LOLAFRICA journey to Uganda

Glory to God, who's power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or Imagine....

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Location: Kalagala, Uganda

Friday, December 29, 2006

The weekend before Christmas, I was honored to be invited to an "Introduction Ceremony". Essentially, this is a huge celebration during which a Potential Bride and Groom's Families are formally introduced to one another.
So please, join me for the celebration!!...

Allow me to set the scene...

The small rocky yards of three neighboring houses are transformed into the celebration area. Four large tents have been erected and filled with chairs, flowers, bows and bands of colorful fabric - giving a festive flair to the space. The centre of the space is left empty...this is the stage where we will lay our scene...The family of the prospective Groom faces the father and relatives of the Prospective Bride across the centre "stage". As we take our seats the MC for the day is chatting and telling jokes, entertaining the waiting guests. Most of the women attending this celebration are dressed in their traditional garments which are called "Gomesi", the colors of the fabric are bright and often decorated with gold thread, beads or sequins. (I am also wearing a Gomes...mine is brilliant purple with gold accent and wide Gold band around my waist.)

Music is played and a t the door of the house we see a line of ladies begin to dance into our scene. These are the Aunties of the Bride. They dance their way into the free space and kneel in front of the Groom's family. They greet and speak to the family before returning to their feet. They dance their way around the family - they are in search of the Groom!! When they find him, they raise his hand to the sky and the whole place explodes in celebration!! As the crowd hoots and hollers and claps - the Aunties lead the Groom (dancing) to the seat of honor at the front of his Family near the stage. The Aunties then formally welcome their soon-to-be new nephew into the family and place a wreath of flowers around his neck, before dancing their way back to the house.

Music begins again and this time a long line of young women and girls appear at the doorway of the house...these are the sisters of the families...they too, dance their way out and each take turns greeting the family of the groom before dancing out again...they are followed by a long line of handsome brothers who do the same.

Next, the Best Man, Groom and Groom's Mother kneel before the Father of the Bride and He gives his blessing and consent for the marriage...He touches each of their heads in blessing and presents the Groom with a formal certificate of permission to marry his daughter.

Music floods the place again and this time a whole line of beautiful Gomes - clad young ladies come dancing out of the house...these are the girlfriends of the Bride...and one of the girls IS the promised Bride...but we do not know which one yet!! They dance and dance, in a large circle in the centre space. finally they kneel in a line in front of the Groom and his Family.The Mother of the Groom then rises, and goes to kneel in front of the girl who is to be her new Daughter....she welcomes her and places a wreath of flowers around her neck...CELEBRATION!!!! Again the whole place erupts in cheers and clapping!!!

As if on cue, the entire family of the groom rises to their feet and begin to dance out of the area...they are gone for but a few minutes, and when they return, they are carrying gifts. Each of the women carries a basket on her head filled with anything from vegetables, household items, utensils, fruit, and garden fresh greens...some women carry live chickens in their arms...the Men carry in crates of soda, bags of mais flour and even a side of beef!! The gifts are piled in the free space between the girls and the groom's family.

Finally, at long last, the Groom rises and steps forward to claim his Bride...the moment he takes her hand the music blasts and the crowd goes wild!! They walk together to a table and cut a cake - more celebrations!!! And the cake is served while the food is brought out for the feast!

For the next hour - we FEAST!! There is a mountain of Matooke, vats full of G-nut sauce, Greens peas sauce, Huge bins full of rice and Hundreds of Chapati and tonnes of potatoes...There are also several types of roasted meat being served - but, being a vegetarian, I did not partake of those apparently savoury and juicy morsels of flesh. With plates piled high with food, the conversations flow freely and everyone enjoys the festive atmosphere while stomachs . After everyone is satisfied, it is time to officially end the evening before the casual celebrating can begin... I am called to join the long line of girls...we carry baskets filled with beautifully wrapped apples - these are gifts to the Groom's family. One Girl carries a basket filled with Candles. As the Groom's family files out, they are given a lit candle - to light their way home...and one of the apple-gifts because anyone who comes t\with a full basket should not leave empty-handed.

From here the evening dissolves into a mass of joyous dancing and laughter as the chairs are stacked and moved out of the way.

At the end of the night...every face is smiling, every stomach is full, and everyone has been inspired by the beauty of young love.

"I was moved. What I had before my eyes stole into my heart and thrilled me."
-Yann Martel

Friday, December 15, 2006

Since I do not have a lot of time today...I will leave you with a few thoughts I've come across this week...they have inspired me and given me courage, as well as help to express my heart these I will write them here for you to enjoy...

More than others think safe
More than others think is wise
More than others think is practical
more than others think is possible
-cadet maxim


A Franciscan benediction

May God bless you with discomfort
At esy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger,war
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to
Turn their pain into JOY.

And May God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done,
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.


"Make it so the poor are no longer
despised and thrown away.

Look at them standing about -
Like wildflowers, which have
nowhere else to grow."
-Rainer Maria Rilke


"My heart is changed within me ;
all my compassion is aroused."
Hosea 11:8


Saturday, December 09, 2006

"You know that old trees just grow stronger.
And old rivers grow wilder every day...
old people just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say
"Hello in there...Hello."

So if you're walkin' down the street sometime and you
spot some hollow ancient eyes,
don't just pass them by and stare,
as if you didn't care,
say "Hello in there....Hello." -John Prine

Walk with me..... as I "Share the Love" around Kampala... soon as I get off the taxi/bus in downtown Kampala, I start walking...I reach in my pocket to make sure I have at least three coins for the first few blocks....

The first man I meet is about 30 years old, he is seated on the ground with a plastic plate in front of him. He doesn't look up at anyone as they pass, but stares vacantly, his hand open on his knee, his lower legs are missing. I palm a coin and stop, I crouch down to his level and place my hand in his open one. "Jabale Ssebo," I say. His eyes dart at me, his hand tightens on mine and sudden;y his face is filled with light as his mouth widens in a toothless grin. "Webale Nyo," he says as he grasps my hand with both of his. The coin passes from me to him. I look at him and say "bless you dear" and "I'll see you again", and I'm on my way.

A little further down the road, I always find at least two children, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk. They look to be around three or four years old - but they may be 6 or 7 year olds who are malnourished and with a failure-to-thrive. There eyes are dull and blank, their scant clothing hangs loosely on their tiny bodies and they are covered in the dust and grime of the city. They wave their little hands at the hundreds of adults that hurry past, step around and over them, in the hopes of any spare shilling. I palm a couple of small coins, crouch down beside them, take their wee little hands and smile my most loving smile. I touch their tiny bald heads, murmuring blessings and calling them sweethearts. These children do not smile, no light reaches their eyes - they stare at me, and at most, look a little confused.

Walking up the block I turn right and move up the hill. The next person I meet on the busy sidewalk is a man in his 40's. He has no legs and walks on his hands, which he places in a pair of old sandals to protect them from the rough ground. He is always ready with a toothy smile, and we chat and bless each other before I continue up the street.

The streets and sidewalks are crowded and bustling, so sometimes folks I'm use to seeing have moved - either to find a bit of relief I the shade, or to find a place where they will not be stepped on.
a few blocks up there are a few people that I always see...A younger guy, maybe in his 20's with a big smile and bright eyes...And although he still has his legs, they are useless and lay damages and limp at his side. The lady up the street from him a Grandma (JjaJja) an she is without her eyes She is sweet and her smile is warm...I always linger a little longer with her and speak close to her ear with a much love as I can expresses she cannot see me and my smile or eye-contact are of no use.

As I reach the centre of downtown again I turn right and up a bigger hill. At the top of this first hill there is always a gentleman seated on the corner crosswalk - he is literally stepped over all day long - there is never a coin in his plastic plate. I step out of the crowd and crouch down beside him. As usual I have palmed a coin, and there are the greetings, smiles and blessings - and I'm moving up the next hill.

At the top of this hill I always find a Grandpa (JjaJja) who is blind, and needs a cane to walk. He showers me with blessings and thank-you's that are too much for me to take - knowing my small coin will help very little if at all, in the grand scheme of his life. I can't help but think of my Grandparents and how it would break my heart to see them in such dire need...So I shower these elders with love and blessings and show as much respect as I know how in this culture.

Ok, turning left and up another hill - there is never anyone here...But as I hit Kampala Road, I find people everywhere. There are a few whose names I have come to know, as this is the road I have walked every weekend on my way to the Post Office, Book Store and Internet.
First there is Frances - he is maybe in his early 20's and his whole frame takes up approximately 2 feet by 3 feet of space...He is like a little human pretzel. He is always smiling and friendly and we always chat for awhile at the side of the walk before I continue down the road.
In front of the bookstore that I frequent, I always find Rojabba - he is in his 50's and is usually laying on the ground in the shade. His body is about the size of that of a 10 year old...His legs are distorted and he cannot walk. He is nonetheless always beaming at me with a snaggle-toothed smile, often he has already spotted me when I am still half a block away. He is charming and sweet and I feel he blesses me more than I bless him.

kampala road is scattered with people in need. Some are fro Sudan and have amazing scarification designs on their faces., There are many Grandma's and Grandpa's...There are many mothers with children and tiny babies. It is not uncommon for one of these mothers to try and give me her baby "take...take...Take..", they plead and all I can do is look at their precious baby , whisper a prayer, give a small coin and walk away...While my heart breaks into a million pieces.

Some people are badly burned, some are missing all fingers and toes...Many have limbs that never developed properly. Many of the people I meet do not speak Luganda, but speak Tribal languages that I have never heard. It doesn't matter - the language of love is universal - so we talk and gesture and smile and hold hands and look at each other hoping our eyes show what is in our hearts.

Those eyes that change from dull and vacant to sparkling and shining are the best part of my day - those toothless grins and tight clasping hands are priceless and precious to me.

"Wounded people who have been broken by suffering and sickness ask for only one thing: a heart that loves and commits itself to them, a heart full of hope for them. " Jean Vanier

"Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing." -Mother Theresa

"Love one another deeply, from the heart." 1 Peter 1:22

Monday, December 04, 2006

It is a time of endings and beginnings here on my journey! The exam weeks at Fisher Branch Kalagala high School were successful and all the students were able to complete their exams - despite the earlier disturbances - and our last week ran smoothly without a hitch!! Thank you fo your prayers! They were heard!! The night of the last exam was a night of pure celebration!! Every jerry can and basin and tin can was brought out and the drumming, singing, banging, shrieking, screaming and hollering, bongo-ing, shouting and laughing was amazingly loud and the energy was high!! The joy was tangible - freedom!!! The raucous lasted until the heavey clouds opened up and drenched everyone with a downpour - and then all students headed to their beds - to rest before their journeys home Friday Morning!! The schoolyard is now oh so quiet...It is oh so still.

With endings, there are always beginnings...For the students, it is the beginning of their holidays...For me the beginning of, what seems like, everything!! As soon as the pressure and stress of Third Term had passed - I was planning and writing and my mind was hard at work!! Free to dream and let inspiration have free reign!! Time to listen to my heart.....Inspiration came and plans spilled out onto paper. I spoke with the head master and he approved of the following plans for next term:

1.A Girls discussion Group - covering topics like sex, anger management and peer pressure...Or any topic the girls choose and is relevant to their lives.

2.A book Club and discussion group to encourage a "reading culture"

3.Extra -Curricular Art Sessions for those wanting added instruction

4.One - One relationship based youthcare, where I will meet with individuals who have personal issues, struggles or concerns they would like to deal with.

5.A program of positive reinforcement for good behavior!

So, I have a lot of planning and work to do over the holidays to prepare to facilitate these programs!

For now, my heart turns to the City of Kampala...Which is where I journey to on the weekends in order to check mail, send mail and and use the internet to connect with home.

I have been greatly moved by the homeless, handicapped and otherwise unfortunate souls that live on the streets in my new city. Unlike cities in Canada - these people have nowhere to turn. No food banks, no soup kitchens, no shelters. When there is no food....There really is NO FOOD. I started asking around, what could I do...What would be of help...Any help? The answer - every time - was, give them money...With money they can AND WILL buy the food they need. So, I made a decision...I would give some few shillings to each person...And ....I would give Love. Thus, "Operation: Share the Love" was born!

This weekend I put the plan into action..Walking my usual routes through the city, stopping to greet and talk with and bless the people living on the streets who are asking for money...Each one also received some small coin from me. I shake or hold every hand, touch every small child's head and look everyone in the eye, get down on their level and smile as I speak to them. Many of these folks do not speak the language of Luganda, but speak Tribal languages and though we do not understand each other, we talk and talk...We gesture and hold hands and smile and touch...It is a beautiful thing. I can't help but think I am ultimately more blessed than they are.
My choice is simply to see these people who have been stepped over, avoided, ignored and ultimately invisible in their own city...

My hope is not to change their lives - my few shillings cannot do that...My hope is just to give love, and human contact...Touch...To acknowledge their existence....To walk with my eyes and heart...Wide open.

"You are free to love without limit, to forgive, to be merciful, to be generous, to be compassionate, to risk, to sacrifice, to enjoy and to love." -Erwin Raphael McMannus

"If we are more generous and loving, wiser and more compassionate, less angry and fearful, then of course the world around us will be a better place." - Joseph Goldstein

"Whenever you see darkness, there is extraordinary opportunity for the light to burn brighter." -Bono