February 28, 2021
I rang up my friend and Elite NYC booker Krisana yesterday and she
mentioned that everyone had just left town after NYC fashion week... fashion week?!
I'd completely forgotten what February means in the world of fashion. Between
limited Internet and press access and a general disconnection from most aspects of
my normal life, I think it's safe to say I'm completely clueless about the current
These days, instead of hitting Paris' cobblestones with black boots on my
feet, I'm traipsing through the dust of Busolwe's streets (you'll need to drive an hour
out of town to find a paved road) in arch-support sandals. Their soles are almost
thick enough to keep the dust from blanketing the bottoms of my feet. But I'm
already getting ahead of myself... let me start at the beginning.
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Valentine's Health Day
Waking up, I stretch for a bit before crawling out of bed from underneath my
mosquito net. I go to the bathroom, squatting over a pit toilet, which I flush with a
cup of water scooped from a bucket on the floor. On the way back from the
bathroom, I pass through the hallway which doubles as a food-preparation area, and
an open door, which leads outside to the cooking house. The 'cooking house,' as I
call it for lack of a better term, is a poorly ventilated hut with cooking pits dug into a
section of raised earth, pots sitting over open fires. During meal preparation times,
this room fills with eye-stinging smoke, but Rebecca, the female head of the
household, or 'Grandma', doesn't seem bothered by it.
After getting dressed, I eat a breakfast of fruit and peanut butter (which
we buy on weekend trips to the city) in the living room with Nadine and Mr.
Hirome, our home stay dad. Mr. Hirome is also known as 'Grandpa' or Muzei, which
translates as 'old man.' He is a clan leader, which means our meals are sometimes
interrupted by clan members who bring their disputes to his door for discussion or
ask for money or food. Most mornings we also find Eddie and Freddo on the living
room floor, playing as four-year-olds do, and making us laugh. Lately we've also
been joined by Pussy Cat and her three young kittens.
Today, we travel to the library by boda-boda. This is how many people get
around in Ugandan towns and cities, and probably the closest thing to a taxi. The boda-boda resembles a motorcycle with an extra long seat, on which it is not
uncommon to see an entire family - man, woman, baby, and child - perched. I've
also seen a bedframe encircling its boda-transport, and Nadine once spotted a coffin
being transported in a similar way. I wrap a scarf around my mouth and nose -
anything faster than a bicycle kicks up a cloud of dust behind it as it crisscrosses the
road. I say crisscross because no part of the road is off-limits: drivers will go
anywhere on either side of the road or its shoulders to avoid potholes, veering back
to the left side only moments before oncoming traffic collides with them.
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Ivan the librarian (left)
Arriving at the library, Nadine and I review our upcoming projects before
settling into the task of organizing the library, labeling every book according to
subject for the first time. Our hope is that this will enable library users to find and re-
shelve books without having to ask our Librarian, Ivan, for help. With only about
1,050 books, the task is manageable, and giving some order to the books makes it
clearer what we do and do not have. Do: contemporary classics (donated by the
American Embassy), about 40 hardcover children's novels from the '60s, and four
books which fall under the classification 'African Studies,' among others. Don't:
poetry, non-fiction, humour, recently published (within the last 10 years) novels,
At lunchtime, we walk to a 'restaurant,' (one bare room curtained off from
the street and filled with three tables and nine chairs) for lunch, stopping in at
the 'supermarket' along the way to see if they have any yogurt. They don't. What the
tiny room does have, though: softdrinks, water, hair-relaxing and conditioning
products, Q-tips, notebooks, biscuits, and candies. We discovered after the first
week that chocolate is not sold in Busolwe - possibly because it would be almost
impossible to transport it here without it melting.
We eat the same lunch every day, and at 50 cents our feast is unaffordable for
most of Busolwe's residents. Our table is loaded with beans, salad, posho (made by
grinding maize into flour which is then boiled), chapatti, rice, potatoes, and cooked
cabbage. 'Salad' at lunch means raw cabbage and tomato, but as raw vegetables are
not commonly eaten in Uganda (I had to specially request it at our restaurant), the
word 'salad' is widely used to refer to any combination of raw vegetables.
After lunch we have a women's class at the library. Ivan takes some of the
students to teach them ABC's, while Nadine and I work with the women who already
know how to read and write. Today, as the power is out and computer training
therefore not an option, we try to generate some discussion around two health
books Nadine and I purchased on a weekend trip to a city. One is called Where
Women have no Doctors, and the other is about nutrition in Uganda. Unlike the last
books we purchased in the city, these ones aren't photocopied rip-offs. I get a
chance to ask one woman, Rachael, about health problems women in the community
face. She tells me most of the problems relate to family planning.
The two methods accessible to women here are the pill and injections.
Sometimes doctors at clinics neither question nor test a woman's blood before
giving her injections, leading to health problems for those whom the injections
are not suitable for. Other times, women miss pills and become pregnant without
knowing it, while continuing to take the pills.
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Here, Rachael told me, if a women wants to stop 'producing' (having children)
and have her tubes tied, she must have five or six kids, and her husband must go to
the hospital to sign that he accepts the procedure. This is due to problems hospitals
have dealing with husbands who show up complaining and threatening staff after
their wives have had their tubes tied. The husbands may even try to have doctors or
clinic staff arrested by the police. The authors of Where Women have no Doctors
wrote that "family planning should always be a woman's choice," but life is not so
simple for the women of Busolwe. Grandpa Hirome once explained to me: "When we
talk of family here, mine is a small one with ten. In the past the only wealth was
After study, we all come together for a basic yoga class. It's been a challenge
figuring out poses the women can do in their ankle length skirts - women wearing
pants in rural areas of Uganda are frowned upon - but I've managed to come up
with a simple routine that everyone seems to enjoy. Many of the women have young
children, who join in too - I once had to ask Ivan to translate "we don't really do
yoga with babies on our backs," as one woman showed up for class with a child tied
in a blanket on her back. The class always gets us all laughing and is undoubtedly
the highlight of my Tuesday.
Until next time,
More about the Busolwe Public Library:
Further inquiries or to support the Busolwe Public Library's projects:
Kyla Love is an Liz Bell model, currently volunteering in Africa.