Saturday, 6 November 2010

Men in Dresses and Hope

Expect the unexpected if you decide to visit Africa. Power outages are frequent and while Africa is caught up globally with an integrated mobile phone market, Internet access can be spotty. I hope to post some videos and audio when the access becomes available to me. Stay tuned!

Entebbe Airport
Welcome to Kampala

When I left Kenya en route to Entebbe and my final destination Kampala, Uganda I couldn’t help but notice the Kenyan men at the Nairobi Airport. Their dress were dresses. Elegant. Gaunt faces, but with intense character. Individuals. I boarded my final flight mulling over the awakening of the new culture I am in.
My arrival in Uganda was greeted with airport signage, “Welcome to the Pearl of Africa.”
When I stopped on the tarmac to fuddle with my camera and take a picture someone came up behind and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. They’ll arrest you.”
Promptly the camera was hidden and I proceeded to exit. A VISA is required to enter the country. I had read some Ugandan etiquette before departing Canada. While many speak some English, it’s appropriate to ask “How are you?” before any other request. Deemed rude if you don’t.
I was ushered into Uganda with a smile.
While I sat at the airport waiting for my pick-up there was torrential rain. Warm rain. I got a chuckle when some lizard like creature scurried across the road.
Eventually my fellow Canadians, Martha and Kelly found me. Peter our driver exited to the car with my bags. The three of us yacking up a storm.
I’d been warned about driving in Uganda. They’re on the other side of the road. The honking is frequent and trust in your driver is paramount.
The soil is reddish. The roads full of potholes. The cars old. Motorcycles everywhere. Called Boda Bodas here. I didn’t see any sky scrapers or multi-story dwellings on the way. Lean twos and shanty towns. Colourful people idled about in doorways. My initial observation claims the women of Uganda dress up like they are going out on the town everyday. A show of fashion. Ugandan style.
At Mengo Hosptial I was showed my room and later invited to a rehearsal for what locals refer to as the Bukuli Boys or the African Hearts.
Street boys who have lost their parents to AIDS. Led by Abbey, who formerly survived the same way, they formed a brass band. I later learned they perform at various events to raise money for their school fees.
It was dusk when we arrived. Hilda, also from Canada had a suitcase of gifts for the boys. Out came a new pair of symbols. There were cheers. They’d set up chairs for us in their backyard as guests of honour. Drumsticks were next which their leader, Abbey said were hard to acquire in Africa.

Hilda Delights with the sounds of the African Hearts
But the most cheers came when the toothbrushes and the toothpaste were announced.
I’d brought my son’s elementary school instruments. Collecting dust at home. A recorder, a penny whistler and a harmonica. I don’t think they’d ever heard a harmonica. I demonstrated with laughter and cheers to compliment.
Before dusk the start of rehearsal
Once all the gifts from Canada were announced it was dark. The boys started their practice. Brass instruments with drums and symbols. They are a well rehearsed brass band. The performance included gymnastics, dancing and acrobats from the younger boys. Seventeen of them. All of whom live in a one bedroom house.
We got the tour. No power. The cooking is done outside over a charcoal pit. A large table in the living room for eating. The one bedroom equipped with two bunks beds. Not like we are used to. There are three to each bunk. In the basement, three more of three each. A couple pads in the living room for the leaders.
I was told they afforded one meal a day for the longest time. Some funds from Canada had bought them a water tank to collect the rain water. They have a field to grow some food and now a cow for milk. From their early beginnings they’ve come far. With help from Hilda and her friends and family in Canada, soon they’ll have another cow. And now they can afford up to two meals a day. Not just porridge.
Each boy had greeted us with the most unusual hand shake. Like ours but with a twist. When we went to say goodbye one of the boys come to me. I’d been introduced as Jane Victoria. He remembered me as Victoria. In his broken English he said to me, “Victoria, I will never forget you.”
Their faces lit up with smiles as we left. With a promise of a performance on Wednesday night.
Abbey had hung on to the recorder and playfully sang it to us.
What an absolute delight. My first night in Africa. 
My first experience with hope.

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