By Amandla Karungi
I had a dream. It was one of those dreams which allow you foresight into the mysterious world of the future. In this dream, my parents went away on a trip for a week and before the bumper of their car had disappeared, I eloped with my longtime boyfriend.
Going through the rabbit hole
It was a cloudy Monday morning on the first day of our newly formed institution. I jumped out of bed before the alarm went off and made breakfast. The breakfast was good, my shower was good, I washed the dishes and set the table. We sat down and ate together. I was content but a little sleepy. I went to work believing in my wifely powers.
Work was a blur. I spent most of my work hours planning a dazzling meal, a new take on everyday Ugandan cuisine. When I got home I was a little disappointed to hear that we had an engagement with some relatives to meet over dinner at a local eatery. My cooking skills were put on hold. If this had been a little further in the week, I would have treated the meet up with a little more gratitude. We came back home very late that night and I fell heavily onto our bed. I could hardly stand but I rolled myself into the shower. I had to be clean and presentable for I was now sharing a bed.
On Tuesday morning, the alarm went off and this time, a little more hesitantly, I walked to the kitchen wondering how many things one could do to avoid the breakfast monotony of eggs. I made French toast but I was plagued with worry about whether he would find a taste for brown bread, so I added a lot of cinnamon and honey to narrow the gap between white and brown. As I dressed for work, I attempted to style my defiant hair but it refused to be coerced into any definitive style. After accepting defeat, I appeared at work in a half straight, exhausted top knot with a few strands of broken hair across my cheek and blouse. How do you remain pretty when you don’t have time?
Tuesday evening had me shopping, chopping, marinating and cooking food for two hours before I realised I had not sat down since I got home. I remembered to prepare myself for the next day at the same time I remembered to serve supper. It was not until 11:00 pm, when all dishes were washed and laid out to dry, that I finally sat down to take care of my appearance. At midnight, the peaceful sound of rhythmic snoring rose up through the open door as I struggled with the last lines of hair to plait. I envied him.
Wednesday found me falling forward every few seconds with my mouth open at my work desk. I fought the sleep by starting conversations with co-workers, made a count down to lunch and researched what I would cook for supper. By evening, I started to see a lot of sense in Women’s day and Mother’s day; despite the fact that even on those days, the breakfast-in-bed dishes get washed by the woman or mother who is supposed to be getting a day off. By the time I went to sleep I couldn’t fathom the power and resilience that fuels the woman who is a wife, mother and part of the “official” working fraternity. I had finally figured out why every interview of a successful woman in the workplace begins with the question, “How do you manage the work-life balance?” It should really be, “What is this mythical creature called ‘Work-life balance?’ Does it even exist?”
Marriage is a job with after work hours and no leave. There is no time for soft hands and acrylic nails because your fingers will get dry, burned, cut and scorched from hot oil, sharp knives and dish washing liquid and if you dare go to the mirror to catch a glimpse of yourself, the rice will burn. It will burn.
There is no “Good morning sweetie, I missed you last night.” There is “Wake up, what’s for breakfast?” In a marriage there is no time for long loving looks or blowing air kisses because the dirty dishes are always staring at you.
In this life-long contract, only one party gets to have “power” naps (what does this even mean?), early bed times, late mornings, more TV time, and legs-up-on-the-couch wind down time. The other party gets a name, address, new identity and long overdue, deserved but altogether useless acknowledgment in the 25 year anniversary speech.
Bringing romance back
Peanut butter and jelly, Blueband and honey, what is marriage without romance? Or maybe what is a marriage with romance? Between practising tradition and respecting newly adopted cultures, where is the place for modern day Western world romance. Have we been fed lies? Maybe. But it’s too late to close down flower shops, restaurants and stop importing chocolate and lingerie. So on Thursday I tried to reignite the flame, after kitchen duty, but when I stepped out in my uncomfortably tight lingerie, he asked me why I was dressed like superman. Disappointed but also relieved because I could now sleep, I dropped to my side and had dreams about what to make for breakfast.
Going back to the present
I woke up on Friday. While walking to the kitchen with my eyes slightly ajar I remembered I hadn’t exercised in a week and I didn’t know what I did at my day job anymore. In the crazy nature of dreams, I saw the skin on my hands peeling and my wifely super powers being drained out of my plain fingernails. I grabbed my suitcases and ran out of our house screaming, “I lied! I never do dishes, at least not every day and not that frequently!” My crazy old lecturer appeared singing, “Good night and Good bye Irene” as he had in his last lecture and in the distance drums started beating furiously in the the jungle. When I began to question the likelihood of all these unrelated images and sounds, I was returned to earth by my alarm arising from a third time snooze.
As I walked sluggishly to the shower thinking only about myself, what I would wear, what I would eat, and nothing about what state I would leave my room in, I remembered the hardworking women who have lived through their marriage and motherhood roles in a way that made them seem so effortless. I acknowledged the unenviable unequal division of labour in a home which is pitted against women, especially in a new era where both men and women work the same jobs with the same hours and with the same pressure. Like many things in this life which involve the “Non-man”, i.e. the woman, the significance of our work-life struggle has not been given due attention.