Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bust a move.

Every time I watch one of those dance shows I can't help but rolling my eyes as grown men and women literally weep about how dance has changed their lives. Don't get me wrong, I love dancing, I mean really love it, and I probably should understand because to a certain extent that is how I feel about music. But in any event, I am not a "dancer" so I guess I just never "got it." Well, kind of like music and love, dance not only changes lives, but it doesn't do borders, and I witnessed this first hand out here. And it's a universal fact that black people straight up know how to move. It's pretty much ridiculous how coordinated and rhythmically blessed these people are.

Meet Kamya. He's one of the precious orphans that I have fallen in love with here in Uganda. He lives at the St. Paul & Rose orphanage that I've been blessed to spend a lot of time at this summer. When I first went out there I spotted this kid that is seriously too cute for words. Problem was, the smile you will see below wasn't there for the first few visits. Kamya was quiet, withdrawn and there was an emptiness in his eyes that can only be the result of enduring horrors that no child should ever experience. In spite of his lack of social skills, Kamya is special, and I was instantly drawn to him. I wanted him to smile, play with us, show off for the cameras like the other kids. But he just sat and watched, taking it all in, but giving nothing to show that he was there.

A week ago we spent that night out at Rose & Paul's as we'd promised we'd do before summer's end. A lot of the girls were heading home in a few days and they wanted to say good bye too. One of our volunteers, Carrie Brock, had some special news to deliver as well: She raised enough money to allow us to build Rose and Paul a chicken coop...a chicken coop for an orphanage means being able to pay school fees and medical bills. It is a godsend to these people and we don't think there is anyone more deserving than the kids out there. We packed up our bags and headed out there after the AIDS festival one Saturday afternoon and were greeted with the usual chorus of squealing and hugs that we are always greeted with. It's the best feeling in the world. We hiked through the farm of sweet potatoes and matoke with kids on our backs and hanging from our arms, ate dinner, sang and danced, played volley ball and then shared a special treat we had brought: smores! We collected sticks and taught them how to roast marshmellows and then smooshed them between coconut biscuits called Nice cookies. It was so fun. Of course I had my little buddy Fahad, who I absolutely adore, by my side, or more accurately, on my side, the whole evening. This little guy’s father died and left his mother alone to raise him. She got sick (probably mentally and physically) and left him on the side of the road when he was not quite two years old. He was brought to Rose & Paul after this and has been with him for a year. He was really sick the night that we stayed there and it was so hard for me to leave him because I was so worried about him. As I held him, all I kept thinking was how his mother could have let him go, let alone on the side of the road. What kind of desperation or hopelessness must this woman have felt to abandon her child? I can’t imagine, and I feel as much sympathy for her as I do love for this little boy who has melted my heart…luckily he is ok now!

But before I go, back to Kamya. After spending the evening praying with the kids (a story in and of itself for another time) reading to them, and watching Aladdin on the laptop, we went outside with glowsticks and had ourselves an all out dance party. We popped our earbuds into the kids ears and they set off dancing. Ipod dance parties are a favorite around our house in Lugazi…everyone marching to the beat of his or her own drum…or Ipod in this instance. We tried to make sure everyone got a turn, and I was surprised to see little Kamya eagerly awaiting his, as he usually stands back. Carrie gave Kamya her Ipod and set it to Britney Spears and I think and the rest is pretty much history. His little face lit up like the sun and he started dancing like you wouldn’t believe. I had déjà vu of old video footage of Michael Jackson dancing as a kid. You know when he was a little boy and he busted moves that no one had ever seen before? Well Kamya has never seen Michael Jackson, and I’ve never seen anyone dance like that. It was incredible. And the best part about it was the smile that lit up his face and the light that was on in his eyes. Gone was the empty despondent little orphan, and in his place a little dancing machine. The rest of the orphans began to crowd around and holler. We’ve never seen him dance like this before! And then Paul echoed, we’ve never even seen him dance at all before! It was a first for everyone, including Kamya. And that night, I got it. What all of those weepy dancers are talking about. Maybe it was the music, maybe the dancing, maybe the love waves we’d been trying to send him since we met him, but whatever it was, the light went on and I think Kamya’s going to be just fine. (video to come when I get back in the US of A)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Into the Wildness...

One of my favorite sayings of all time is "When in Rome..." It's like "chill out, go with the flow, live in the moment, absorb your surroundings," all rolled into one terse little adage. I say it a lot, and let's be honest, usually just to be funny. But obviously right now I could not be farther figuratively or literally from Rome. And Africans take things, especially words, quite literally. Well, on our safari a couple of weeks ago, I learned a new little maxim that is much more applicable to my surroundings. Let me start at the beginning.

I can't think of anything more synonymous with tourism in Africa than a safari, and you better believe I wasn't going to go home without experiencing one for myself. Only problem is they are expensive. You know you're in trouble when prices are quoted in US Dollars...no exchange rate necessary. We researched several companies and settled on Red Chili's Big 5 Game Safari in Murchison Falls, Uganda. We're started off from their hostel in Kampala and drove about 8 hours north to the Murchison Falls National Reserve, home to abundant, although diminished populations of African wildlife. It was astonishing to learn that over the past 100 years the natural herds of elephants, zebras, lions, cheetahs and giraffes had been reduced to about 10% of their former and sizable glory, but thanks to the conservation efforts of the game parks and some steep prices for park entry, some of the animal populations are recovering. Depending on luck we would have a good chance to see lions, cheetahs, hippos, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, water buck and kob (antelope). After venturing through miles of tse tse fly filled reserve, and a stop at the beautiful and intense Murchison Falls (think thousands of gallons of Nile river water converging), we reached our campsite with a beautiful view of Lake Victoria.

We woke up really early the next morning and headed down to the Nile to cross our Safari truck over to the game park. Apparently animals wake up really early, and we didn’t want to miss prime viewing hours. We reached the river just in time to take in the most breathtaking sunrise I’ve ever seen. Words can't really do it justice, and neither will this photo, but at least you can get an idea.

As we headed up the trails into the park, I had one of my surreal “I’m in Africa moments. Whoa.” Craning my neck out of the open roof of our safari van, it would have been such a waste to not capitalize on this perfectly good opportunity to start narrating the trek in an Australian accent. Bear Grils would have been proud. I’m sure our driver and guide have never been more annoyed. But in any event, not five minutes had gone by before we were stuck in some mud trying to go up a hill. Everyone pile out of the safari van and push. Now, covered in mud and standing along the trail, we figured we might as well look around a bit. No worries, there’s just a herd of giraffes to our right, munching some leaves for breakfast! Crikey! Just a few minutes prior, we had agreed as a group that there’d be no squealing of any sort. Just imagine how many animals you could drive away with a van full of 8 girls screaming “OMG, a baby elephant! That is soooo cute!” And by agreed as a group I mean that as the fearless leader of the group, I made a no screaming rule. 

Back to present scene, herd of giraffes, cue Ally: “Giraffes! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkkkk!” as she covered her mouth with her hand. Imagine if we hadn’t made the rule. There were indeed about 20 or so giraffes off in the distance. Apparently they're considered the most majestic of the animals, and with they're long regal necks, I can see why. At this point our van was un-stuck and it was time to continue our journey. Back to the van we trudged. As we started to climb in, we tried scraping our boots on the rail and kicking them off against the side of the van. The guide looked at us in dismay and exclaimed, “You’re in the Wildness! There’s no need to be clean!” Indeed! And from that moment on, we embraced our wild safari selves and continued on our jungle trek through the plains and bush of Murchison falls in complete stealth, and of course covered in mud. We saw lots of animals. 

They were majestic and proud, and everything I imagined them to be, and well worth the exorbitant price tag in American Dollars. After returning from the initial game trek, we headed out on a real jungle cruise; a boat ride on the Nile to see alligators and hippos and the base of Murchison Falls. A relaxing and breath taking way to conclude an epic day in Africa

So next time you waste precious time scraping mud off your boots when you could be scouting lions, just remember: when you’re in the wildness, there’s no need to be clean.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Everyday while I walk to and from various meetings and projects, I am greeted by one person/child after another and have the following conversation.

Little kid on the street: "Mzungu! How are you?"

Me (the mzungu): "I am fine! How are you?"

Little kid on the street: "I am fine! How are you?"

And on and on we go like that until I'm out of earshot. Sometimes we change it up and have the Lugandan equivalent of that exact conversation.

Little kid on the street: "Oliotya!"

Me: "Ndibulungi, oliotya."

Little kid on the street: "Jendi."

Basically, each of us knows precisely 5 words in the others language, and we have the same conversation everyday. How are you, I am fine. Back and forth we go. But for some reason I have never gotten sick of this simple greeting, whether in English or Luganda. I love walking through town and being greeted by people with beautiful smiles whom I don't know and hearing them making such a humble attempt to greet me and establish some common ground. I love even more the smiles that light up their faces when I greet them first in their own language. The old jajjas (grandmothers) get the biggest kick out of it every time.

Apparently the most pleasing sound to the human ear is that of your own name. For me, only second to that, has got to be someone genuinely asking me how I am doing.

So hence the title of my blog, and in case any of you were wondering, I am indeed doing just fine.