Before we could see anything in the beams of our van’s headlights, we heard the women ululating in magnificent high trills which I cannot duplicate despite my best efforts. Then there, right in front of us, the unembodied white flags waving in the darkness, and finally our vehicle’s high beams shone on women, dancing and waving, welcoming us, finally. We had arrived.
Our driver, unknown to me, knew the women had gathered in mid-afternoon, to prepare their welcome. They had practiced their dances and songs, and as the hours went by, may have wondered what their men and children would say when they didn’t return home before dark to prepare the evening meal. But the 7 hour trip to the village from Kampala had lengthened into 10 due to unexpected car trouble and the compound was dark with just a sliver of silver light in the distance as the high beams on the van swept over the narrow path which served as the road at this point.
These jubilant women startled and awed me as I realized they were calling my name. The group I had met almost exactly a year ago were so solemn, weighed down by hardship and memories of a past that had come close to crippling this part of Uganda. Veronica had told me that the project had instilled hope; that my returning inspired expanded visions of a too predictable future. But I suppose I had dismissed her words as the kind of thing one says to a friend who has undertaken such an endeavor as this project represented. But here they were, singing, dancing, and welcoming me and my friend and colleague from the States, Lindsey.
Veronica’s compound had a generator which was used for a couple of hours each evening when she had visitors to her tribal home, and now the yard in front of the building where we would be housed allowed us to see these women whose names I did not yet know, but whose homes I would visit before completing this trip. Lindsey and I alternated between sitting in chairs provided for us, and joining the dancing. But dancing was not the only activity for this welcoming ceremony.
There were prayers of thanksgiving. A celebration of Veronica’s return to her home village from her work travels in Sudan and South Sudan. More dancing and song. And then the welcoming gifts. Two lovely young goats were led out. One for me, and one for Lindsey.
There is an expected action in receiving gifts, to let the giver know you find the gift acceptable, that is, to touch the proffered gift. Lindsey and I had no hesitation in stroking the beautiful animals. We both understood the value of all livestock in the lives of these women. We were honored. Overwhelmed really. And this was only the first night.