“I’ve started a new project,” my boda driver, Denis, tells me as we’re whipping down Juba Road on the way to the school. Denis is one of my favorite boda drivers from last year and he’s forgone our usual language lesson, wherein he teaches me Acholi words and shakes his head at my terrible pronunciation.
“What’s your new project?” I yell over the wind in our faces.
He answers, but between our differing accents and the wind, I’m sure I heard him incorrectly.
“Say it again, Denis, I can’t hear you.”
He repeats the word.
“Did you say ‘piggery’?” I call to him.
“Yes, piggery,” he nods.
“I’m not familiar with what piggery means.”
“You know the animal pig? P-I-G.”
“Yes, I know what pigs are, but what is piggery?”
“So people buy them and then eat them?”
It’s interesting to me, this new vocation Denis is beginning, but I wonder why he’s telling me this when he’d usually be reviewing Acholi phrases with me and making me repeat them over and over until my pronunciation is almost passable. Or he’d be giving me a geography lesson, making me tell him the names of the areas we pass through and making me name the countries surrounding Uganda.
“I used the money you paid me last year and bought two pigs. Then those pigs had eight pigs.”
“That’s a good litter. Ten pigs is a lot of pigs.”
“It’s not enough. I need at least 50.”
“What would you do with 50 pigs? Do you have a pen for them?”
“A pen. Like chickens have a hutch.” Denis is quiet. I’m not explaining myself well. “Do you have a house for your pigs?”
“Yes, in the village by my thatch roof house. You can’t let pigs run wild. People will get mad because the pigs will destroy everything and eat the crops.”
“I imagine so.”
“If I sell 30 pigs, I can buy my own boda instead of renting this one.”
Ah, there it is. Pigs equal independence and his own income instead of doling out a portion of every fare to his boss.
“That would be really amazing, Denis.”
“Yes, so if you have time, I will take you to see my pigs. I’ll give you one. You can pick it out.”
I don’t know what to say, but I’m pretty sure declining a pig without a very good reason would be a horrible offense. “That’s lovely of you, Denis, but I don’t think they allow pigs on the plane back home.”
“You will eat it before you go.”
I laugh. “I’m a terrible cook, Denis, just ask my husband. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to prepare a pig.”
“You slaughter it and I will cook it for you.”
I laugh again. “I have NO idea how to slaughter a pig.”
“I will have it slaughtered and then cook it for you. You come and pick it out.”
“Um, okay. Apwoyo.” I thank him, tucking my head to my chest as a truck passes and covers us in a cloud of red dust from the road. Meat is a rarity at the school and I wonder how many kids could be fed off of one pig.
“Apwoyo matek, (Thank you very much). We’ll go pick out your pig tomorrow afternoon.”
I don’t tell Denis that in addition to not knowing how to slaughter or cook a pig, I haven’t a clue on how to pick a pig.
The next morning, Denis drives me to the school again, my skirt flapping in the breeze and my rear end bouncing on the seat as I ride side saddle on the back.
“How are your pigs?” I ask as we pass a group of schoolchildren walking down the road in brightly colored uniforms.
“Do your pigs have names?”
“Only the big female, Mama. I will name the female piglet after you.”
I’m glad I’m sitting behind Denis where he can’t see my face because I can’t help but smile and stifle a giggle at this most unusual compliment. “My American name or my Acholi name?”
“You have an Acholi name?” Denis is surprised. “What is it?”
“That’s a nice name. Do you know what it means?”
“I’m told it means ‘laughter, joyful comforter or happy’. Is that right?”
“Yes, it also means a person who is always smiling. What does your American name mean?”
“Hmmm, joyful or truthful,” Denis repeats the names several times, weighing them back and forth. “I will have to think of which one is more suitable for a pig, but I think Alicia. We will go see her this afternoon and know for sure.”
That afternoon at lunch, I tell the kids at school about being offered a pig. They confirm that a pig is a gift I cannot decline. They tell me that only the very wealthy buy pigs and that pigs are often given as a dowry.
I’m late leaving the school that day and Denis tells me it’s too late to see the pigs. I sigh in relief, grateful to give Alicia the pig an extra stay of execution and wondering if I’ve done the same for myself.