I thought it might be a good idea to describe Uganda one tid-bit at a time. One part of the experience at a time- perhaps one or two each day for 30 days. This way Uganda is a painting, and your mind is the artist- you can add each color as you're ready- each shade as you are comfortable with.
During the day and into the early evening, the local music of Uganda beats out of the shops on Main Street. All types ranging from upbeat and rhythmic LuGanda music, to sweet and choir-esque church music, also sung in local tongue. Then there are shops that blare American music from dusty speakers covered in red clay from the streets. Sometimes it's Keith Urban, sometimes it's Shania Twain, and sometimes I hear Celine Dion- a favorite (from what I can see) among Ugandan citizens. After today's class, a little girl sang the entire Celine song, 'That's The Way It is' with Celine-like belt and all!
Because next week's organization, HADASSU, is closed on Monday and Tuesday, we split up this week: Mon-Wed with TAOST, and Thursday/Friday with HADASSU. We'll visit TAOST again next Monday/Tuesday to finish the five total days' work, and then HADASSU next Wed/Thursday.
Today, at HADASSU, we met with a group of about thirty students with vision impairments. The vision impaired children attend special classes at a government-funded school, Spire Primary. This school is set on approximately two acres of land, complete with agricultural plantations to provide for the children, soccer (or 'football') posts, and nearly ten big buildings with roofs that do not leak and doors that do not fall off. The principal (a female!) tells us that many organizations have raised funds to re-roof the buildings, re-paint the classrooms, put a TV in one classroom, provide desks, chairs, ...the works! This school is taken care of, and while it is technically a 'government-funded school', she gives the impression that the money is certainly NOT all coming from the Ugandan government.
Our work here will be specifically with the vision impaired students who are housed on a separate school ground from the others and thought less of (not on all matters, but mostly). We learn that when a child is born in Uganda with vision disabilities, their 'families' refer to them as 'that one'...they say "I have six children, plus that one". I'm getting stronger these days, and I feel less compelled to crumble into a ball on the floor when receiving this kind of news. Instead, I feel more motivated to meet the children and begin to teach them music, and more importantly, to teach them that they are not of little use to the world, as they have heard their entire lives, but rather significant and substantial children with great potential.
Becky, Kellie, Michelle and I took the younger kids in the morning and after lunch, we met with the older kids. Each of us will have 30 minutes a day with the younger group, and 30 minutes with the older group. I begin by telling them that music is universal and everyone in the world can have the courage to sing. We do fun warm-ups with our body and our voice and they giggle all through them. I teach them the Do, Re, Mi scale of music and we can sing it up and down in Rhythm. Then I ask them if they know who Ludvig Von Beethoven is. Crickets. I am so delighted to be the first person to tell them the incredible story of his phenomenal compositions, his numerous musical discoveries, and of his blindness. After the translator finishes the final part of my last sentence, there is a silence and a bit of a freeze- it's as if nobody moves or breaths for a full five seconds.
I stop and receive their silence as both slight discomfort and huge imagination. I hope it's more of the latter and I tell them I'm going to bring his music tomorrow for them to listen to....since there is no electricity in the building I haven't quite figured out how they are going to hear it, but I have all night and I will make it happen.
After the classes, we are playing with the kids- rolling balls to them and having them roll them back. Some of the girls have sat out to the side watching and when I come over to them this is when they sing for me the entire Celine Dion song. I record it on Chris' camera and they ask me to play it back to them. The sound is small, and they all press their ears around this 2x2 camera. When the sounds concludes, the singer, Simara, tells me "Madame, you give this to me." I chuckle uncomfortably and say "Well it's my husband's camera" (They do not really do engagements and fiances here). "Well then," she says, "Give me your dress then,Madame". "I'm sorry," I respond, "But this dress belongs to my mother".
"Madame, you give me your sweets then. In your bag you have sweets, give them to me."
"I do not have sweets in my bag Simara."
"What can you give me then?"
"Do you remember the Do, Re, Mi, that I taught you toady?"
"I can give you as much knowledge about music as you can hold in your head- but I can give you nothing that you can hold in your hand. I'm sorry"
I am moved to tears because if I hadn't only packed 7 days worth of clothing, I would have shed my dress right then and there, if I had a piece of candy in my bag, I would have handed it to her; but none of these things will last.
Each organization asks for material things. The culture is so deprived of them that they can only feel the lacking and the deep desire to fill. Fount of Mercy, however, is not that kind of organization- we don't bring materials unless we have written grants, drawn proposals, and funded the purchase entirely. For MOHM, we left them with a hand-made trunk that they can store their books and papers in so that when it rained, their things would not be ruined and local textbooks, one per subject per grade. We are told not to promise them material things, and further to explain to them that that's not what we are here for; and yet, and the beginning of every new organization we meet, I find myself thinking- "What could I send back to them once I return to the states? What can I give?" If I had to see it through their eyes, what would they need?
I'll be thinking about that...probably for the rest of my life.