Housework in Uganda: A Saga


I awake as the morning sun flows across the room and pools on the concrete floor. My eyes, though unaccustomed, still welcome the light after a night of darkness. Darkness which was broken only by the piercing light of the torch I used to read. In a house without electricity sleep patterns become dictated by the movements of the sun and the high equatorial-moon. I brush the sleeps from my eyes and my morning routine begins.

The woman who helps the family I am staying with is away for a few days so I leave to get water from ‘The Pump’. It’s a rather sturdy metal gift of water supplied (as a plaque declares) by a Bulgarian University. Ironically, a country crippled itself by abject poverty and corruption. I then drag the hard-won water back to the house in thirty litre ‘Gerry Cans’, as I watch African women effortlessly balance said Gerry Cans on their heads. The whole ordeal takes about an hour – depending on the queue – of hard labour. At the end of which you’ve achieved what people in the developed world, and the rich of the developing, gain from merely turning the cold tap.


After such an hour my body is weary but my mind is active and sleepiness is a hazy memory. Now, however, the equally arduous tasks of washing myself and my clothes shadow the horizon. My shower – an icy bucket on the bathroom floor – has a diameter smaller than a foot.


The Musungu in me, spoiled by the luxury of a washing machine, becomes disheartened by the prospect that my clothes shall require the same washing vessel that my body employed moments before. I spend ninety minutes of washing under the direction of a four-year-old girl, who is much more adept in the art of washing clothes. After which I am free to admire my less-dirty (but far-removed-from-clean) creation.


As this three hour saga ends, I can’t help but yearn for the days in Europe when the same routine would take me fifteen minutes.


Now that description is just a chip off the housework boulder which people have chained around their necks in Uganda. After these tasks, people would begin cooking, cleaning and getting the children ready – all much larger ordeals. Therefore, one must be left with a sense of awe knowing while doing all of this (and working!) many people still walk around not only with their spines intact but with warm smiles on their faces. I have to admire it because I know I could never emulate it.


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