In this blog’s inaugural post, I described my hectic walk to work along a busy road filled with motorbikes and potholes. After a month or two of breathing clouds of black exhaust, I decided that for the sake of my sanity and lungs, I needed to find a different way. After asking around, I found a small path behind our office building that winds through an open field, past a primary school, and ends at the main road near our neighborhood. Now my daily walks couldn’t be more different. I breathe fresh air, admire birds and palm trees, listen to children play, and cross the busy road with the very help of the very friendly school crossing guard.
The best part of the walk though is my friend Ida. Ida, her husband, and her baby Precious are the live-in guardians of the field that I walk through. This means that I walk directly in front of their house through Ida’s cooking and washing area, and she holds the key to the gate through which I must pass. The first few times I passed through Ida’s space, I felt uneasy and did my best to fully greet Ida in Luganda and English. It’s hard for an American to not feel like a bother while essentially walking through a stranger’s kitchen twice per day.
I didn’t truly feel comfortable until the morning after I had taken a sick day Ida greeted me by saying, “Faith! I have been looking for you, you have been lost!” (Translation: I missed you when I didn’t see you yesterday.) That is when I knew that we were friends.
As we chatted each morning and afternoon, I began to learn about Ida’s life. Ida’s father had two wives, and Ida’s mother was the older wife whom her father rarely visited. This meant that Ida’s mother struggled to provide for her children. Halfway through secondary school, Ida had to drop out since her mother ran out of funds for school fees. Instead, her mother got some money together for Ida to attend training for braiding hair, thinking that technical training would most benefit her daughter.
Right after Ida finished her training, she became pregnant with Precious. This meant that she was unable to work in a hair shop, but instead she started to keep house and take care of Precious. By any sort of standard, her life is hard. She spends her days doing all of her family’s washing by hand, cooking over a charcoal stove, and digging in her garden. Sometimes she cooks meals for men who work at nearby compounds or snacks for the workers in our office building to make some extra money.
My friendship with Ida has forced me to ask myself a lot of difficult questions about what friendship across incredible class divides should look like. I have to admit that I was worried that she would ask me for money which would throw off the power dynamic of our friendship. Then one night Ida called me and told me that she needed to ask me something in the morning – she was nervous and I knew what was coming.
Sure enough, the next morning she met me at the gate and nervously asked me for 30,000 Ugandan Shillings (around $14) for Precious’s baptism. I was surprised that 1) the amount was so little and 2) she wanted a loan – not a donation. I gave her the money, but in my mind I wrote it off as a donation thinking that I probably wouldn’t get it back. I even told her that maybe she could come over and help us clean as payment.
At the beginning of the next month, on the day she told me she would – she paid me back the full 30,000 shillings. A few days later she asked me when she could help me come clean. She told me that she would come anytime I needed her and do even the hardest jobs for free – because she was my friend.
In so many ways I underestimated her and our friendship. Now I see how lucky I am to have a friend like Ida who teaches me about true friendship that overcomes class barriers.