When I came to Africa, I wasn't so sure about this term "the bush." I wasn't sure if it was a derogatory white man's terminology for rural or rain-forrest-y parts of the continent, or if it was a legitimate term that Africans used to describe their place. It turns out it's the latter...well, at least, it's current use in Bundibugyo is the latter (I guess it's origin could have been in the colonization process, but everybody here uses it). People in Kampala use it to refer to what they also call "the village," and it's also used to describe just what it says...the "bushes".
In the States, a "bush", is kind of an autonomous shrub or low-ish plant growth...singular...there's one of them, distinguishable from the plants around it...or maybe there are "bushes" a series of said plants that are intentionally grown together. Well, in Africa it's a bit different. "Bush" is indistinguishable plant growth that serves no purpose that the average person is aware of...or at least not for whatever sentence or point you are trying to make.
so Smith, a guy who usually is the water guy, the one in Travis' phone as "the plumber," who moonlights as a landscaper, was working in our yard yesterday (with someone who must be his brother because they look just alike)...they were doing "bush" control...whacking away at the "bush" around our fence and house so that little (or even worse, big!) critters who might be living in said "bush" might be forced to find other homes. They didn't do a very good clean-up job yesterday, surprise-surprise, and so I was pointing out to them what else needed to be done today before we would consider the job completed and therefore pay them. We were standing outside the back of the house, just outside my bedroom window, next to the water tank discussing what "bush" exactly needed to be taken care of, and him instructing me that cleaning out the gutters would be "wasting our time" because they run into the tank that is inoperable (I disagreed, by the way, because at least the water would be taken away from the house instead of just pouring out of the gutters against the house...but I digress). Before I walk away, a small grin spreads across Smith's face and he points at the water tank with his panga and says "I remember when this tank was built...I was this many years (gesturing with the very sharp knife at a height about at his knees or a bit above). And now I am having 6 children." (My guess is that he is currently this many years: 30 - or about as old as I am maybe?) He continued "and there was this boy who was even smaller than me," (gesturing again with the razor sharp panga at about his shins) "I was carrying him. His name was Benjamin Lee. That son of Alan Lee."
I hit the pause button on the to-do list in my head, on the play back of all of the patients I saw yesterday that may or may not still be there today, on the wearing on my spirit that comes from dealing with men here who have little respect for women especially those who are not married...the pause gave way to space for thought as I walked around the house and got onto my bike to ride down to the health center...I don't know Alan Lee, or his son Benjamin, but they built my currently non-functional water tank...There is so much history here...so much I know nothing about...many have gone before me...many have riden and walked this road, have smiled and laughed with the people they've encountered, have learned this language, have said hellos and goodbyes again and again...I am not alone, we are not alone. In fact, I have all those who have gone before me to thank...to thank for the water tanks, the houses, the cultural and other life tips/ins/outs of life in a rural place with far fewer amenities than we have here now, for their faithfulness and compassion that precedes me, and the list goes on.
So thanks Alan and Benjamin. Thanks to all of the WHM Bundibugyo Missionaries who have gone before me, whose names I have only heard in stories, but who I will share the Supper of the Lamb with face to face one day. Until then...