Saturday found John, C., and I meandering along Mukwano (Friendship) Road in the shadow of Kampala's few skyscrapers among acres of plants. The "greenhouses" here are more like patches of nursery, because all this elaborate foliage for purchase is modestly grown in plastic bags and sold alongside the road. We picked our way through and around the rows of color at our feet and up to our chests while huge lorries recklessly rumbled by a few meters away in their thick clouds of exhaust.
The Eden of plant life here intrigues and woos me . I've already written about my favorite time of day, when I drink in my own little Edenesque slice of backyard "while the dew is still on the roses" for a compelling quiet time in the mornings. This past week I finally gave into the urge to clip the wild orange daisies in my yard with the pink miniature roses and coral roses--the perfect cluster of color for our dining room table. Plants can't seem to get out of the ground fast enough here: The banana and matooke trees we planted a month or so into being here--that's two months ago--are already taller than John. What would be houseplants in the U.S. grow naturally here; you'll see impatiens, Wandering Jew, palm-type plants, ficus, and so many others pushing from the soil year-round.
So our mission there in the midst of all that beauty was to make the front of our home look a little less bleak--a little less orange. Orange house; orange boys' quarters; orange dirt; orange dirt-covered children. The mission was a total success. Our little compound is looking more and more welcoming, more and more home. My favorite were all the herbs we carted home: Oregano. Spearmint. Thyme. Lavender. Rosemary ...Perfect counternotes for the basil and dill in our garden. That minivan of ours had never smelled better than on the way home. The truly fragrant part of the deal: Nearly every plant and pot was about 10-25% of the cost we would find it in the U.S.
But despite my digression--this post isn't about plants.
Every sales interaction here or journey out around town reveals such colorful, divulging stories to each of us. Personally, the outspoken female entrepeneur who kept beckoning us to different areas of her plot made me wonder about all of the story I didn't know. Mostly it was the fresh, rose-colored bruise swelling around her right eye and cheekbone.
But even more, I found my heart sinking after our closing dialogue with one of our barefooted vendors over the price of a plant. He had a challenging time communicating in English (the language spoken in schools here) the price of one particularly striking green and purple broadleaf: Five thousand, two hundred. He finally bent to write in the dust. Five. Two. His finger formed the five backwards.
As a teacher of two kindergarteners, I am aware that most kids work on reversed letters and numbers in the earliest writing skills. I had an aha moment there as I took in this simple man in the muscle T-shirt in front of me, who'd had such a difficult time comprehending our questions and requests. He probably hadn't had a formal education. How had he learned the five, I wonder? Who taught him what a thousand is?
I was stricken on the way home. How does a man save wisely from his business, make sure whatever "books" are in the black, or make sure he's not being swindled when he can't communicate number concepts--or possibly even understand them?
Oliver later explained to me that free primary education wasn't sponsored by the government until 1997 here. It is now free for the first four children in a family. Children growing up in the eighties and nineties were hard pressed for education. (Education here is a hot button for me. That's another long, soapbox-y post later.) John pointed out how wonderful it was that this man was able to form gainful employment out of what he knew and could do. Oliver similarly remarked that she was thankful he hadn't turned to thievery in order to survive.
Stories like these bind their roots into my thinking as I learn and try to make sense of the beauty and grief we take in here. Like exotic flora, they still catch and bewilder my mind's eye. They help form the variegated landscape that spreads further and further before me. And like a good friend said a few days ago--the longer I am here, the more complex helping seems. On days like Saturday, I make the decision all over again to rest in a God who cares for this country, with plans for a hope and a future far greater than even the most troubling problems.
P.S. The hibiscus we purchased was, I admit, orange.