Photo: Seane Corn
Afterward, we all got on booda booda's (motorcycles) and drove back to the Shanti Uganda birthing center site. Suzanne and I couldn't help but laugh hysterically as we watched the women mount the bikes, cautiously at first, clutching their drivers in both willingness and fear. At least three to a bike, we drove like an odd gang through the dusty roads of Kasana, hair whipping wildly in our faces, and I enjoyed watching the women, one by one, surrender to this adventure. As we drove deeper into the bush, dense with palm trees, tropical foliage and crops, bouncing over the rough dirt road, I could hear the women laughing with joy and acknowledging the utter beauty that engulfed us. I breathed deep the thick African air and took in the moment. I knew that it was going to be a good day.
For the rest of that afternoon, the women were broken down into four groups of five and alternated to different stations to work. At this point in the construction of the birth center, brick making, piling and laying were the priorities. Group 1 was responsible for making the brick mixture. This consisted of a warm and wet combination of mud, sand and hay. The mixture was piled up thick, and we stepped into it barefoot, churning it with our feet until it was a dense but smooth consistency. Jennifer, a massage therapist, found a good rhythm, and we mimicked her, marching round and round in circles. With our pants rolled to midleg, we stomped in the warm mud as the sun burned our skin, much to the interest of the African crew. They kept pointing to our skin, poking it curiously, as we got more and more pink as the day went on. The children from the village were especially interested, as many of them have never seen a white person before. Shyly, they'd ask to touch our hair or skin and would giggle to each other as they stroked us tentatively. In turn, we admired their unique braids and complicated twists and exchanged beads for rubber bands.
Many of the villagers, especially the women, seemed even more curious about Nikki, the only African-American on the trip. They would touch her face and hair, eyeing her curiously, and ask "African...?" "Yes," Nikki would reply proudly. "...And American?" they would ask. "Yes," Nikki would say, and spent much time explaining her family, roots and life in the United States and asking questions to them about their tribe, culture and rituals. These same women sweetly laughed at our hats, sunglasses and sunblock, calling us Mzunga, a friendly term Africans use for white people. At one point, an older woman thoughtfully put wet mud on my nose, cheeks and shoulders. She clicked her tongue and gently admonished me like one of her children, because clearly the sunblock was not working and she could see that I was getting burned. All of us worked side by side, the warm, wet dirt squishing between our toes, and it felt good to work so closely with the earth and with each other.