Family Reunions, African Style

In December I attended three different family gatherings. The first one was in a suburb of Kigali, Rwanda. Most of the main roads in Kigali have been paved. But the journey to this house was bumpy indeed - I was much relieved when we finally got there! The gathering included brothers, sisters, in-laws, kids and other visitors from Italy and Zimbabwe. Annabelle and I enjoyed talking to a Rwandan girl our age about many things. Then they served the appetizer: maze on the cob (maze is like corn). Then we went back to our conversation. 8:00: No dinner. 8:30: No dinner. 9:00: No dinner. Dinner wasn’t served till 9:30! By that time Sammy and Addy were asleep. The dinner was excellent, though, and I tried rabbit for the first time. By the time we left at 10:45, we were all completely exhausted.

Our second family gathering was in Malube, Uganda. When we arrived, we were greeted by Father Joe and Father Emanuel, brothers and friends of my dad (I mean brothers as in they have the same parents, not monastery brothers). The family calls us the Musaazi and Mirembe family; my Dad's local name is Musaazi, which means joyful, happy, and a little crazy. My Mom is called Mirembe, which means calm, controlled, and serene. I think these names capture my parents pretty well!

After we greeted a few people, we went to greet the family elder, the 93-year-old mother of Father Joe and Father Emanuel. As is the custom in Uganda, we knelt as we shook her hand. My dad compared her to the late Grandma Flora of the Baltz family, in that they were both the rock of the family, or matriarch. As with the Baltz reunion, this family also celebrated a Mass together. There was a lot of singing, and many people voiced their prayers of thanksgiving and blessings.

After Mass, we enjoyed a huge lunch provided by a local catering company. Unfortunately I ate it with a Merinda Fruity, a local soda that’s way too sweet! Then all the kids went to the field at the side of the house and played where Father Joe and Emmanuel had 40 years earlier. We all made new friends, but then a man herded us back to our seats to hear another brother, a preacher, preach. He was a good preacher. Maybe a little too good. He preached and preached and preached and preached get the idea. He had 2 wives and 16 children, and he introduced them to us. That's a lot of kids!

The third family reunion happened near Kampala. Unfortunately, Dad drove our car into a rut about 100 meters before our destination. We couldn’t get it out. A car came up behind us, and one guy started lifting the car with a simple jack. Then a third car came (we created a village traffic jam!), and with the extra manpower we finally pushed the car out. We learned that it really takes a village!

We finally reached the house and entered. After some initial greetings, an old man came in and sat next to me.

“How are you doing?” he asked me.

“Good. How are you doing?” I said cordially. He said he was fine.

Unfortunately I soon realized that man was the village elder! I was very embarrassed, as I realized that I should have kneeled in front of him in keeping with the local custom. Soon lunch was served. It was very good, and I listened to the grownups talk while I ate. I had a cold, so I decided to go outside. The fresh air helped a whole lot. Sammy and some of his friends were playing football/soccer, and I briefly joined. Annabelle was playing a dare game with her friends. Some rules you should know about dare games:

1. Stay far away. Out of sight, out of mind.

2. If some natural barrier prevents you from staying away, DON’T PLAY.

3. If an invisible magnet pulls you towards the game, make sure you don’t lose.

4. If you see it fit to disobey rules 1, 2, and 3, than try to worm out of doing something embarrassing by double daring yourself not to, finding a loophole, or just flat out refusing.

5. And remember the beyond the last ditch resort: Grin and Bear it.

So Annabelle and her friends were happily disregarding all of my rules. Here are some dares they said:

1. Hug your mom(not so bad right? It gets worse.)

2. Hug Sammy

3. Hug RJ(and for the record nobody asked me if I was OK with being hugged)

4. Shake your butt in public places

5. Catch a chicken

Of course, nobody asked the chicken how it felt. Ridiculous isn’t it? A bunch of children chasing Gallus Gallus Domesticus around a cornfield. Speaking of talking to chickens my sister has been doing a survey of chickens around Uganda, asking them,

“Why did the chicken cross the road,” Among other answers, she has got,

“Bak! Bak!” As well as,

“Bak! Bak!” And,

“Bak! Bak!” Whatever they’re saying, the chickens seem to agree why a red, domesticated jungle fowl would cross a road.

Before we left, our host took us on a tour of the farm. He and his sister had a LOT of pigs - little pigs, medium pigs, and big pigs. Just a hunch, but I feel certain my sister will not want to eat bacon any time soon!

I was so busy looking at pigs that I got lost behind the main group. Luckily, I soon found them. I guess some of them were still harboring a grudge about the earlier failed capture of the chicken, because they were chasing yet another clucking bird around the yard. I said hello to the grandmother, who lived at the house we were at, and this time I remembered to kneel! Unfortunately, it was time to go, so we said Welaba (goodbye in Luganda).

These are the three family gatherings I have attended in Africa. They happened in 3 towns in 2 different countries, but a feeling of familial love and joy prevailed at all of them. And though they were very unique, the word reunion could be used to describe every one. They all celebrated old reunions, and made new ones.

R.J., age 13.