Ugandan women face many obstacles in life. They are required to live by tradition, and adhere to their culture. Men are revered and their wives have to kneel when they enter the house — even when they serve their husbands food. The 13 voices heard in this collection are all diverse yet the same. Each one is at a serious turn, or crossroads, in her life and has to find a way to overcome the obstacles that society has placed in her path. The loyalties that they are asked to remember, the traditions imposed on young girls at an early age, the many ways they are taught to please men – all are terrifying. They are caught in a dilemma: Will they stay true to the traditions and country’s cultural history, will they wander and find their own way, or will they find a mix of both? I learned so much from these women and their bios added at the end of the book.
Story one focuses on a woman who wanted to register for at a hospital and was told she could not unless she gave them a name that conformed to society’s conventions, even though she had changed her name. Nakisanze Segawa is her name. She stood by her convictions and stood up the registrar. The second story, which is the title story in the book, is quite compelling and heartbreaking as the author relates the abuses, indignities that children face in school, including beatings for no reason. Corporal punishment is spotlighted later in the story “School of Fear.” Author Laura Walusimibi leaves no words unturned as he states that children subjected to this type of discipline might grow up lacking self-worth and disliking anyone in authority.
Each author describes having to deal with many hardships, yet none give up. A story about a soccer player who did not give up on her goals despite social disapproval is inspiring. Another story, “SSengas and the Single Woman,” describes a bridal shower where young women are taught about marriage, how to please their husbands, and other customs and traditions. Women have to take care of men’s every needs, even though some work and add to the family’s finances. In our culture we might find it offensive, but in Uganda it traditionally was the norm for women to kneel for men. I love when the author of this story says she does not mind kneeling for her man as long as he does the same for her. The subject of pulling told in Crossroads is chilling, and defies all that girls here would ever have to endure yet these young women had not choice to be learn how to cope with this painful tradition or be subjected to a humiliation that no one should endure. The author, Shifa Mwesigye, also notes, though, that men are expected to pay a “bride price” to their fiancees’ families. The gifts they are expected to give the girls’ family members can be so costly that some men walk away.
A story entitled “Wife of the Enemy” really hits home. It describes how two young girls were taken away and locked up, beaten, tortured and made to stay in their cells because someone thought they were involved with guerilla fighters. As you hear the voice of the author, Peace, and her friend, Hope, who just wanted to go to the market for food for dinner, you can feel the lashes on their back, the terror they faced and the end result where one loses her life and the other is finally set free. Free to go where? Why? The story reminds me of stories about my grandfather and how he rescued my grandmother and her sisters with the help of the Polish Underground. The Ugandan woman describes her experience, much like that refugee camps of WWII, so vividly it will bring tears to the reader’s eyes.
Challenges are something we all face daily, and sometimes the outcomes are in our favor and at other times they are not. These women are tied to their culture and what society deems appropriate. Some speak out and others remain silent. I would be remiss if I did not list all of the amazing women who contributed their words, thoughts and stories: Elvania Bazaala, Shifa Mwesigye, Lydia Namubiru, Nakisanze Segawa, Rosey Sembatya, Peace Twine, Hilda Twongyeirwe, Laura Walusimbi, Harriet Anena, Sophie Bamwoyeraki, and Caroline Ariba, who wrote the book’s title story.
Lydia Namubiru’s “Gods and Ghosts” is quite compelling as it teaches us about traditional Ugandan beliefs and the influence of Western missionaries. “A Victim No More” describes rape, which is not uncommon, and how one victim survived it. The story “He Will Kill Me” focuses on a 19 year old girl who gets pregnant out of wedlock and is terrified to tell her parents, fearing that her father might kill her mother and her. But she also describes discord between her father, who recognized the importance of education in getting ahead in life, and her uncle who remained ignorant. Parents everywhere should read this compelling story told by a woman, now a grandmother, who teaches us all that conversations with children are necessary, understanding and family loyalties are important, what happens when a mother tells her daughter to stay away and how education and parental guidance must be at the forefront.
Imagine being a lesbian in this society and having to hide it from her family. The struggles, the lack of acceptance and having to engage in a marriage with a man just for convenience and to hide the truth is told by Julia Musiime in “Keeping the True Me Alive.”
Lydia Namubiru grew up loving many western ways, yet as an adult observed an NGO world that was supposed to help raise money for disadvantaged countries but often serves its own interests.
Every story deserves to be spotlighted, as does the editor who created this cohesive, outstanding and extremely diverse collection of true stories that, because it is told in the first person, allows readers to experience what the authors did first hand. The final story I want to spotlight is the “Girl With Scars,” which focuses on a young girl who wanted to be on the stage but had scars on her legs from boils that for a long time nobody could cure. But she endures, and at the end quotes her mother who said: “It is not the teeth that smile but the heart.”
Each story told from the heart and each one compelling, thought-provoking and enlightening about the culture, history and traditions of Uganda. A definite Five Golden Stars Book.
Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ Magazine
On Fri, Jan 15, 2016 at 4:31 PM, Fran Lewis <email@example.com> wrote: