Shifting my weight from left to right, I was able to ease the pressure building on my thigh. A discomfort caused from balancing my weight on a bench only 6 inches wide. We joked about packing his friend into my suitcase on a return flight to America…. We considered whether or not airport security would notice the stowed-away passenger, or, if a person could survive the 15+ hour flight from Africa to the States. We teased and laughed at the thought.
The man seated beside me on the wooden bench was thin, like most Ugandans, with smooth skin and a genuinely jolly appearance.
He began to translate for the elderly man who was working diligently to repair my broken sandal.
At times we all quietly observed people moving through town, without a need to fill the air with small talks. It was a comfortable silence you would have with a close friend. Sitting in the side alley looking out, we could see a woman dressed in a white satin gomezi with purple flower print take a short break. She crouched down for about 15 minutes, leaning against the post centered perfectly in the cracked sidewalk. The bodas kicked up dust from the street construction and cars politely honked to signal their arrival as they merged back into traffic.
It was there, sitting under the cast iron stairway in the narrow corridor, that we find happiness. Each of the five men continued with their normal routine, managing their small businesses. The youngest man selling phone cases shared his rice with the eldest man, whom was seated below him on a small concrete block. A box with a pile of shoes queued for repairs rested patiently at the old mans feet.
The watch salesman quietly counted his shillings hidden in the lower drawer of the slim glass case, then stared into space. It seemed he was daydreaming about an extravagant lifestyle away from the hustle of Mbale Town street vendors.
The man seated on the brick ground in front of me greeted every neighbor that passed by. He took extra time with the young primary school boy whom came to pick up his repaired sneakers.
The boy tested the newly stitched soles with a few swivels, then looked up at me coyly with a smile of satisfaction.
Surely the boy was pleased to have his shoes back, with soles fully attached.
My bench mate and companion during the wait for shoe repair shared stories about his dream to visit Tijuana. He introduced me to the group of men working under the stairwell when I first arrived to inquire about sandal repairs. As we talked, he assisted the other two men with gluing the sandals, and completed the final inspection after the others completed the stitching.
After showing him the photo of his friend stitching the sandal, he comfortably took hold of my iPhone and scrolled through my pictures. Without words, I demonstrated how to zoom and sweep through pictures. He mostly enjoyed seeing pictures of sunset at Tororo Rock.
When a man approached, my bench mate quickly gave up his one foot section of butt space for the elderly customer. As he reached for his crutches, I noticed my bench mates well polished shoes, but, there was something strange with his right leg. He quickly left then returned with a small spool of thread requested by the customer.
Once they exchanged seats again the difference between my bench mate’s legs was obvious.
His right foot hung lifelessly, about one foot shorter then his left.
He told me about the organization for disabled Bugisu and the Savings Institution that they established for members. The group repairs tarpaulins and work side jobs to raise funds for their organization. I was invited to attend their Wednesday meeting, and in true Ugandan fashion, I was told that I would be “most welcome”.
As agreed, we exchanged 8000:/ ush for both pairs to have the deluxe mending; a combo of reinforced stitching with highly toxic glue. It was sad to crawl out from my bench below the staircase. My five new friends shared with me a new perspective of Uganda, as well as a new love for the people.
That two foot section of shared bench won my heart. And with newly repaired sandals, they won my feet.
(Cheesy enough for ya?). 😛
Want to learn more about the savings initiative for the disabled? Well then, Google this long beauty:
National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) Programmes for Economic Empowerment
Or just click here:
“We Can Manage”