Mary and Annette

August 4, 2010

Annette and Mary were laughing hysterically when we drove up with their children packed into our four door sedan. One in the front seat and two in the back we had picked them up from school and brought them back on the 15 minute drive home that typically takes them an hour walking. Mary was chattering in Luganda, between guttural laughter. “I thought you were stealing the children! I didn’t know who you were!” We laughed with her, as Mary grabbed palm leaf mats to spread for us under her mango  tree. She was tearing up already, over and over again saying thank you. My translator kept repeating her words – “thank you for feeding me and caring about my life! I get salt, I get sugar. My kids go to school.” She broke down, “The joy is too much.” As if nothing had been repeated to me, she gave a quick  English explanation: “My heart is just very good.” 

Annette is on a discretionary fund through Life With Hope, which means that she is given supplies if there are any funds remaining after the regular clients are taken care of. She started crying again when she said, “These days I don’t worry about ‘I don’t have this, I don’t have that.’” Before Life With Hope began to help, Annette and her grandchildren Brian, Nassali and Peruth were surviving on roots that they dug, along with beans and ground nuts that they harvested. Annette became the sole provider for her children after her son was attacked and murdered on his way home from gardening. His wife had abandoned her children the year before, and Annette’s other children have since died from AIDS.

It is the grandparents that appear to be raising Uganda’s next generation.  Millie, a life With Hope leader from Wobulenzi, said she feels that AIDS has created a generation gap. “There is a whole generation I think this disease swept away and gave children to the older generation that should be too weak to do anything, but are forced to be parents a second time,” Millie said. Annette and Mary, together, are a representation of this reality. Former co-wives, Annette and Mary both fled their polygamous husband when he married a difficult third wife. Now old and bent from years working in the fields for food, the women share a compound and raise their grandchildren together. Mary laughed as she talked about it, and said that Annette is like her sister. “We are now old people, what would we be fighting over?” Mary said. “We have outlived those things.”

 Together, the two have spent days weaving mats and digging roots to feed their families. Together, they have grown too weak to continue work, and have sorrowed over the hard labor their grandchildren have taken over. Together, they bounced and clicked at toddlers and schoolchildren as we spoke of their old, broken bones, and the possibility of getting some fish to Annette, who has been craving it for days.

 As we drove away, Millie noted that the women are lacking an outhouse, an especially dangerous situation during the rainy season, when malaria spreads quickly. We walked through the rooms of Annette’s home, and found that the children are sleeping on the floor with a few cloths. More than that, we noticed the lack of food, and the need for a regular sponsorship. But what I remember most is Annette, laughing and crying, in a ragged shirt, flesh tightly covering her skinny frame, asking me if her cheeks looked good in the photo I took of her outside her house of mud and sticks.

“Yes, you look good,” I said.

She reached to see the photo, “Yes, but do I look really good?”

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CG said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm so convicted of how much we fail to appreciate, how expectant & spoiled we are... I am totally rethinking the upcoming birthday party I've been planning for our son. How can we use it to reach out instead of in? Does he really need more clothes, toys?