seat at the cafe and wait.
After 30 minutes, I consider the arriving crowds: I am distinctly the only single, white female in the airport. Even taking into account the white couples, the only white woman I see has long grey hair and looks to be at minimum 50 years of age. There is no way my pick-up could possibly miss me.

Finally, I ask for a public phone and the nice gentleman behind the desk offers me his personal cellphone (after flirting with me and asking for my phone number, of course!). When my ride arrives 30 minutes after the phone call, he walks confidently up to the counter and greets the gentleman in a familiar manner.
As it turns out, he knows most of the people who work at the airport as his import/export business has him at the airport 5 times or more a week. The gentleman who helped me even had my host's phone number! What a tiny world!

My host doesn't drive me home personally, instead, he sends me with his 'driver'. The drive takes 1 hr, 45 minutes from the airport to the apartment. That's for a 1 hr flight. The car ride tired me out more than flying to another country!
I arrive at the apartment and am greeted by a cheerful, spunky house girl.

I'm in a whirlwind.
I was hoping for running water and a toilet; I was happy to have a shower with hot water and constant electricity.
But a car and driver? A house girl who offered to wash my clothes and prepare tea for me? And my host offered me the use of one of his extra cellphones while I hang out around downtown Nairobi. And if the first cellphone he offered was too simple for me, I could use his Galaxy X if I would prefer, as he mostly uses his Iphone 4 for work purposes and the Galaxy is just for personal things (the small, simple phone was just fine with me). I definitely did not expect this!

Around 7 pm the younger brothers of my host arrive home. The house girl, Ann, and I giggle as she runs into the kitchen to hide and I stand at the entrance to the apartment and welcome them home.
They come one by one as there is a long staircase to climb and the smaller ones take longer to trek it. First is the 12 year old who does a double-take, re-checking the apartment number before giving me suspicious look and then politely shaking my hand. Then come the twins, 10 years each and not identical by any means. The first twin walks in and pulls his head back as he stares at me, checks the furniture to ensure this is indeed his home then silently takes my hand in greeting and retreats to his bedroom. The second twin acts similarly, turning his head around, getting his barrings and then quietly greeting me. The youngest, 8 runs up the stairs and is panting for breath. “Welcome home!” I call as I open the door. His eyes grow huge and his mouth hangs open. He looks all around and is only re-assured when the face of Ann pops up behind my back.

Feb 14
Jool, cousin to my host has made himself my personal tour guide and shows me downtown Nairobi; including a tour of his campus at the University of Nairobi and Central Park.
He then discloses one of the reasons why the little brothers were extra shy and surprised around me: the boys were joking with their older brother about why he didn't date or a have a girlfriend. Jool laughingly had said “Don't worry, his wife will come soon.”
I arrived the very next day.

Jool had to explain to the youngest that I was really NOT their brother's wife, although I had arrived just as he had jokingly promised. My host, too, laughed that the youngest brother, when asked who the visitor was, had responded “that is your new wife.” with absolute certainty.

Don't Eat All the Ugali! A lesson in generosity

There is a traditional Ugandan dish called 'ugali' which I do not enjoy. It is a flour made from ground corn and is added to boiling water, constantly stirred until it becomes a mushy lump. I recently learned that the texture, somewhat grainy or as I stated, sandy, is because there is often actually sand mixed in! I was advised not to chew, put rather just saturate the ugali in the liquid of the stew and swallow. It did not help me enjoy it any more than before.
(This is similar to, but not the same as the ugali served in Kenya).

However, I appreciate the way in which Ugandan people share meals, especially ones including ugali. The substance remains on one main dish, and diners; friends and family members use their hands from this one lump of ugali and eat together. I enjoy sharing food this way with others, it speaks to community and sharing. You're aware of how you affect others, how they affect you, when you eat with your hands from a common dish. And, I consciously eat a little slower as to not take more than my fair share of the meal.

It was through this dish of ugali that I learned a life-lesson, a common proverb lived out:
“Live simply so that others may simply live.”
It's a decent motto, but alone it is not enough.
What good does my frugality do others? If my entire aim is just to be simple, especially if there is an incentive of saving money is not that only greed disguised?
Live simply is only a means to the end, the end being generosity. Generosity is essential.

Lunch was served in the shade of the center of the compound; an open area with patches of grass amidst the red earth that is typical of Uganda. The menu was stewed greens and a large lump of ugali that the group of us could not possibly finish. We ate, and as was normal for my friends, we ate to satisfaction, not to being utterly stuffed. We knew dinner was coming later and in the warmth of the afternoon sun along the equator, having a stuffed stomach would not be comfortable.
We ate enough, and still there was a large amount of ugali left over.
When we all had stated we were finished, the dish was removed and set in the shade of a nearby tree. Dirty dishes were placed near this same tree, however beside the large, wooden 'dish rack' on which the washed dishes would dry. This dish was placed on the other side of the tree, in the grass. Away from the chickens, who often peck at the remaining bits of food, away from the dirty dishes. The leftover ugali was set in the comfortable shade of the tree.
I watched, wondering what was about to happen.

After only a few minutes, children appeared as if from nowhere, gathering around the remaining ugali. They politely sat down and calmly shared the food.

I asked where the children came from and was informed that they were the poor of the community. Whether they were from poor families, some orphaned and residing with grandparents, they often didn't get enough food at home.

This sharing of food, not saving leftovers but giving them away, was a regular practice I witnessed with this family. Not after each meal or every single day, but regular enough to be familiar to all; to the children receiving and the children who lived with this family. Indeed, often after the visiting children were finished eating they would play games with the children of the family.

I have never seen someone refrigerate ugali, even my friends in Canada eat it and toss out what remains. It dries out quickly, and especially here, in the heat it would unlikely last to the next meal. To save the leftovers would mean simply wasting it. It would only be food for chickens; even the cats around here don't eat leftover, dried-out ugali.

If we had stuffed ourselves at each meal, there would be nothing to share with others. If we consumed to the point of bursting, there would be no ugali left for anyone else.
However, simply eating little would have done no good; it would have been wasted food, unfit even for chickens. Our 'simplicity' only mattered when it was shared.

My frugality, or my eating little helps no one. But my generosity can.

I considered several factors about the family I stayed with, who on the outset did not appear to be remarkable, but were ordinary people. How were they doing this, and how might I do so in my community?

The family I stayed with in Uganda did not have what many would call immense resources: they powered their home through solar energy and generators. They carried water daily from a nearby stream and boiled it over charcoal stoves to purify it for drinking. They had three regular meals. They had a home with doors which could be locked. I witnessed them sharing each one of these resources with others. But before they could share their resources, they had to know what resources they had. As I stated before, giving was a regular part of their lives, but they did not empty their pantries to the needy, or else they themselves would begin to go hungry.

Secondly, they were aware of the needs around them. They knew their neighbors. I confess I am familiar with my neighbors, but I do not know them and I am not informed of their struggles or needs. This family knew the people around them, perhaps they did not know the children by name, but they knew who was an orphan, who's father was imprisoned, who's mother was unemployed. This isn't about gossiping or spreading rumours, but rather knowing people beyond the common, cold greetings. We don't, and should not, inform others about the personal lives of our neighbors, but we should be interested and familiar enough with our neighbors that we have gained their trust and we know them.
I should know my neighbors, and over time earn their trust so that they will come to me with concerns, even requests. All Christians should have the trust and respect of their neighbors.

Third, they took action to help others. Its not good enough just to know; but rather it is through knowing that we have a responsibility to help. Winnie, the adult daughter of the family, knew that there were children not eating regular, nutritious meals in her neighborhood. That is regrettable and easily stirs up sympathy
But sympathy feeds no one.
Only actually seeking out those who might be hungry and offering them food will improve their health. We must go beyond awareness (although it is a crucial step) and into actual practical assistance. Winnie did so by walking around the back of the house and calling to a few children wandering around, telling them that food was available and setting down a dish for them to eat.
She didn't need to coerce anyone, or explain to them why they needed to eat; she simply invited them.

Of course this family was incredibly hospitable; not only generous to their neighbors, but just as giving to me. On my final night a chicken was prepared for dinner.
I grew up on a farm where we regularly killed our own chickens, so I was not bothered at all to hear the rooster crowing in the yard one hour, and the next be lifeless, waiting to be plucked and seasoned for dinner.
One difference, however was that my family did not eat the whole chicken.
The chicken was cut into large chunks and stewed with onions, garlic and tomatoes and served over rice.
This night, like so many others, we ate dinner around the typical meal time of 9 pm; which is completely dark in near the equator, especially in this small village without electricity. I could only see the white oval of my plate as I scooped the chicken stew and rice on, but could not make out the actual food on that plate.
We began the meal, noting the special occasion that I would be leaving early in the morning to return to the capital city. I tried to laugh and chatter, but the piece of chicken I had selected was incredibly boney and I was having trouble even finding any actual meat on the piece. I kept pushing the meat around my mouth, trying not to poke my cheek with the bone until finally I rudely took the chicken piece out of my mouth with my hand and shined my flashlight on it.
See, growing up, my family ate I most of the chicken, we threw out one part in particular. The same part I had been attempting to eat.
I had in my hand, and just moments before on my tongue, the chicken head.
I screamed in reaction and immediately stuffed rice in my mouth to remove the textile memory of the beak against my gums.
Winnie quickly offered to take the head, as that is her favorite piece of the chicken (should I have told her we always threw away her favorite piece back home?). I'm still astounded she managed any meat wth the beak, skull, gaping eye-sockets (Thank God that the eyes had been removed at least!). Perhaps it was the brain that I was supposed to have consumed?

I was a little less enthusiastic about the final meal after that, but was able to eat a chicken thigh (I used my flashlight just to makes sure). As we finished the meal a woman and about 5 children entered the compound, with them a very large suitcase.

They were immediately offered the leftovers of the chicken stew (sadly, the head had already been eaten) and rice and made to feel comfortable while Winnie and the family bustled around arranging things.
I was quickly informed that the woman was a neighbor with some personal issues with which they had already been aware, however things had escalated and she had been forced out of her residence, along with her children (10 pm very much being the middle of the night in this location). They had come here, to this home, because of the generosity of the family and the trustworthy reputation.
That night, the house was filled; every bed used, every blanket passed out. Even the doors with their secure locks were a utilized resource to keep the inhabitants safe.
The visitors slept in the living room; small children sleeping on couches, someone lying on pile of folded blankets on the floor.
They came seeking shelter and this family opened up their home, their living room.

This family had a legacy of trust in his community and was known to be generous. It was because of this, and because of the relationship cultivated with this needy family that the woman felt comfortable to arrive in the dark with her children in tow.
I was moved by several factors; the woman's desperation, the immediate generosity offered by the family. She and her children were given seats at the table and handed dishes of food; it was not presented as charity, but rather as typical Ugandan hospitality. Further was the fact that the family knew the woman, understood a piece of her story already and moved to help without consulting one another or deciding if they should help a homeless woman and her children in the middle of the night. They simply started moving, giving plates of food, making sleeping arrangements.
I realized that as we gain a reputation for our generosity people will actually seek us out. This definitely comes with a warning that at times, it might be misused and people might come with less than honorable motives and we will need to be wise and discerning when that time comes. However, what a testimony that this family was so well-known for their generosity that people sought them out, that the needy actually came to them!

All of their resources: from their food to their very floors were available to their community.
We drove away early in the morning, the visitors still asleep on their various make-shift beds, and my head and heart full of the amazing example of generosity and hospitality that I had learned in this small rural community of Northern Uganda.

While I love this family and want to assist them to continue to bless others, I also have a responsibility in my own community and where I live. When I return to home I will remember my mandate to live simply so that I will be in a position to help others, and then truly help them.

Live simply so that you are able to help others.

Don't eat all the ugali.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Clean, Running Water

I have now been in Uganda for two weeks. It's been warm, dusty, and loaded with tea and rice. My shoulders have been sunburned, my feet tanned with lovely flip-flop tanlines so that they perpetually appear dirty. I've been bitten by mosquitoes and chased by small children. All in all, it's been a wonderful stay with pleasant, hospitable people.

For these two weeks I have stayed exclusively with local families that do not have running water or plumbing in their homes. On the outset, it means using an outhouse for a toilet and bathing with a bucket. However, as I become part of these families and help with preparing meals, washing dishes and hand washing my clothes, it quickly becomes much more than an inconvenience.
This, the most abundant and important resource on the planet, not accessible in their homes- and this, a culture which bathes three times a day! One's life is altered by the need of water.

Where I stayed in a small community on the outskirts of Kampala, the water source for the neighborhood was both fortunately and unfortunately located just at the edge of the property. It was generally easy to get water; clean, running water pouring out of two pipes and flowing away in a trench. However, this meant that always the front yard was full of people: children carrying Jerry-cans difficult for them to lug and adults; the adults sometimes getting into heated arguments which results in a large crowd staring, gossiping, even cheering.
Even just this evening, after going to the nearby market to buy vegetables and bread for tonight's dinner and tomorrow's breakfast, we returned to the yard full of children and youth; resting across the grass, playing games, running through the front yard of the home. Certainly the water source for a community is a place of gathering.

In Arua, North-Eastern Uganda, it was more difficult to access water. The family I stayed with lived outside of the town in a rural village (yes, complete with the adorable and quite comfy grass-roofed huts featured on National Geographic and the like, narrow red-earth paths leading into the tall grasses of the “African bush”). They collected their water a little further away; following a little path down a small hill and to a creek. Standing in the red mud, pushing their Jerry-cans into the murky, still water until they lifted the filled jug; maybe even lifting to their heads and balancing with erect necks for the return up the hill.
I was less impressive and carried the plastic bottles by their handles. I carried the two large Jerry-cans back up the hill and placed in the front yard, feeling quite proud of myself. This water however, was quickly reduced by washing dishes and being heated for someone's bath. I would have to return again to get water to be boiled for drinking. And this was only morning; clothes still were to be washed, the baby to have a bath and a bath for myself. All before lunch, when more water would be required.

In both cases the task to 'fetch water' had to be completed multiple times a day. For breakfasts of tea and boiled drinking water, for bathing, doing laundry, mopping floors, washing dishes and boiling rice. And remember, this is for families of around eight or more people, often more as compounds regularly consist of half-sisters, cousins and grandparents residing together. Water: essential for so many daily tasks, for human life and health, and yet to access it was a chore.

More than once the passage from John 4, Jesus and the Samaritian Woman came to mind. I've read it, heard sermons on it before, but being here in Uganda put it into a new, maybe more real context for me.

It brought a new perspective in a place where water was so necessary, but not easy to access or move. I could almost feel the Samaritian woman's interest and intrigue when I read this passage here in Uganda.

She chose the hottest time of day to walk to the source of water, the one rare time that the community water source would not be bustling with people. This close to the equator I understood the heat of the noon sun and I myself sought the shadows, away from the sun. I wouldn't have wanted to go to the creek and carry water at that time of day. This woman sought out that time of day specifically because it would be empty of other people. She was trying to avoid others, even to do the heavy task of carrying water in the heat.

In Uganda, the promise for never thirsting again, never requiring water again, would indeed be a great physical feat and I understand why the woman initially took Jesus' statement to be literal. But what Jesus offered was greater than her physical needs. If someone promised me that I would never have to carrying water from that stream again, that indoor plumbing had been installed I would have been relieved. If they had said that never again in the heat of the equatorial country would I thirst I would have kept up the conversation, too!

Previously, I had thought the Samaritian woman a little 'daft' by her taking Christ so literally regarding “Living Water” but here, actually having to carry my daily water, I began to understand. Her whole life, every day of all her life she had been getting water. Even getting water from this very well. And the next day, she still needed water again. The water she gathered did not last, did not sustain and there she would be once again at the same well. And here, this stranger, this Jewish man of all people, was starting up a conversation with her and then offering something incredible, a miracle even – that she would never have to get water again.

I'm just even now imagining a grown man hanging out at the creek in Arua, beside the women and children gathering water, to their ankles in red mud, plashed with dirty water. A watering hole doesn't seem the likely place for a man, (nevermind God himself!) to hang out; sharing conversation with not only the women, but the women who were despised in their communities.
And there Jesus is.

Instead of the woman politely listening to Jesus, nodding her head and offering him his requested drink, she starts talking. Even asking serious questions. I identify with the woman and her many questions, even inappropriate or off-topic questions. I ask alot of questions. I challenge information people present to me. Even when I read the Bible I ask God, 'why?' or 'how come it's that way?'
Here is Jesus, God himself offering her LIFE and ETERNAL WATER and she throws out questions about traditions, culture, where to worship. She changes the topic when Jesus brings the conversation to her personal life. She asks if Jesus could claim to be greater than her forefather, the Jewish patriarch Jacob. She almost laughs at Jesus's claim to give her water when he doesn't even have something to get it from the well with.

But what I love in this story, and what I love about Christ is that he engages the woman. He doesn't mind her questioning, he keeps up the conversation with her. Jesus, God himself in the flesh, chatting at the local watering-hole with a woman, even a woman of many men. And, even greater- God revealing himself to this woman. This is breaking down so many social, cultural and societal norms, but even beyond that- God wanted to talk to this woman and didn't let her questions distract him from his intention to give her lasting water for life.

“Leaving behind her water jar, the woman went back to town and told the people
...They came out of the town and made their way toward him.”

She left behind her water jar. The very thing she came to do, to gather water for her daily duties, for her life she left behind. Again; water is necessary for so many regular chores here in Uganda, and probably for this woman's time and location, too. But she left it there.
She left her life there, at the well. And she carried home with her the eternal water, having met God himself at a well.

This is not just for a Samaritian woman of ill rapport who had had multiple husbands, this is for me and you. We all drew water daily of some means, our pots, our Jerry-cans empty at the end of the day, requiring that we again be filled.
And filling these various vessels is work, tiring work. That leaves us puffing up hills, sweating in the mid-day. And how long does this water last us? Only for a task or two, if even that.

I remember watching a child carrying a Jerry-can from the 'nice', flowing water of the suburb of Kampala- the bottom of it leaking behind him all the way. Who knows how far he had to return home and how little water would remain? I watched a line of water stream out the bottom of the yellow jug until he walked out of sight. Sometimes our own efforts don't even last us to our return home.

And Jesus comes with this promise. This promise that we will never require water again.