Sunday, September 30, 2007

wimunu pe cek

we went to a re-settlement site called wimunu pe cek to meet with youth. diana was going to try out a brand new project called "video voice" inspired by the film born into brothels. (julie resnik did a similar project with cameras in southern uganda called zoom uganda). diana explained to the youth that she wanted to give them the video cameras, train them how to use them and let THEM tell their own story through their own eyes by interviewing different people in their community. it was so fun to see them light up with the new knowledge of how to use the cameras. they picked up on everything amazingly fast. we had the meeting to discuss this opportunity with them under a tree. we sat in a big circle and i think they felt respected by the gesture. it was very cool to see their reaction and pride in telling their own story. and being trusted with the well being of the cameras. we left them with the video cameras and went back to obolokome.

when we got back to obolokome we were greeted by some of the same leaders as before. it was fun to re-connect with them and know some of their names. they are so welcoming! we all gathered by a large tree and waited for our "cultural exchange". this was such an incredible experience! as we waited, i tried to play some soccer with the kids. with their paper bag ball... it got confusing because there were so many kids. we unfortunately interrupted their school, so a bunch of the kids were with us instead of class. there were 3 groups that performed for us as their community of a couple hundred gathered around us in a big circle. these female dancers began with a loud song; i think it might have been a rain prayer. some of the ugandans we were traveling with were joking with the dancers that the prayer must be working because of all the flooding in the area... then there was a male band playing all sorts of instruments i don't know. one was called the hand piano and was a small piece of carved wood with strips of metal that were different lengths (for different pitches) and they were tied down in such a way that when you flicked them, a tone rang out. also tons of drums. and instruments that sounded (but didn't resemble) like an upright bass. they danced as they sang and they were my absolute favorite. really great melodies. the women pulled us into the circle to dance with the group. one of the women, alice was her name, would demonstrate a dance move that involved the shaking of one butt cheek (!). she motioned for me to try it as well and i could hear a huge group of people behind me explode into laughter so i stopped trying out alice's suggestions... alice and i spoke more later (with the help of our advisor, betty) and it was awesome to connect with her. she was very intense and kind. she showed me which ones were her kids, one of them in a spiderman sweatshirt. when we did say goodbye she voluntarily pulled me in for a hug which meant the world to me.

after dancing and trying to sing along with them... i pulled out my guitar and everyone made a (tight!!) circle around me. it's hard to know the right songs to sing for their community, but i knew spirituals would work so i did amazing grace, let it be... i think for most if not all of them, it was their first time seeing/hearing a guitar and our style of music so it was a big hit. they knew the melody of amazing grace and sang along in their own language. betty began dancing with one of the elder men and everyone cheered. they kind of waltzed together in the middle of the small circle.

then we all sat down and they asked us if we have any questions about their culture. this part was awesome. betty had been informing me of all the song meanings so i asked why the melodies and spirit of their songs sounded so positive when the words were about such sad things as loss, grief and hardship. they said it's because the songs are all about hope. their hope for better futures.

the devastation that has happened in this region is so hard to fathom. these families had lives full of culture, lots of land to sustain themselves, schools, small communities spread out with room to grow...

they've lost ALL of that. they've lost family members, they've lost their freedom. being at the idp camps they lost their ability to celebrate culture to the full extent they were used to. they lost their schools. many kids missed years of school while they were abducted by the lra, and when they finally did rejoin their community, they were too old to continue where they left off... so they lost their education. they lived in huts in idp camps completely crammed together. this resulted in so much gender violence, disease, alcoholism...

but the amazing thing is how resilient they are. for one thing, i think life has become better in the resettlement sites. they have a bit more room now to spread out even if it doesn't compare to what they had before the war. you can feel mercy corps' presence in the camps. there's hope and joy even through all the devastation. i imagine how our community would respond in a situation like theirs... it's been inspiring to see.

...we said our good byes and went back to wimunu pe cek to see how the youth did with the filming. when we walked up, we saw a group of men standing around a hut interviewing a hunter who was surrounded by resting hunting dogs. a little boy walked by with a rabbit he had just caught. it was awesome to see them completely in to the filming. there was a narrator, a videographer, and the person being interviewed. when we watched some of the footage later, many heads were cut off; they seemed to be drawn towards necks and down. but all in all their footage was amazing and so informative!!! they showed their garden, their nursery, the school and a ton else that i don't know about because i have yet to see it.

i got to connect with one man in particular named michael. michael is 30 with 2 kids and finished his secondary education (meaning high school). he studied sciences and was a farmer, although he had other desires. he talked about his kids and how he didn't want them to be farmers. when we met with everyone under the same tree as before, michael presented a very comprehensive report of exactly what the groups filmed with descriptions of the interviews and everything. he just wanted to do this on his own and presented it to us. such a great guy to connect with. its amazing how formal they all dress. crisp clean shirts that and you wonder how they keep them so clean given the huts they live in. they take pride in so much order and cleanliness it made me feel so sloppy by comparison. i was so impressed with michael. i wished i could've met his wife and 2 kids... more later.... i'm off to the market right now here in kampala...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

my favorite day of my life.

day #2 in pader
last night was quite an experience. big loud thunderstorms and the african sky lighting up in spasms. the generator went out and in the middle of the black night i scrambled to use the bathroom hole. i almost stepped in it at one point! the thunder was louder than i've ever heard. the rain burst down from the sky all at once when it finally came down. i lay frozen in bed under a big mosquito net imagining myself deep in the bush of northern uganda.

so this day might have been my favorite day of my life. we woke up and met for a quick breakfast of egg and chiapati (i'm certain i'm screwing up this word) - a tortilla like bread. i think it's indian. the team i'm traveling with is amazing. diana, our leader, betty and james. betty and james are from villages in northwest and eastern uganda. so as we gather information and connecting with the people in these camps, they are paving the way for that connection constantly. they are so much fun to travel with and i'm constantly laughing with them. betty is soulful in every sense of the word. she's warm and wise, strong and soulful. and watching the elders, them mothers and the children open up to her is awesome.

our first stop was at ccf (christian counciling something-that-begins-with-F). a woman named alice runs this amazing program for child mothers who were abducted by the LRA. this means they were children when they were taken from their villages and many were given to the LRA commanders as sex slaves. so now they are back in their communities as mothers of 1 or 2 or more children. they are learning different trades for themselves and have sewing machines to make clothing to sell. i got to interview a young girl named monica. absolutely stunning girl. she was breastfeeding one of her babies the whole interview. we have to be careful not to ask specific questions about their experience when they were abducted because it's too sensitive of a topic. monica, like all the other youth we've spoken with had to quit school to take of her children. she spoke about how she just wanted to figure out a way to get back to school. all the youth wish for the same thing. education is the single most important thing in these communities. they value it over everything.

i sang amazing grace and then they sang a song of theirs for us. we all stood up and danced together, our team and the large group of young women, most of them with a child in their arms.

there's SO much more about this day. we went to 2 other sites and did a "cultural exchange" of music and dance. i danced my butt off. it was so much fun. i have to sign off for now... so i'll finish more on the next blog!!

obolo kome

Day #1
wow. we just got back from a re-settlement site called obolokome. i think the translation means the poor unite. it's hard to wrap words around everything i'm seeing. these re-settlement sites have better conditions than the first idp camps (called mother camps) because there's a bit more room but nothing compared to their normal village life where they had tons of land and small communities spread out across a large region. their true village life and culture that goes along with it can't be fully realized given the very tight constraints. but, the trade has been safety while in these camps.

there's still a ton of joy wherever you go. smaller kids are running around taking care of their baby siblings. they live in mud huts with something like straw roofs. and the school is in the very center of the site. kids made a soccer ball by rolling plastic bags and tying them together in a round ball shape. women sit outside their huts and open corn/nuts/eggplant to dry out in the sun. chickens and small goats are running around. kids are gathered under the shade of trees and follow closely behind us walking thru their sites giggling every time we turn around to speak to them. some of the littlest ones started to cry if i smiled or waved. i think i scared them by looking so different. a swarm of kids gathered around me and i asked if i could take their picture. afterwards i showed it to them and they shrieked with curiousity and joy. it became a game we kept up for a few minutes.

we came to one hut with an elderly woman sitting on the ground peiling corn. i didn't see many elderly people in general so they stand out. betty, an advisor who is from arua, the northwestern tip of uganda, sat in the dirt with this woman and they began a long discussion about life in the camps.

we walked over to the school where diana interviewed a group of students asking about their hopes and dreams of what they wanted to be when they finish school. these gorgeous kids with huge smiles lit up and answered, "teacher, doctor, leader" one after another. the school has a nursery and a garden. they're learning all about agriculture. i spoke with one of the teachers in the school. he teaches agriculture and mathematics. he said classrooms are full of 75 kids.

its so hard to capture the feeling of community in these camps. they're all for each other and with each other all the time. the contrast of how solitary our lives can be in the states is amazing. our culture seems so based on our dire need for privacy and we could learn a ton from these communities.

tomorrow we will go back there and they will sing and dance for us. i will also bring my guitar and reciprocate!!

on our drive back to mc headquarters we saw women carrying children on their backs and HUGE sacks of kasava root on balanced on their heads. these bags are the size of a really large back of soil and i have no idea how they balance all they carry for so many miles. they make this 4-5 mile trek so often. and school children in their uniforms were walking the long road home. these kids have so much joy in their faces pouring out of their eyes. what's amazing to me is how resourceful and organized these communities are. the picture the media paints in the us is so limited. it's easy to assume that they are hopeless and helpless given the facts about their lives and political history of the last 20 years. but it's not accurate it all. these are brilliant people in thriving communities making the most of their lives which have been so displaced by the war. i have a hard time with the name of our concert series. i wouldn't call these people a disaster -just the opposite. it's remarkable.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kampala Day One

wow. this is so surreal. waking up in africa. so far from everyone i love.
the smell in the air here is musky and sweet and full. last night on the way into kampala, we drove along a bumpy road lined with groups of people walking/biking/hanging out. tons of small communities all out in the evening. there's small huts made out of tin by the side of the road. and there aren't any rules on the road so drivers communicate by using their brights. takes a bit of getting used to!!

as we got into the city, there was a little boy of maybe 6 carrying a small baby in his arms begging for money in the traffic. it's hard to know the best response. their parents put them out there... seems so dangerous...

we had a later dinner with calvin, a friend of diana's from soroti (eastern uganda) who spoke passionately about the definition of poverty and how it's changed in uganda. he spoke about how the westerners create such dependency and degredation and the ugandans end up being informed of the poverty they live in. what's considered wealthy in their communities is family/friends/land. but he sees the effect of donor dependency everyday and how people are more focused on getting money now more than ever...

calvin is the son of a chief and one of 24 children! he is a leader in his community and incredible to speak with!! 's so interesting learning about the politics of humanitarian aid and the negative social effects it can have on these communities, even if it's well intended.

we're off to northern uganda today in pader where we'll meet with mercy corps in the idp camps!! i can't wait!

still can't believe i'm here in africa...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

off to africa

i'm leaving for africa tomorrow morning. i still can't get used to it! i'm so excited to meet ugandans and get to know more about their culture/food/music/lives/stories. i think it's going to feel surreal there at first...

on sunday i land in entebbe (where the international airport is) and meet up with diana dokos (from the glen boyd foundation, they're sponsoring this trip for me to join them on their learning tour). on monday, we're heading up to pader in northern uganda where mercy corps has their ugandan headquarters. we'll visit the idp camps up there, see the programs that mercy corps has underway. i'll get to see first hand where the money from this concert series will go to. i recently heard that northern ugandans are really excited about our concert series this fall and know all about it. i love that!!

when we get back from pader, we'll head south to kalisizo to stay for a few days. thomas lwebuga, a local ugandan who now lives in portland, grew up in that area. his wife, kendra, will be visiting at the same time and has invited us to take part in a program she has put together for a school called st. andrews.

when/if i do have internet access, i'll post more blogs about the trip!

if someone would've asked me one year ago if right now i'd be producing a humanitarian concert series and heading to africa, i would've thought they were crazy. (!)


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Voices for Silent Disasters

It's official! We can blog! Check back often for updates from Stephanie and Gordon.