Editor: Christopher Conte:

Individual Contributions

Publisher: CreatesSpace Independent Publishing Platform

ISBN: 978-1-5075-8022-3

With an eclectic mix of fifteen essays, Editor Christopher Conte in Crossroads: Women Coming of Age in Today's Uganda has put together a broad base of themes contributed by several women authors from Uganda.

As Conte writes in the Introduction, the goal of these stories is to illuminate a culture through autobiography rather than create another travelogue in which outsiders dissect Africa. It should be pointed out that the contributors did not want to have anything to do with fitting African stories to stereotypes depicting the continent as either long suffering and helpless (and hence in need of rescue) or as “somehow noble and attached to nature (and hence the envy of some people in the 'developed' world).”

I have to admit after reading these essays that the anthology succeeds beautifully and there is no question that they are rarely short on impact. It is not often that we have the opportunity to have a peek into the lives of a wide variety of women from Uganda who are not timid in exploring a plethora of topics including some that are extremely personal while others painful.

Take for example Shifa Mwesigye's Seengas and the Single Women where readers are enlightened about the ancient Ugandan tradition of seengas who are paternal aunts and assume special responsibilities similar to godparents. In addition to teaching young girls how to behave, these women also teach young virgin girls about their bodies, including shaving and washing their lady parts, how to act in bed with their husbands and the movements they are expected to follow. They are also compelled to adopt the tradition of “visiting the bush” and the painful “pulling” or elongating the labia minora of the vagina, which is often performed when girls are in the bush on errands such as collecting firewood.

Mweisigye points out us that initially she did not know why she was forced to follow this tradition, however, eventually she learned that elongating the labia was meant to help future husbands enjoy sex. Apparently, it was believed to help keep the vagina warm and enhance foreplay. And as she states: “it seems, a woman's life of service begins with reshaping her body.”

In The Girl with the Scars, Hilda Twongyeirwe describes her horrendous ordeal with ugly scars that were spread over her legs that made her the butt of many jokes and teasing at the hands of her peers. It seems that one day she awoke with an itch on her left leg and she scratched it. This in turn led to the spreading of boils on both of her legs and the doctors were at a loss as to their cause. Everything was attempted to rid this poor girl of these boils including applying various creams, witchcraft, as well as other remedies.

Finally, a long trip to a woman who was not exactly enamoured with the white man's medication nor their hospitals came to the rescue. Her remedy was the mixing of herbs in a calabash, and smearing them on Hilda's legs. She then mixed another set and gave her to drink informing her that the white man's medicine is extracted from our herbs. and that is why they are potent. After one week all the wounds had dried and there were no more new boils. Hilda concludes her essay with the following: “Today the scars remain but with passage of time, the feeling is different. I do not think about the scars, even when I decide to wear a mini skirt or shorts. As my mother always told me, it is not the teeth that smile but the heart.”

As Conte states, the stories definitely shatter stereotypes as the authors bring with them a fresh perspective to topics ranging from religion and politics to sports and health.

They are also an impressive testament to the precision of Conte's eye and his editing pencil in including them in the anthology. Although, as Conte mentions, Westerners may find the stories at times surprising in fact they are really not surprising. Moreover, even though we may come from a different culture, we can still identify with them as these women seem remarkably like their counterparts in America and Europe with their various concerns.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Interview With Christopher Conte

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a unbiased review.