By Esther Namirimu
Christmas is family time and to many, there is no better way to end the year than with the extended family in the countryside.
Upcountry routes usually get jammed with traffic as people travel to the ‘villages’ with their families. To the corporate urban woman, hoever, this comes with a lot of challenges.
Imagine a situation where the woman becomes the centre of focus for all her in-laws. In many cultures, a woman is expected to portray a good image to her in-laws. This may include doing much of the chores, kneeling for them, pampering them and generally doing whatever it takes to please or seek their approval.
To many urban women, therefore, having Christmas in the village under the watchful eye of their in-laws is not something they would wish for, yet many times they are obliged to be by their husband’s side.
Choking on smoke
Jasmine, a mother of three, who lives in Kampala and employs maids to do most of the work at her home, says she never imagined that Christmas in the village would not be an experience she would want to remember or even tell her friends about.
“The first two Christmas holidays I had with my husband’s relatives in the village were a nightmare. Having grown up in town, I was not used to certain things like cooking with firewood. But being the youngest daughter-in-law, everyone left the cooking to me. They wanted to see if I could cook traditional dishes well.
The second time, I wanted to carry a gas cylinder, but my car was small and I had so many people to give a lift. After two Christmas holidays, I gave my husband a condition that if I had to enjoy Christmas in his village, I had to carry a gas cooker and charcoal.
At first, he did not take me seriously, but I lured him into the kitchen when I was cooking. I kept on stirring the sauce, telling him to wait for a few minutes, after which I gave him meat and he went out of the kitchen with teary eyes.
Life gets better
After that incident, he bought a gas cooker and also fitted a sink in the kitchen. Nowadays, I hire someone to help me cook. All I do is supervise the cooking to ensure that everything goes on well. After that, the older daughter-in-law also asked for biogas.
The biggest challenges I faced was proving to my in-laws that I could also cook traditional dishes. When it came to sleeping time, my sister in-law always dictated where I should sleep. I was not happy with this because this was my husband’s house and being his wife, I had the right to decide where to sleep.
My husband was always on her side because she is the eldest in the family. One day, I took her aside and told her that that as my house village easier.” She backed off in a good way. But everything is now okay since we bought some equipment to make life in the village easier.”
Work and work
For Annet Namanda, a mother of two, the mention of having Christmas in the village with her mother-in-law sends chills down her spine.
“We normally have Christmas at the home of my mother-in-law, with my husband and children. But as soon as I arrive, she stops doing work and asks me to take over. Imagine preparing a huge mound of matooke and other dishes for about 20 people!
We usually arrive on Christmas eve and I am expected to start cooking right away. I do not sleep that night and in the morning, the whole family leaves me behind, cooking, as they go to church. To make matters worse, most of the cooking is by firewood, in a ramshackle, windowless structure.
All I eat is smoke
The smoke makes me tear, choke and smell. Surprisingly, my husband has never done anything to save me from this torture. He keeps telling me that I have to be humble before his people. By lunch time, I am sweating all over and my eyes are red from smoke.
Towards meal time, most of my husband’s relatives in the neighbourhood converge at my mother-in-law’s home and I am expected to serve them the Christmas meal. I hardly enjoy the food since I am always on my toes attending to their needs.
Immediately after lunch, I have to do the dishes, clean up the kitchen and put the house in order. This usually takes about three hours and by the time I am through with that, my husband has already left with his siblings to have fun in the trading centre.
Since I am too tired by this time, I always take a shower, jump into bed and mourn my wasted Christmas. But this seems to annoy my mother-in-law, who keeps saying sleeping is a sign of laziness.
Cooking and cleaning become my daily routine, until we return home a week later. Besides, I am not allowed to wear trousers or short skirts. Imagine the look of me in a long kitenge, with a head scarf.
When I rebelled
Last year, I asked my husband that we should have Christmas in Kampala and he refused. I kept pleading, but he gave me a deaf ear.
Later, he told me that if I did not want to go, he would travel with his children. I stood my ground and he took the whole family and left me behind.
For the first time in seven years, I had a happy Christmas at my parents’ home, with my siblings. We all took part in the cooking and it was fun being home once again. This time, I do not know what I am going to do because all signs are pointing to his village, yet I am not ready to rebel again.”
The situation is quite different for Namuwaya, a mother of one. She says her in-laws treat her like a princess whenever they go for Christmas and all she does is hang out with her husband.
“As my in-laws get busy with work on Christmas eve, my husband whisks me away, saying we are going for shopping.
"We usually remain there, drinking until late in the evening and by the time we return, most of the work is done. My husband keeps telling them that I should be allowed time to rest since my work is too stressful.
"So for me, there is no better way to enjoy Christmas than in the village where all the cooking is done for me.”