One of my favorite ways to end the day is through going to the local market. No matter how difficult a day has been, I enjoy greeting the individual merchants ( I buy the same things from the same people each time) and seeing refugees from our community. I have been going to this market since I first arrived as an intern in Uganda four years ago. Over the last four years, the merchants have not really changed. Mary is still selling fish. Jeanine is still selling tomatoes, sikimiwiki ( a local green) and carrots. Josephine is still selling passion fruits, mangoes and onions.
Sylvia is the name of the woman who sells plantains and avocadoes. I remember meeting her four years ago. She is much older than most of the others at the market. A short woman in her early fifties, with short hair and a round face. She has set up her small stove to roast plantains in the same place for the last four years. When I first arrived in Uganda as an intern in 2010, I started buying my plantains from her. As I would come up and say hi, she would look up, squint and not respond to my greetings. She would simply wrap the bananas in newspaper and take the money. As I have traveled back and forth to Uganda, I have continued to buy from her. Over time, she started saying hello and thank you. Shortly after I arrived last year, she began smiling and responding to my broken Luganda ( the local language spoken in the central region of Uganda). Towards the end of last year, she began calling me “ mukwano” every time I saw her.
On Tuesday, I stopped to buy plantains and an avocado from her. After I thanked her, she looked up at me and with a big smile on her face and holding her hand out, said “ mwala wange” ( my daughter). This was a very simple but profound gesture. Four years ago, Sylvia would not smile or respond to me. Perhaps it was because I was a foreigner. Perhaps it was because she was used to being ignored by other customers passing by. Perhaps it was because she was shy. Whatever barrier was there before was not there. She not only embraced me as a customer and friend, but as a family member.
Even though I arrived as a stranger, I have been embraced and as a neighbor. I am grateful to God for providing bridges of understanding and love with refugees, Ugandans and so many others within my neighborhood here in Kampala.