From left, Aisha, Hanifa, and Sara.

Traces and my Happiness

One interview, three voices: Aisha, Hanifa, and Sara. They are the three Muslim women involved in Meeting Point who sell Traces magazine. “It makes me love Catholicism.” This is why.
Andrea Nembrini and Rose Busingye

Meting Point International (MPI) in Kampala has always been, from its very origin, international. The women always say that “the heart is international,” and for this reason they have always welcomed anyone who wants to come as a friend, regardless of tribe, religion, or language. This is the first miracle of this place, bearing in mind the strict sense of tribal belonging that still dictates relationships in Africa to this day. When they gather, all of the women wear the yellow shirt of MPI, and when they shout, “One heart!” it is impossible to tell them apart.

For about a year now, new colors have mixed in with the yellow: they are the veils worn by Sara, Aisha, and Hanifa. Sara is a nurse who works with Rose, and she invited her two neighbors, who are also Muslim, to MPI. Their enthusiasm as a result of this encounter has made them a significant presence at MPI, and–as we have recently discovered–they are among the most energetic protagonists in selling Traces magazine, to which they dedicate themselves each month. We wanted to ask them about the origin of their passion.

Why do you sell Traces? Why do you like doing it?

Sara. I’m a true Muslim from birth. I joined Meeting Point International in 2011. I didn’t know what Traces was, but I started buying it, reading it, and loving it. There are a lot of beautiful things in this magazine that you can learn from. In particular, there are other people’s experiences, and when you read an experience that is different from yours, you discover more about yourself, about what you really desire for your life. As a consequence, I’m now studying catechism and I’m going to the School of Community, because I want to learn more about what’s in the magazine.

Hanifa. I joined MPI even though I’m Muslim. I joined because even though there were always other people around me, I have never been welcomed like I was at MPI. I was so surprised by the way they welcomed me and treated me. I used to be sorrowful and my heart was heavy; but from the day I entered this place my life has changed. I’m now happy, and my family is too. So, about Traces: actually I don’t know English very well, and I even can’t read this magazine, but I sell it because of the friendship I received here, and I love doing it. This friendship pushed me to sell Traces, and also to love Catholicism. Sometimes I think I believe in this religion even if I’m walking on the path of Islam. I remain Muslim, but I love Catholicism.

Aisha. I joined MPI because I wanted to be happy like these women. One day there was a woman next to me with an issue of Traces, but the woman was leaving, and I didn’t know how I could find the magazine again, so I asked her if I could take a look. I looked at the pages of the magazine, and I could read one word: “happiness.” I saw a lot of pictures, and in all of them people were happy. So I asked her how much it cost, and I bought my first Traces for three UGX (approximately one USD). I was surprised because everything in it was about happiness, the possibility of being happy even if you are in trouble. When you read about the experiences of happy people, you also become happy. There wasn’t one story in the magazine that wasn’t able to make you happy. Even now it’s like this: every time I buy it–and I always buy it–it makes me happy. Traces made me understand that religions are different, but often what separates us is just the way we dress; what’s important is that we are together because God is one. This is what I’ve learned from Traces.

Could you explain your love for this Catholic experience, for Traces, despite the fact you are women of Muslim faith? How can these two go together?

Sara. Rose told me about my value, which I didn’t know before. I understood that the Catholic religion does not discriminate; it welcomes all religions. I learned this because Rose taught me that you have to discover yourself. This means that nobody should say to you, “Come here and be a Catholic!” You need to learn this yourself, but only after you have discovered yourself. When you know who you are, you decide what you want to be. And for me, after discovering myself, I decided to stay with these Catholics.

Hanifa. When I was suffering so much, no one was touched by my situation, nobody helped me. But here I discovered I was helped... Someone has loved me, someone gave me her friendship. I even don’t know how to explain it: one day I was crying all day long, and my children as well; they were going to a very bad school, they even didn’t receive their grade reports... Now I’m happy, my home has changed completely, my children go to school, they study in peace, they are happy. So how could I not love this place that has brought to me all this happiness? How could I not love this magazine that tells stories about this place?

Aisha. Usually I buy all the leftover copies (because I don’t want to waste them) so that I can give them to my friends and family members. At first my father, who is a Muslim, asked me where I got it from, but now he likes it; I told him to ask me if there is anything in it he doesn’t understand. Often Traces is so beautiful that I buy more than one copy, because I know that anyone who receives it will surely also be happy.

When you are selling Traces, what do you tell the people you meet?

Aisha. First I read it very well, and I pay attention to the beautiful things in it that make me happy, the things that help me. I sell it because I want other people to be happy like me; people understand if what you are selling is important to you. What I tell the people I meet is simply what I read about in Traces; I even show them the pages I like. And people ask us a lot of questions.

Hanifa. I can’t read Traces because I don’t know English, but my children read it for me at home. They show me the page where an article I like is, so that when I’m selling I can tell people: “Look, it’s right here!”

Sara. Before you sell it, you first have to go through it, so that you know why you are outside the church shouting: “Traces, Traces!” And you have to explain; otherwise it’s just a word, they don’t understand. But if you tell them about your own experience, they respond with: “Ok, I trust you, I’ll buy it.”

What has been your most beautiful experience while selling Traces?

Aisha. The most beautiful thing for me is that when we are selling it a lot of people come to us to ask why Muslims are selling a Catholic magazine. We answer them: “Because we love it; because we are receiving beautiful things from it, and because we want you to have them, too.”

Sara. One day when I was selling Traces, an educated old Catholic man came to me asking a lot of questions to embarrass me. He said: “You people, what are you doing? Is this thing from Uganda? Where is it from? Is the Pope aware of it?” I was able to answer all his questions very well–I told him about Communion and Liberation, about Italy, and I told him that even the priest had given an announcement during Mass about our selling Traces. In the end he said: “You Muslim woman, you have challenged me,” and he began looking for money in his pocket to buy one.When I’m selling it, I feel like I’m selling gold, a very expensive thing!

Hanifa. Sometimes other people who are selling other magazines in the same place tell us that our magazine is very expensive because it is a muzungu thing [a thing for white people], but they also ask, “How are you able to stay with these white people, hugging them like friends? I wish I could also be embraced in this way.” We answer them: “Yes, this magazine is expensive because it comes from far away, but we are also ‘expensive’ and valuable because of the friendship we are living.”