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Mid-Term Break in Uganda

Photo: Gabriela Sakita

“No school today!” yes, it’s true. My son’s fancy private school in Uganda has a week-long break each term for no apparent reason. Somehow, we pay more but get less school days. But then again, I understand. Being surrounded by ten 3-year olds 8:00am to 4:00pm every day sounds draining; it’s a wonder the teachers stay so patient and sane.

Now, here I am taking another one for the team. Last week, I won Mother of the Year when I taught an origami boat folding class to the kids in my son’s class. They all made a boat and then the teacher filled a tub of water to set them out on their maiden voyage. To keep their spirits up, I kept folding boats as each one eventually sank. The pulp of the shipwrecks obscuring the bottom was eventually used in a splash fight.

My son’s an early riser, a rumbling ball of energy when I’m still sleepy. Morning hugs are followed by brainstorming ideas of how to fill the hours together. The cheapest diversions involve exploring our village. I make an executive decision, to the jackfruit tree!

Our simple breakfast hits the spot. Eggs fried over a charcoal stove and a ginger-spiked black tea boiled using firewood. Even my overexcited son can appreciate a slow and calm cup of tea. It gives us a chance to really listen to the bird songs of five different species, or was it six?

Every good excursion around our village has a detour to a neighbor’s house, whether or not they are home. The neighbor on the way to get jackfruit has a mango tree with plenty of low branches stemming from the base of the trunk. Perfect for a taller than average 3-year old to climb. The second I see him wobble on a branch, I take a step back and invite him to jump into my arms. No other dismount will do. As I catch him, I use his momentum to swing him around, spinning 3 times. The way he laughs while I plant kisses on his smiling face is really the sweetest sound.

Continuing down our dirt road, we wave and say “Jambo” to the pods of moms and kids on front porches as we pass by. These kids are not on a mid-term break from an international school- these kids are unschooled. The moms are selling tiny banana pancakes, slightly sweet fritters or salty cassava fries. Older kids are helping shell peas and beans or watching over their younger siblings. Almost all of them wear torn or faded clothing, but they are clean and proud. Other women work as farm day laborers, babies tied to their backs as they pummel the earth with the blade of their garden hoes.

Giving baby a bath for village moms is a thrice per day chore. Families living on $4 per day don’t have the luxury of disposable diapers every day. Local folklore has it that putting waist beads on the baby improves their body shape as they grow up. They waddle around their front porches wearing nothing but waist beads.

There are hidden class distinctions everywhere you look in Uganda. Working class parents are able to send their girls to government schools that require shaved heads. Village moms of unschooled kids at least get a creative outlet when styling their girls’ hair. Colorful beads and braid patterns are tied into interesting silhouettes.

When we finally get to the jackfruit tree, there are two for us to purchase. They aren’t as big nor bright green as last season but the others on the tree don’t look ripe, so we accept what we can get. My son finds a giant stick and uses it to have a sword fight with a fledgling banana tree. “Bring the stick with you” I say when it’s time to go back home. I know how to pick my battles.

The mom helping us bring the jackfruit home asks me about my other children. She’s shocked when I say that I have only one. I am also a proud stepmom but we keep the conversation short. Her girl and my son run up ahead of us on the dirt road leading to my house. I yell when a motorcycle comes. “Boda is coming, run to the side of the road!” The other mom yells something to the same effect in her tribal language. I notice that she looks 3 or 4 months pregnant.

I pay the nice lady 5,000 Uganda Shillings, around $1.40, a day’s profits for many of the women selling cassava fries and fritters. She’s pleased and thankful and tells us goodbye.

My sister-in-law comes over with the machete and hacks it into big pieces. The fruit is slightly tannic and under-ripe. It’s sweet and tart but too young to reveal its true potential. My son “yums” and smacks and bites off more. He’s enjoying the hard-won treat. I take one last twisty pinch of fruit before I turn to him. Kissing his face as he laughs and basks in my love. I know the pride and joy all moms have. We receive as much as we give.


Shoshana Kirya-Ziraba is a married mom and lifestyle columnist who lives in Uganda. She is also the executive director of Tikvah Chadasha, an organization working to assist impoverished women and children with vocational opportunities and education. Email her at


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