The “Can Do” Gender

Swinging an ax is not something I can do, at least not very effectively. I am quite sure I would slash my leg or worse. I have never had to worry much about firewood anyway. When we go camping we can usually find what we need laying around or some wonderful Ranger has already cut some for us. At home I just turn on a switch! Cooking in Uganda is quite another matter. The women there are “can do” people! I would call Bruce and ask for help real quick if I needed to have some firewood. Not in the village where we were! The women take that chore on. As I first walked up to the cooking area for the school to check it out I saw this woman off to the side attacking a rather large felled tree trunk with her ax expertly chunking out fuel for the pots cooking lunch. I was excited to be feeding the kids as it had been over a year since the school started and we had not had funding up to now. Our funding was still pretty limited but I just had to begin. I asked for some volunteers from the village to help. Three women brought their own pots and mixing sticks (and ax). They built their fires, cut their wood, prepared vegetables for “spices” with no table or chairs or counter and a dull knife. They stood over pots in the hot, smoke filled area with babies strapped to their backs as they stirred. I am not sure how long it takes to do this process but it seemed like they were there all morning. Previously they had been out under the tree but rain had made them reconstruct their space under the roof where the classrooms are being held until we can get some walls built. The teachers didn’t complain but there were burning eyes in all of the classrooms due to this (somewhat) indoor cooking arrangement since there are no barriers to keep the smoke contained. Actually no one is complaining at all, about anything. They are also excited to be feeding their children. Hunger is everywhere. Extended bellies are common due to malnutrition. Obesity is not a problem! The children lick their plates to get every last drop of food. Thankfulness is in their eyes as they do a little curtsy when they see me. I am humbled. It is just maize meal and beans but to them it is a sumptuous meal, a very favorite.
Since I am a cook I am curious as to what is in the beans. They smell delicious and look inviting as I peer into the pots. I begin asking questions. I have been concerned about nutrition and not just filling tummies so I am pleasantly surprised to hear what all they add. Cabbage, tomatoes, onion, greens, beef spices, maybe some garlic, and salt all go into the beans if they have them. The posho looks like cream of wheat cereal but thicker and a bit yellow. They serve them in the same bowl, one beside the other. I was invited to try a bowl and answered with a big smile. We really weren’t supposed to eat the local food as we often get sick from the water things were washed in but I just decided to trust that the cooking had killed anything that might hurt me. Hospitality is second nature to these lovely people so they found me a chair and sat me down with a large bowl of beans and posho. Wondering how I could wash my hands I looked up and saw a pitcher of water ready to be poured over my soon to be eating utensils. Forks and spoons are nowhere to be seen. So without a table or napkins I had to figure out how to get this concoction in my mouth without spilling it on my lap or having it dribble down my chin or down my elbow. Laughing didn’t help! I had to ask Billy to show me how to eat the Ugandan way. He took pity on me and brought another chair over for me to use as a table and proceeded to show me how to use my fingers as a scoop. My audience was polite and didn’t join me in my laughter but there were smiles all around. That may have been some of the best beans I have had and the posho (which probably would not be good alone) was a great enhancement. I learned a lot that day and was especially proud of my gender!