A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Martyr's Day

A word of advice: never go on a Catholic pilgrimage with a nun. June 3rd was Martyr’s Day, a public holiday in Uganda. Ugandan’s observe a day for 23 martyrs’ that were killed in the 1800’s by the king. There is a shrine in Nabagongo and people from all over the world meet there on Martyr’s Day. Traditionally, you walked and some still do from countries all over Africa. There were many Sudanese, Congolese, Zimbabwean, Kenyan, Tanzanian, Rwandan, Ugandan, and other African pilgrims. There were also a spattering of Europeans, American’s, and Australians.

I wanted to go with my nuns because it is important to them and I wanted to see what all these Catholics are flocking to once a year. I was told to be ready to go at 6 am. I received a knock at 4:30 am. Somehow, time doesn’t ever matter. It is either really late or really early; never at the appointed time. Nabagongo is close to where I live so we were there bright and early. I went with Sister Nabasumba and Sister Joan who is from Tanzania. Some of the other sisters from my convent were going later with the students from the school. At Nabagongo there is a basilica, long reflecting pool, and cabana in the middle of the pool where the mass was to take place. There were chairs set up around the pool and most were designated for officials, priests, and nuns. Everywhere else was grassy knolls where people threw mats down and sat on. The place was packed! Thankfully I was with nuns so we wiggled our way to the nun section and squeezed onto a bench.

It was incredibly crowded and even in our nun section we were packed worse than sardines. I somehow got stuck between the two biggest nuns in Uganda. I couldn’t breathe for most of the time and of course, we are on the equator so I couldn’t breathe from being squished and also from the extreme heat. I was sweating. Actually, I don’t know if I was sweating or accumulating the sweat that dripped on me from the nuns on either side of me. The mass itself lasted 3 hours and then there was an hour or more of speeches by those that think they are important (this happens at every Ugandan function). The president of Uganda, Musevini, was there and told the Ugandan’s that they need to stop talking so much and have more action. That is the way out of poverty he says.

It was a good experience to see martyr’s day and participate with my nun friends. I must admit there were moments when I had bad thoughts. They might have steamed from me being tried, hungry, squished, and hot. Oh, and did I mention that it rained in the afternoon? Poured really. I was also soaked to the bone. Here is where my advice on never going on a Catholic pilgrimage with a nun comes in. When the mass was over and it was clear it was about to pour rain I normally would have left and gone home. Since I was with the sisters we had to wait in the rain and greet every nun, priest, bishop, and lay person they have ever known. Even the ones they didn’t know we had to greet and chat with. We didn’t leave until 5 pm. I had worn a beautiful cream skirt for the occasion. It was caked in mud. I didn’t even recognize it and I was dreading having to wash it by hand.

Once we finally left we sat in traffic for a good long while and then as we were about to turn onto the last road home, the car died. It has an automatic starter that got jostled on the bad roads and would no longer engage. So what do we do? We get out and push the car through the mud for quite a distance until it decides to start. Also along this journey, the police were out actually monitoring traffic and enforcing rules. This was my first experience with rules actually being enforced. Two of the passengers in our car had to get out and walk past each police stop because our car had too many passenger’s, of course.

We finally made it home over 12 hours from the time we left to go a little over 10 miles. I even broke down and paid a student 500 shillings (25 cents) to wash the dirt out of my skirt. I must admit, it looks perfect once again. I can never wash well enough to make my clothes look perfect again. I have been so proud of doing everything myself: fetching water, washing clothes by hand, bathing in a bucket, carrying timber through town, etc. It took a lot of mud and a long day for me to hire out for the first time. Call me a martyr.

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