This summer I spent three months give or take a week in Uganda. I stayed at an organization created to rescue girls from the slums and many times the sex trade. The organization is called Pure and Faultless. The pace where the girls live and I visited is called Rahab’s Corner. The director of Pure and Faultless Uganda is Wangira Juamh. In Africa the last name comes first.
I was there to interview the girls so that I use their stories for a book I am writing about the remarkable work Juamj and his sister, Sanyu Moreen, the one who dreamed up the idea, are accomplishing. It all started with Moreen’s dream. Here is an anecdote from my time with these beautiful people.
The queen’s wave is iconic. Everyone knows it. The shoulder is set to square and flat. All the way to the elbow, the upper arm lies pressed close to the chest. The hand-held around the shoulder level achieves its loft by a tight angle at the elbow. A pound note would be safely stored between the lower part of the upper arm and the forearm. The hand travels at a forty-five degree; the actual degree may vary, arc starting with the pinkie held toward her adoring subjects. In a clockwise motion, assuming she is using her right hand, she sweeps the jeweled and often gloved appendage around culminating in a full frontal palm.
My wave is a bit more organic. You might even say less formulaic, so there is no need to delve into the slight degree changes that occur when I am greeting someone with a hand gesture. Our setups are the same, the Queen’s and mine. The engine of our greetings is where the real difference lies. Her’s in the write, mine in the big bumps at the end of your hand.
The joints that scrape and make it impossible to get your drivers license out between the seat and the console. Having shot from your quaking hands when the state trooper climbed out of his car, the card is just out of reach thanks to those bumps. As the trooper places his hat on his head and his approach begins, you hold your bleeding in hand in other unsure of the best course of action.
The paramount thought in this situation should be the attending to the rehearsal of your excuse for driving so fast. Instead, your brain is calculating. Do you have the time to open the door and climb on to the seat to get a better angle to snatch up the elusive permit? Or waiting, sharing your knuckle dilemma with the officer and hoping he won’t watch as you bend over the seat outside of the car to retrieve the aforementioned document.
Those knuckle joints are the power source of my particular brand of to and fro-ness greeting. I guess you could call me a finger waver. It doesn’t make as much difference to me, as it would, say the Queen if my digits are pointed outward or to the side as I flap them in Hello! What is essential is the subtle motion of my fingers.
For my first few weeks at Rahab’s Corner, I routinely respond like this to lusty waves from various souls on our ways to and fro. Without exception, the initiator of the greeting would hustle right over to me. I would then hail them with a good fill in the time of day acknowledgement. We both waited expectantly for the other to say something. When nothing was forthcoming, we’d shrug, smile, and continue on our way.
One afternoon, from my room, I was headed to the kitchen. With some effort, I had corralled my flip flops on to my feet. The effort had to do with picking mine sandals out of the pile of shoes by the door. Africans take their shoes off outside of the house. Immersed as I was in listening to the flop swish of my tread on the tile walk, a movement out of the corner of my eye distracted my wondering if I could identify the sound of each tread. Glancing over, I saw Juamh in some haste coming down the stairs toward me from his office. He stopped mid-stair and waved. I smiled and waved back. I noticed that he too employed the same finger wag as I. He, again, twitched his digits in my direction. I did the same laughing at this odd encounter.
His smile turned upside down as his eyes squinted in puzzlement. He said with the slightest hight of impatience, “Come here. I want to ask you something.”
“Oh, Okay why didn’t you say so?”
“I did,” he responded as I made my way over to him. He turned his back up the stairs and disappeared into his office. I followed.
“I thought you were waving at me.”
“This,” he demonstrated a perfect replica of my wave, means “come here. This,” he lifted his arm up in the air with his hand well over his head and to and fro-ed it boldly with the fulcrum at the elbow, “means Hello.”