CAFOD writer, Mark Chamberlain recently travelled to Uganda. This Mothering Sunday, he writes on some of the women he met and how they reminded him of his own family.
There was a point when I stood sheltering from those first welcome rains that everything seemed still. It was so strange. Teko Anna’s children running through that heavy roar – Daphne, her nine-year-old over there under the roof of her uncle’s house, jumping in the quickly forming puddles. The younger ones watching Daphne, following her, copying her actions with awkward limbs, splashing though the same puddles.
Proscovia now through the lines of water running with a box of ducklings, bringing them in from the rain.
But it felt still.
Teko Anna. Sitting. That beautiful, gentle smile. The concerned, serious eyes, but the smile – humane, knowing – spread across her face. Her stillness calming the entire scene.
It’s times like this – away from family, away from loved ones – when all you can do is wait. Wait and think. I’ve felt homesickness in these moments.
I remembered not my own mother, but my grandmother at that point. I am in my early teens. She sits in that small chair in the kitchen. The same smile – gentle, caring and beautiful – watching me, my brother and my mum bringing the washing in the spring showers.
Okay, a council terrace near a wasteground in Mitcham isn’t a homestead by a mountain in remote Uganda, but those moments I stole from my grandmother were exactly the same.
Throughout Lent, it’s been difficult for me not to think about Teko Anna. We met her when the entire region was lacking food. She was hungry, her children were hungry. The gravity of the situation was there in her eyes: serious, concerned. But she wasn’t the only one. Other mothers I met were the same – Dengel Cecelia, Longora Atido – wondering when the rains would come, when their food would grow.
I look at pictures of Longora Atido now with her baby. I can remember how hungry she was. I can remember she had very little. But the pictures capture perfectly moments where her unconditional love perhaps conquered the seriousness of her situation. Then my favourite pictures of Dengel Cecelia there in her dark, simple home. The only items, blankets on the floor. Like the other women, she and her children needed food. But some of her children are sitting with her and perhaps it’s sentimentality, or perhaps it’s blind optimism, but I like to think that the happiness I witnessed that is captured in those pictures transcends culture, religion, race and geography.
Teko Anna, Daphne and Violet
That picture of Teko Anna, Daphne and the baby Violet that I like so much. It’s the one where Teko Anna is joking with her daughter and Daphne looks like she’s saying something mischievous. I wonder why I like it and I think it’s because it shows Teko Anna not as a person who has lived with water poverty, or someone who has had to leave school to fetch water, or even someone who is very hungry. It shows her as a mother, a mother who kids her children, who cares for and loves her children.
When I go and see my mum today, I’ll know that that those moments in the rain when Teko Anna didn’t know I was watching her smiling, and the picture of her with Daphne and Violet, aren’t unique to her family, or their village. They are unique to us as human beings.