It's incredible to see the way different people flourish when they're fulfilling their dreams, isn't it? As I walked into the office yesterday, I had absolutely no idea the ways I'd see this confirmed. Anena Nassarine grabbed my arm with a you-have-no-idea-what-I-have-planned-for-you smile of excitement on her face. "Work is finished for the day. I want you to see my home," Nassarine was bursting at the seams. I couldn't say no and to be honest, seeing women away from the workplace have been some of the richest experiences I've had in Gulu. "Yes! Now or now-now?" "Now-now. Let us go."
Anena Nassarine is a natural leader and she communicates this daily by taking time to intricately cut all of the fabric for the other ladies. She adores her job and is an incredible worker: she's one of the first to arrive, one of the last to leave, and sometimes I'll find her working away on a saturday morning as a deadline is approaching. As we hopped out the front door, I could see in her mannerisms that she was excited. "It's not far. Do you see that mango tree? It's near." We crossed the street and weaved in and out of mud huts like a well-constructed obstacle course at 5th grade summer camp. We arrived at her hut to find that we were anything but alone; the air was filled with a thick smoke and my ears were filled with the delight of local music blaring from a single radio... surrounded by a swarm of dancing children. As we passed, they let out cries of "munu, munu!" ("white person, white person!")
We entered her hut and without missing a beat, she offered me a seat. Her home was immaculate, split into three separate areas: one for seating, one for sleeping, and one for cutting. The children outside were peeking in, shouting "ah, she has a very big bag!" Many women keep small photo albums, collecting photographs of themselves, their family, and friends. She opened hers and glimpsed each face, recalling what seemed like bittersweet memories and old faces. She began to tell me about her family: stories of her beautiful daughter (3 years) who is staying at the Bobo IDP camp some 15 kilometers away with her sister and her husband whom she only sees on weekends because he's studying construction. At only 20 years old, she confessed, "I live alone, my baby will begin nursery school in January. She will be here, I am so happy." She revealed that she was one of five children and her mother passed away when she was very young. I asked about her siblings; her brother was kidnapped by the rebels and escaped some years ago.
I asked her what life looked like before she worked with One Mango Tree. "Uh-uh" she shook her head strongly, "work wasn't there." "An organization connected me with Halle. I am so thankful." We sat together, in a silence filled with heavy gratitude. I could feel the weight of her heart and through the silence, I could see very clearly the distinct ways in which the model of One Mango Tree had lifted her to a place of opportunity and empowerment. We stepped outside and the families around welcomed us as we all began to dance, each in our own way, to the music from that single tiny radio.