Book Report: A Girl Is a Body of Water

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was sort of sad to finish my latest relaxation read, A Girl Is a Body of Water, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, because I sure was enjoying my education in the culture, food, and clothing of Uganda. Basically, all I knew about Uganda before was Idi Amin, and he certainly isn’t something worth representing an entire culture with. Well, and I knew the Gandan people spoke Lagala there (among other languages), from when I studied linguistics. I guess that put me one step ahead of most people in my culture.

I also really like the cover.

Do you have to be interested in the culture of Uganda during the 20th Century to read this book? Absolutely not, because the story is beautiful, interesting, and very captivating. You grow to love the characters as you learn more and more about them, especially Kirabo, the main character, and Nsuuta, the blind woman of mystery who is inextricably linked to Alikisa, Kirabo’s grandmother. You just want to know what’s going on with this fascinating and many-layered family!

But for me, the information about traditional Ugandan culture, how it changed with colonialism, through Amin’s reign, to more modern times, was fascinating. The book does a fantastic job of delving deep into the traditional and modern roles of women in Uganda, which parts change and which parts stay traditional. Many of the women Makumbi writes about were among the first to try to do things differently, and you might be surprised at some of the consequences and who encouraged and discouraged them. The way feminism and traditional roles came together in A Girl Is a Body of Water was really skillful.

Makumbi does a great job of introducing new Ugandan words, ideas, and concepts in the course of developing the plot, so it’s easy to learn as you go. I found it fun to try to figure out what some of the words meant, especially foods and items of clothing. I admit to looking some words up, like luwombo, which is a kind of stew-ish dish served in banana leaves. Some words, though, I waited until I could figure them out from context. That is MY idea of a good time. YOU might want to keep Google handy.

Luwombo, from an online brochure. It can feature any meat.

The culture stuff was really fun to learn, too, like what constituted beauty to them, how who was related to whom was calculated, who counts as “family,” and how the deal about having multiple mothers in households with more than one wife worked. It sounded like a lot of love, actually. It was fun to imagine living in a society so different from mine, with different mores and guidelines, but that made perfect sense in its context.

I’m glad I finally was able to get around to reading this book, which I’d had to put off for a while. If you are like me and enjoy learning history through the eyes of women in a culture, you will enjoy this book very much. It’s going to stick with me, and I’ll always wonder how Kirabo did after the book ended. Hey, a sequel, that would be fine with me!

Controversial? I Stopped Shaving My Legs

What. The. Heck. Have I no shame? Can’t I just keep stuff to myself? Why yes, I have shame, but not about this. And yes, I keep things to myself! Not this, anymore.

Undercover legs. I have sun allergies.

I started thinking about growing up with the modern feminist movement. One reason I love jeans so much is that girls weren’t allowed to wear pants at my elementary school! The minute that changed in sixth grade, I refused to wear dresses for a LONG time. Can you imagine?

Eighth grade chorus photo. Who is wearing pants? Me.

One reason I liked pants is that teen girls HAD to shave their legs (white girls; black girls didn’t back then). I had pretty darned hairy legs, so I spent more time than I liked with the shaving. Yuck. But I had to do it. The one Orthodox Jewish girl whose parents didn’t let her got whispered about. Poor kid.

16th birthday. Big pants! Low waist! Pigtails (not fashionable, just weird me).

I aged into college and tried my best to be one of the cool radicals. But, “real” feminists and fans of being “real” women read The Joy of Sex and didn’t shave themselves. Check out that book’s illustrations some time. Teen Suna did.

I just could not stand my hairy legs. I felt feminist guilt, but I just was too brainwashed by my culture to go against the norms. It still baffles me why that was so. It’s not like I was conventional in other ways.

Fast forward. Rather than becoming more accepting of natural body hair, the US went way overboard the other way. Women got Brazilians, which appeared to be making little stripes on their privates. Then they started going hairless, except on their heads. Not for me. I thought that all looked painful, itchy, and expensive. It did make a nice tattoo canvas (another trend I prefer to observe rather than participate in).

Now trendy men shave all over, too. I keep thinking how prickly day-old arm stubble must be for the Property Brothers’ partners. Day old beards, though, that’s still trendy. Um, enjoy trendy celebs.

Then I began to notice young women bucking the trend. I sure admired that. The partners of both my sons, who are gender fluid, don’t shave, far as I know.

And as I thought about how femininity has never been my favorite mode, and how no one looks at blue-haired old ladies anyway, I gave myself permission to stop with the shaving and rashes and all that.

My legs.

As they grew out, I realized they are a lot less hairy than they used to be. I’m okay with them. The first time I went outside with leg hair, I felt the breeze on my legs. How strange! I’d not felt that since age 11!

I’ve been swimming in the hot tub and pool here, and no one seems to have noticed. There are even a few other people in covered bathing attire, even men. And there are the deep tanners. But, I enjoyed hot tubbing with a Muslim woman, because I’d always wondered if they got to enjoy pools. Yes! All covered up and happy.

Mr. Sparrow is not offended.

So, hooray for my legs and freedom of choice. It’s making me feel happier.