It took a while for us to meet Godfrey and his family. Most in his community didn’t want to meet with anyone, let alone a Muzungu (a white guy). There’s a sense of distrust and fear when it comes to people wanting information from them. This community is extremely remote, 6500+ feet above sea level, and extremely isolated, and as such they can’t help but be a little skeptical of outsiders—let alone outsiders with fancy trucks. From my limited experience in Ugandan politics, I am sure they have been burned before.
But our community mobilizer, Richard B, is so skilled, so patient. He didn’t push, he just graciously kept walking on until he met Godfrey and his family. They were keen to share their hope, their stories and their food with us.
Godfrey Kiiza is 31 and is married to Katuhame Silvia. They described their occupation as Peasants, which essentially means that they live off the land—finding whatever food they can, planting beans amongst the banana trees. Part way through our visit, Godfrey changed into his best clothes. He said that it was the first time a Muzungu had ever come to his house.
Together Godfrey and Katuhame raise two sons; Ankunda Godfrey, who is 7 and was in school when we arrived, and Andinda Ferdinand, who is 4. Andinda, didn’t want to have his picture taken initially and we, of course, didn’t want to push it. But eventually, after we spent a of couple hours with his family and after I showed him pictures of my kids on my phone, he warmed up to the idea and became a bit of a star.
Despite Andinda initial shyness, Godfrey’s family welcomed us in. They insisted that we have a meal with them. Insisted. They cooked food that was reserved clearly for special guests: Oburo mixed with Casava, Ebinyobwa, Rice, and Matokke, of course.
Beyond Andinda and Ankunda, two other boys are also part of Godfrey and Katuhame’s compound. The youngest is about 2 and follows a woman we weren’t introduced to and the other is Immanuel Turyajuna. Immanuel spent the majority of his day with us—even when we left to explore other parts of the community. He is 9 years old and is the son of Godfrey’s youngest brother. He has an intellectual disability and so hasn’t attended school since he was 6. His days are generally spent hanging out with Godfrey and Katuhame.
After some time, we asked if we could join Katuhame and Immanuel on their walk for water. Truth be told, it is pretty short relative to most walks and certainly relative to the national average (3km). We walked only 10 minutes uphill, through the banana forest and then down again to where a stream had pooled and the community had built a little channel into a pipe where people could fill up their jerry cans.
The water here, because it’s moving, is better than where most gather it. They would in some ways be considered ‘lucky’, although, in no way would it be considered safe to drink. Fecal matter from animals and humans, pollution from burned wood and materials from the ‘brewery’ upstream, E. coli and other bacteria would all be present.
While I’ve been working in this sector for a few years now (relatively few compared to many), I am still reminded in instances like this, that water poverty is not a one size fits all. I think back to my first trip, my first walk for water with Albert in 2016, in Katooma, and it feels like yesterday. So many similarities, but yet their stories are still so different, so personal and so very important.
This family, their story and their walk is different than any I’ve been invited into. This shouldn’t surprise me, right? Everyone is unique. But it still does. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Their struggle for sure is real, let’s not fool ourselves, and I’m so cautious about over romanticizing these things that I don’t want to get too analytical, so I’ll say this: I felt real life and hope here. Amongst the challenges, for sure, there was life and love. And I don’t think that was just the heat talking.
When we came back from the walk and began to wash up for lunch. Within the span of about a minute, the family used the water to rinse their hands and dishes, to drink freely from, and then to serve me food. All with this water.
“This is Kogogoro Cell” the local Chairperson, who has also come for lunch now that he’s heard a Muzungu is here, tells me. He repeats it over and over again till he is sure my pronunciation of Kogogoro Cell is perfect.
Maybe it’s the children being the same age as mine? Maybe it was the meal together? Maybe it was Immanuel and the way his situation seems both tragic in how at 6 it already had been decided that he was rendered unfit for school, but beautiful the way this family has him hang around—also, how he just kind of rode shotgun in our trucks for the day.
Maybe it’s the fact that this project is the final phase in this three year sprint we’ve been on and I feel like we’re so close, but still have a big push to go financially and program wise (i.e. actually doing the work!) before we get there?
But, I am struck with the sacredness of these stories. The life and the hope presented. Their uniqueness, their specialness.
I don’t know what that meal cost them financially. If I had to guess though, it was probably about a week’s wages for them. Ironically, when we break the cost down to bring water to a family, it’s about $550 or what many of us may also make in a week.
But the point isn’t the cost, I don’t think. It’s the act and the asset. When they invited me in to share a meal, to share their family stories and to share their walk with them, they were giving their assets, what they had, to me, in trust that I would use it well—whether they would articulate it like that or not. And it felt like the thing I could bring, the offering or asset I could contribute to the table that we ate at, were these words and these pictures in hope that perhaps they could inspire you and others to share them and give to the table as well so that Godfrey, Katuhame, Immanuel, Andinda, Ankunda and more may experience a little more of “…on earth as it is in heaven.”