By Connie Regan-Blake
Storyteller, Connie Regan-Blake, was invited to come to Uganda by “Bead For Life”(www.beadforlife.org), an NGO helping women lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Many of them are displaced people from the horrors and atrocities of civil war in northern Uganda and are dealing with the ravages of AIDS. Connie was welcomed into their homes and hearts as if she was family and she listened to their profound and transformative stories. This is Namakasa Rose’s story.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Brush-the-Dirt-From-My-Heart
- How do you distinguish between what is helpful and what is patronizing to another culture?
- When she was at her most desperate what kept Namakasa Rose alive and providing for her children?
- Poverty and social justice issues seem to go hand-in-hand; one of the social issues is health care, specifically about the AIDS epidemic in Africa. How did being diagnosed with AIDS actually become a turning point in Rose’s health and her ability to support her family? What kind of support needs to be present for people to live full lives with AIDS?
- African American/Black History
- Crossing Cultures
- European American/Whites
- Living and Traveling Abroad
- Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, I’m Connie Regan-Blake and this is a story that lives in a larger story called Hope is Back on Me.
It was February 2007 and I had landed in Uganda, East Africa. I was walking down the steps of the airplane and the air, it was light and tropical. There were flowers blooming bougainvillea, orchids. And a little yellow bird flew by me and I thought, “I am in paradise.”
But I was to find that Uganda can be a hard place to live and to visit. I’d been invited over by two friends. Charles, he’s a doctor and he had been invited to come to work with African doctors on AIDS. Charles concentrated on that; he had done research.
His wife Torkin went with him with his wonderful attitude of “how can I be of service?” She was walking down a dirt path one day and she saw a woman, a Ugandan woman, sitting beside the path making jewelry. Torkin stopped to watch and she saw Meli Grace cut out long strips of paper, recycled paper from magazines. She was rolling up the paper, putting a dot of glue on it and then dropping that bead into a basket. And after she had a whole lot of those beads, Torkin found out that she would string them up, dip them in shellac, hang them to dry. And then, eventually, after two more dips and the shellac, she would make this beautiful jewelry.
Well, Torkin bought four necklaces. The next day she was going to visit a director of an orphanage and she put on one of the necklaces. When she got to the meeting, the woman went wild over that necklace so Torkin took it off and gave it to her.
Well, the next day, that happened again. And the third day, it happened again. And Torkin thought, ah, a kernel of an idea. And along with two other people, Ginny and Devin, that kernel grew into a nonprofit called Bead for Life. Women all over North America are giving big parties. Women helping women, giving that hand so that the Ugandan women can lift themselves up out of poverty.
Well, Torkin had invited me over to interview some of the women. My first morning there, I was sitting on the porch at the Bead for Life offices waiting to interview Namakasa Rose. Torkin had told me a little bit about Rose. How she had had a very rough life; her husband had been killed in an accident. And Rose was, with four young children, living in a slum, at the bottom of a hill. During the rainy season, the water would pour in and, sometimes, cover the whole dirt floor. Mud walls with a few pieces of thin plywood. And nothing inside, except for a pot and a mat that Rose would roll out at night for the children to sleep on.
Well, the gate opened and in walked Namakasa Rose. I could hardly believe it was the same woman. She was radiant, smiling. We slipped over to a shady spot and I asked Rose about the hard times. She said her life was very rough.
That once she had found a coin on the dirt path and after that she made it her job. Every morning she would get up before five o’clock, leave those four babies sleeping, and she would go out looking for a coin. Always her head down, usually to the bars first. And if she found a coin, it meant that that day she could get a few tablespoons of oil in a little plastic bag, some corn meal, and if the children could find a piece of used charcoal, it meant they would have something to eat that day.
Rose said she was very sick during this time; she had sores all over her body. Sometimes she would send the children out to the dustbins looking for food but not much is thrown away in Uganda. Rose said that she thought it had been a mistake to have those children. That she wanted to put them back inside her. She also thought about poisoning them and herself to take them all out of this misery. And then, one day, she heard that if you got tested for AIDS, you would get food for a day.
Well, that’s when she met Dr. Charles. And Rose, she found out that she had full blown AIDS. She was sent home with medicine, food to take the medicine and a clock to know when to take the medicine. Now for many, hearing that news, it might be one of the worst days of our lives.
But for Rose, it was a day that things started changing. Rose found… uh, it was maybe two days later, Torkin came to visit Rose and taught her how to roll the beads. Rose could roll them as she was lying in bed recovering. And she found that you can really lead a full life with the right medication. Now all of Rose’s children are in school. She told me that hers was a good life and she was the first woman, the first beader that I met in Uganda. And she was the last that I saw the night before I was to fly out. She came to visit me and she said, “Connie, I want to thank you for not sitting on your soft chair in America.”
And she gave me a gift, a little doll made out of raffia. And she said, “Connie, I used to be like this, all scrunched up. But now I’m like this. My basket, it is full.” And Rose said, Bead for Life has brushed the dirt from my heart.