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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Of understated beauty and Mifumi’s boogying women

Having imagined that Tororo was a boring place, I was in for a surprise; I was captured by the quiet, all-green beauty of the area and had to tear myself away after my sojourn, writes Dennis D Muhumuza
An opportunity to spend a fortnight in Tororo District had me packing a couple of classic novels as an antidote to probable boredom, having decided this place had little else to offer beyond the hulking Tororo Rock.

But cruising into Mifumi Village after a 40-minute drive from the municipality, I was captured by the quiet beauty of the area. It’s all flat and green; guava, papaya, jackfruit, avocado and mango trees, plus all forms of flowery dot every field, providing a picturesque view.

Up in a giant tree in my host’s compound, weaverbirds taught me a lesson in industriousness! We were here to write an upcoming radio soap opera on domestic violence and child abuse, but instead of sprucing up my work, I would burn my free time watching them twitter and weave their dexterously entwined nests.

The feel of the morning air bursting through my bedroom window, fanning my face while the roosters crowed away, was delightful. This, and the colourful birds and rare specie of little butterflies became my muse as were the aromatic fields and natural aura of romanticism surrounding the entire village.

Skittish calves caper with zest in the morning sun and bulls bellow in the distance. At noon, little white clouds race in the clear skies with wild abandon. As dusk approaches, a dozen or so men are seen at the local pub, sharing a pot of malwa from wooden straws, as fireflies illuminate the night.

Strolling through the village, I met a woman, a child strapped to her back, riding a bicycle. I expected the fringes of her long dress to stray into the spokes and probably cause a tragedy, but she disappeared round the corner without this happening.

Life here is so laidback that even at the local market, customers laze about from stall to stall. Sellers are not heard advertising their merchandise in sugary tongues and exaggeration like their St Balikudembe market counterparts.

In all, you would think life is great here, but don’t be duped. Poverty still looms large and women have long been victims of domestic violence and abuse, as deep-rooted as female genital mutilation is in the neighbouring Kapchworwa District. In fact, about 200 cases of domestic violence are reported to Tororo Central Police Station every month. Gnawed by poverty, parents marry their daughters off from as young as 15 to get bride price.The girls find themselves in unhappy, abusive marriages, which they cannot stay in, yet their parents won’t let them return home for fear of being forced to refund the bride price, as has been the tradition.

However, a local NGO called Mifumi, founded by Ms Atuki Turner, has been fighting for gender equality and it’s through their lobbying that the Tororo District Bridal Gifts Ordinance was enacted, making it illegal to demand bride price refund in case a marriage breaks down. The organisation has also established amenities like schools, health centres, markets and adult literacy centres in the whole of Kirewa sub-county.

It’s at one of the advice centres that a woman recited a poem in Japadhola about bride price: “…you can get married for five cows and tomorrow he’ll be beating you because of those cows… I don’t hear what Adam gave to God for giving him a bride. We shouldn’t put a price on our girls…”

As she recited it, I could have sworn that even the heavily hunched bull under the mango tree outside Mifumi Advice Centre stopped chewing its cud and spread its ears as if not to miss the emotional musicality of her voice.

Still, the women of Kirewa know how to boogie! They welcomed us with song and ululation; wiggling their seemingly boneless waists and pulling some good strokes, their breasts heaving and jouncing beneath bras like they wanted to be set free! It got so contagious that one of us jumped from her seat and joined the dance; shaking her butt like it had caught fire!

Watching them, it was almost inconceivable that they had gone through hell here on earth. One of the women said her husband once forced her down the hole of a pit latrine and when her waist couldn’t go through, he left her dangling there; commanding her to stay there till he came back.

Hearing the tremor of her voice and seeing tears in her eyes as she retold her ordeal, I knew she couldn’t have coined such a story. But like many others, Mifumi has given her a voice and resurrected her confidence, all the pain of the past forgotten.

It’s a tradition here that esteemed visitors are honoured with new names. So, I was given the name Kisangala, which is Japadhola for “happiness.” I had such a good time there that when my sojourn ended, I felt sad.

--Sunday Monitor, December 5, 2010