It takes a village

by Lorien E. Menhennett

The colorful interior wall of the hut where I stayed at Sina Village in Mpigi, Uganda. Read on for more details about the hut’s unique construction.

Last Thursday and Friday, I was Gombe Hospital to present my palliative care curriculum. There weren’t any hotels nearby. So Thursday night, I stayed at a place called Sina Village in Mpigi, 30-45 minutes from the hospital. It was intended as just a place to eat and sleep, and maybe write or work if I had some energy. These trips away are exhausting, so I knew I’d crash hard Thursday night.

Staying at Sina Village brought me so many smiles.

But it was so much more. By far my favorite accommodations away from Naggalama, Sina Village was a peaceful, rural respite. And by that, I mean as I sat on the private veranda of my little hut, staring out at the lush, green countryside, I actually felt at peace — something that’s hard to come by anywhere, and almost impossible in New York City. I find the sounds of human activity distracting. Birds, crickets, and cows, on the other hand, somehow allow me space to think. Sonic salve.

It did take me a little while to adjust to the environment, though. I checked in late Thursday morning, and before going to Gombe Hospital for my 2 p.m. presentation, made myself some coffee for a little energy boost. As I was stirring the sugar in, an unfamiliar burst of sound hit me like a wave.

Moooooooooooooooooooo …

The sound didn’t register as anything I’d ever heard while standing in my own bedroom. It sounded like it was coming from my veranda, its mysterious maker on the verge of storming my little hut. I almost dropped my precious cup of coffee.

Regaining my nerves, I cautiously stepped onto the veranda and peered outside.

I’ve been around cows plenty. But standing in my bedroom and hearing one moo? That was a first.

A cow.

A cow? Yes, “mooooo,” of course. I knew the sound, have been around cows plenty and heard their distinctive wail, but have never heard one while standing in my bedroom.

I chuckled at my skittishness — a genetic trait I inherited from my maternal grandmother, I am sure — and at my city slicker reaction.

For the next 24 hours of my stay, plaintive mooooing pealed outside at irregular intervals. At each moo, I smiled.

The bottle hut where I stayed at Sina Village, built with recycled plastic water and soda bottles. The lovely veranda is behind the hut. I will post photos of the view from it soon.

The construction of my “bottle hut,” too, made me smile. “Bottle hut” was literal nomenclature. The building was constructed of plastic water and soda bottles, which had been packed with the ubiquitous, red Ugandan earth and laid like bricks with cement to hold them in place. The picture at the top of this blog post is of my interior wall; below are photos of bottle hut exteriors. The gray-toned hut is where I stayed. The earth-toned hut was down the path from me.

Another aspect of my hut’s exterior made me smile. Each hut at Sina Village had the name of a different African country stenciled onto its metal door. Appropriately, I stayed in “Uganda.”

A view of my bed, and of my “private bathroom.”

I spent an extra $10 for a private bathroom and veranda. “Private bathroom” really means “private toilet.” To wash your hands or take a shower, you have to go outside to the common bathroom facilities. This isn’t what I’m used to, but it did not detract from my stay.

These amazing huts are constructed by local people (see photos below of bottles waiting to be packed with dirt, and a partially constructed hut). Sina Village is not only a cluster of little huts for lodgers. It has a mission — to teach entrepreneurship and job skills. This is much needed in Uganda, where so many people are subsistence farmers, and good jobs are hard (to impossible) to come by.

The place was magical. So were the people. In particular, Flavia, the woman who coordinated my meals and other needs while there, was so kind and welcoming. She also made the best beans and rice I’ve had in Uganda.

If I’m ever in Mpigi again, this is where I will stay.

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