Village Life: Sleeping

Before arriving in Kamega, I tried to imagine where people slept in the mud and grass compound houses. On the bus, we passed by villages, but I had yet to enter these houses. I pictured 6 to 7 people lying on the ground in various directions to fit in the squat, round, window-less huts. I prepared myself for claustrophobia: darkness; hot, stale air; sleeping bodies sardined in a small circle.

Looking back, I definitely let my imagination run away with itself. In Kamega, the round huts house small livestock, indoor kitchens or pantries. People sleep inside the spacious rectangular rooms. Men with multiple wives and unmarried adult children often have their own rooms, while women sleep with their children or grandchildren and young siblings share a room. Some monogamous couples also share a room.

Most people sleep on thin mats woven from plastic fibers, and they cover up with a thin sheet. Very few ¬†families own mattresses. In the past, they made mats from dry, reed-like elephant grass. When a person dies, their body will be wrapped in the grass mat and buried. In the adjacent yard, Ipalo was making an elephant grass mat. She wanted to be sure that there would be a mat for her funeral. Ipalo is the first wife of Attiah, Robert’s oldest brother. Wizened with age, crouched, slightly deaf and blind, Ipalo is the person to ask about Apiim family history. Her keen memory recalls hundreds of names and past events that shaped the present family. Despite her frail appearance, Ipalo, like all women in the village, is a powerhouse. Regardless of her age, she fetches water, cooks and maintains her own yard.

Where did I sleep? Robert kindly offered up his own room for me to sleep in. For the first two weeks, I slept in Robert’s room on a small student mattress (similiar to camping mats) under a mosquito net next to Awinso, my sister in the village. Awinso is Robert’s 15-year-old, great niece, and the family arranged for her to share the village experience with me as my closest friend and sister. After two weeks, the rainy season ended, and we were able to move our mats and mosquito net outside, sleeping in the breeze beneath the glow of nambo (the moon) and the twinkle of wobibi (stars).

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