Back in Kampala for just over a day, I had dinner tonight with the elusive Elinah, the oldest girl in our project. She's just finishing her first year studying public administration at university, and we had an amazing and textured conversation about comparative government, who she's going to vote for and why, why, on balance, she supports the way Kagame is running Rwanda ("he is doing everything for the genuine love of his country, not for his own interests -- you do not see the corruption of uganda"). We skirted a bit around the authoritarianism and the fact that "recently" women wearing miniskirts have been arrested. (I did wonder why all women's skirts, even suits, were so long).
We also talked about her family's history, and getting passed around from family to family, and the different cultural and superstitious traditions that continue. Some valuable to her -- the wedding goats and cows -- and some questionable. She was wryly hilarious about the male circumcision rituals of one of the tribes in the east ("he must be a WARRIOR," she said drily, and darkly outraged about the "big men" who believe that they need to sacrifice children or they will lose their wealth.
Over coffee and chocolate ganache in the comfy chairs in the hotel bar, my obsession with the wedding cows and goats continued. "Now it is maybe 4 or 5 cows," she said, "but it used to be 30." "Thirty?" I exclaimed, understanding that this is untold wealth for most rural people. "Who has 30 cows?"
"People have cows," she said darkly. For some reason, this struck me as guffaw-funny, even while the next sentence was about her aunt who brought 200 cows back to rwanda after the war ended, but then a year or so later, there were only 10 left. "They all died -- there was not enough grass, there was disease."
Even over cake in the sheraton bar, it's so elemental.