From Donovan’s Journal:
It’s like a lot of modern, Western-World materials deteriorate as they are baked by the sun and soaked by the rain, so all the tin sheeting is rusty and the brickwork is crumbling.
The people carry crazy things on their bikes and overload their trucks. Litter is all over the street, very puzzling.
All the Matatus (taxi mini buses) have words and messages painted on their front and back windows.
Roadside flea markets team with people who all need to make their sales to you, every time. Carpets of tea bushes spring from the hills, then miles and miles of maize and sugar cane.
Goats roam casually across the road with no respect for the vehicles that swerve into oncoming lanes to avoid them. As if traffic isn’t hectic enough! But as scattered and dangerous as driving can be, Ugandans do look out for each other. After all, Uganda does mean Brotherhood.
Thriving in the countryside and creeping into many parts of the town and cities is the tropical forest, mango and banana trees reaching high into the sky to talk to the sun. Yet while they soak up the sun and light from above, they spread their limbs and cast shade for the people down below. They too are part of the brotherhood.
JEANY: I loved our final night under the stars around a campfire. For a few moments I thought I was back at the Hamm house on an August night, looking for the space station to fly overhead. Although instead of the Big Dipper, I was seeing the Southern Cross for the first time. Richard had set up an open mic at his Studio and several friends and musicians had gathered. Nick riffed on the guitar with each singer in turn and we had an impromptu concert while we ate delicious barbecued seasoned pork, baked potato and cassava, tomato and … “a good time!” (Donovan adds).
We had workshopped with a dozen of Richard’s student/mentorees earlier in voice and movement and in so doing, shared our souls and bits of our stories with one another, so this gathering in the dark around the fire felt like rich community.
Before the end of the night, the mic was passed around the circle (which had now grown to about 25 people), and each one expressed their appreciation. Here again (like the introdutions) was this habit of taking time to honour each person by giving them a chance to speak.
I was so impacted.
Many spoke of Richard and his generosity as a shepherd of the arts and an instigator of provision and community. I was so proud to see this man, who I once knew as a fearful protective student in a cold, dark, Canadian winter — now a mature father and benefactor in this warm, thriving Ugandan city. They love him, and he continues to provide for them.
They also spoke of us; “the family” we are called. They referred to as friends and thanked us for coming to their part of the world and sharing their fire and inspiring them with heart forward expression. We were touched and I was struck with how far one afternoon of communion would go. These times can be rare for me. And in Africa, when I don’t have a regular schedule pulling me away, we take the time… to connect.
Swimming in a mountain top pool overlooking the city and Lake Victoria with Claire and Richard’s kids: Asante, Amani, and Oshindi on Claire’s birthday, and Uganda’s 54th birthday of Independence.
The loud and lively Watoto church service in a large old movie theatre.
The harrowing and profound tour of the museum of the Ugandan Martyrs, which was the catalyst for Christianity in Uganda. The brutal depictions of torture stopped and silenced me for a time.
The amazing traditional dances of the Ugandan clans at the Ugandan Cultural Centre. So alive and interesting! At the end the invited the audience to join and we all danced our buns off!
James, the friendly night guard at our hotel. Security and gates and even parking guards are everywhere in African cities.
Francis, who took us out to lunch.
Grace, who taught us about Martyrs day on June 3rd and showed us the museum and massive grounds for the yearly pilgrimage.
Asher and Denise who arranged for our early morning taxi back to the airport where we got to witness a beautiful African sunrise.
… the list could go on
I will stop for now, with one more shout out to Richard, my former student turned wonderful host and good shepherd. Thanks to you and Claire for treating us to a wonderful and informative time, in so many ways. We have fallen in love with Uganda; both the land and the people.
DAVID: Highlights from our visit to Uganda: from the moment we were picked up by Richard and Claire at the airport, we were welcomed to this vibrant country with open arms.
Another mishap as I realize I was supposed to contact World Vision three days prior to our arrival to confirm our sponsor visit. I am trying to phone and send texts to our contacts at WV, and all calls are either rejected as not in service, or the receiver isn’t answering. I have to surrender and trust that they won’t send us away when we arrive at the office the next morning. Indeed, when we get to the office they are ready for us and we get another warm welcome.
We have a good meeting with James, head of Uganda sponsorship, then start our trip with Sandra our guide and Albert our driver (who we learn is affectionately addressed as “The General”).
The drive to Soroti is full of discovery, from the easing congestion as we drive away from Kampala, to being in rain forests, roadside markets where we are swarmed with vendors and come away with roasted matoke (plantain bananas), torrents of rain, open vistas of tea that looks like green shag carpeting, big towns of Jinja (boasting being the headwaters of the River Nile) and Mbale (famous for coffee or tea), wide open plains with rice paddies and sugar cane, more torrents of rain, the Kenyan mountains in the distance, and finally Soroti town, bustling with a kind buzzing of activity.
When visiting our sponsor child David: David presented us with a live laying hen (with its feet tied) as a gift of thanks. At first I thought it couldn’t be for us to take, but as he puts the bird into my hands, it gets real. We consult with Eveline, the WV staffer who works in David’s village, and she agrees that letting David keep the hen can better benefit the family. David looks confused at first as she explains our wish for the hen to stay and provide many eggs, chicks and future income, but soon everyone seems happy with the idea. We hope to see pictures of the offspring in a future letter.
Our time together seemed to be getting short, but David insisted that we all go to his favourite climbing rock. This meant about thirty-plus of us winding along a dirt trail to the base of a huge outcropping, sculpted by rain and wind and time into an amazing play park. By the time we are all at the top we have a 360-degree view of an epic landscape. Our family sings “Wrong Will Be Right” and we get some full group photos. It felt like God was singing with us.
On the drive back to Kampala, we had unexpected added passengers, two women and a baby, and Jeany endured being crammed in the back seat for over three hours back to Jinja, We were relieved of them, and then got to take a short boat trip to the River Nile’s source—where Lake Victoria and the churning springs converge. Cool! I am not telling about all the weird bribe-like bargaining that had to happen to get us to the water and then on the boat. It was just special to be enthralled with the natural wonders of water and birds with Sandra and The General with us.
The rest of the trip was a long and snarly traffic jam, again near the market vendors, so they had captive customers to see to at supper time.
(A 12 hour journey…)
WESTON: Uganda is a really interesting place. It is very lush; not what you would expect a typical African setting to be. The bananas are amazing. The roads are bumpy and filled with potholes, but it’s fun. They have speed bumps to slow down vehicles that are going fast and the speed bumps are ginormous.
It was really special to see “The Queen of Katwe” in Kampaala, when we were only a few kilometres from Katwe. It was a good example of what everything is like in Uganda, only a little bit too clean and the clothes were a little too fine for the slums and the bodabodas were too fancy. I liked that it was a true story about a girl from Katwe who loved chess. I found it compelling and powerful.