Thursday, January 9, 2014

Don't Fence Me In

As I recline on my living room sofa pondering the events of the day, a pair of brown eyes shaded by a ball cap peek into my kitchen window. Several pairs of eyes pass by that window – and my front door and every other window on two sides of my house – every hour. Back and forth between the water source and the construction project, they’re hauling two very heavy jerry cans full of water each time they pass. It seems the distance and weight requires several resting breaks for even the strongest arms and my kitchen window happens to be the spot…for everyone.

Land planning is pretty much nonexistent in more rural areas of Uganda, which means pretty much anything goes. Walking through someone’s compound is perfectly acceptable even if there is a road by which to pass…which there isn’t. And so every day these construction helpers along with scads of random adults, children, and animals pass within three feet of my front door on their way to who knows where. Some of the bolder even step up onto the veranda and cup their hands around their eyes to peek inside my door…only to find me staring back at them (at least when I’m home…I don’t know who stares back at them when I’m not home).

When the house was originally built, I was urged to build a fence…and I absolutely refused. Fences are typically intended for security purposes and I just didn’t want to keep friends and neighbors out. (Note the friends and neighbors part.) Then I agreed to at least receive a quote for building a fence, and quickly added cost to my list of reasons to avoid a fence.

Once the heavy traffic patterns were evident, I began pondering the idea of a fence, however distasteful, and realized how very American I was in thinking that it was so rude for people to trespass. The number of times a stranger…or even someone I know…passed through my yard in Ada could be counted on one finger. And yet, I’m not in America anymore now am I. As I began reflecting and observing I realized it’s perfectly acceptable to pass through anyone’s plot for any reason at any time. Well…maybe that’s not true, but it happens all the time without any noticeable consequence.

Now that I can count more than 25-50 unknown people and animals passing within three feet of two sides of my house every day…I’m thinking more about creative solutions to redirect these passersby without making me untouchable, violating cultural norms, putting a social barrier between me and neighbors, or costing an arm and a leg.

I’m thinking a half-height chain link (eventually covered in flowers, likely to be eaten by the goats) on three sides…just enough to redirect passersby to alternate routes and not become a giant eyesore in the hood. Now if I could just keep the neighbors from hitching their cows and goats thereby effectively removing the posts from their cement hideaways.