Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ankole Spirit World

The mighty spirits of the Ankole people are partial to 3 offerings: milk, millet, and money. That’s what our tour guide told us as we trudged from prayer site to prayer site to pay homage to the ancient Chwezi (demigods) of Bigobyamugenyi in Sembabule, a village about 2 potholed and dusty hours from Lyantonde by motorcycle. Allegedly my knees graced the same grass and dirt alters frequented by president Museveni (which didn’t stop my pasty neck from burning, but did sharpen my secret hopes of one day becoming a bush-war hero).

We hoofed past trails that if taken would trigger your eternal disappearance, deep empty pits where the sounds of ancient drums are said to be ever-pounding, and a grass mansion that a spirit couple telepathically commissioned the care-takers to construct for them and their set of dybbuk-duo twins. Michael and I took the journey with 3 other Ugandan tourists - technicians from Kampala enjoying a day off from erecting a mobile phone tower nearby. Together we would enter each site – first removing our shoes – and kneel down to sprinkle millet seeds and coins over banana leaves and pray to those who protect and bring prosperity to believers.

The air was the freshest I’d smelt since Mt. Elgon, and all the walking and “praying” gave me time to dwell on recent events and positive-but-unexpected changes that have jolted me out of routine that I was unconsciously falling into here in Uganda.

After some discussion its been decided that I will return to the states for the summer to assist in some fund and morale raising, visit mommy-dearest (she’s coming off shoulder surgery – too much rugby), take a sustainable aid course, and eat 1000 burritos. Project Focus has decided to first conquer the internet café and other smaller projects in Lyantonde to garner a network of development partners, donors, and project-implementing experience before tackling the construction of a school. The café will start extra income flowing into the school, allowing us to establish a solid financial system on a smaller scale before the large amounts of money that come with construction will begin changing hands. This is the right move, but will present a healthy challenge in trust-maintenance among the relationships we’ve built in the Prince community over the past few years. The school management committee (who represents the guardian community) is now onboard, so all that is left is convincing the parents that when the rain descends, the floods come, and the wind blows, theirs will be a school that was founded upon a well-planned rock and not upon the rushed and poorly thought-out sand.

Branco – the Bitone founder and director – has been awarded an illustrious Fulbright scholarship to complete his masters degree in music from a university in Connecticut. This is great news for the long-term stability of Bitone because it will secure him a fulltime position at Makerere University (where he is now a part time lecturer) when he returns to Uganda. His shoes will be hard to fill at the center, and the kids (and me) will hate to see him go, but it will also help to spread some of the responsibilities out so Bitone becomes a more manageable and effective organization whose fate is not hinged on one man. Speaking of president Museveni; Bitone also scored themselves a performance arranged by the bigwigs we traveled to Ethiopia with, at which they will be sending good ol’ Yoweri off from the state house (Uganda’s version of the white house) and then Entebbe airport when he goes to who-knows-where to do who-knows-what. These are the high-profile performances Bitone’s talent deserves.

A little over a week ago I hosted two volunteers (Brian and Alexis) who are touring around East Africa doing third-party analysis of projects that have received funding through an organization called Global Giving. Most of the money Project Focus raised for the materials used in the Ugandan art programs was collected through Global Giving’s online donation services, so the two came to check out the impact of those programs and see what we are up to now. I took them to Prince so they could interview some students and staff about the “Story Ki?” project, and hear about our plans for the future.

I left the room to allow the students to answer freely, and the feedback was better then I would have guessed. Being here and focusing solely on logistical-type aspects for the past 8 months has dulled my right-brain wherewithal, and that day reminded me of the fact that this all begin with children whose lives and creative capacities were forever opened up by art, and that this is something we really need to continue. You can read their full review of our visit to Prince at... I also took them to my favorite Lyantonde prayer site “the rock”. We disregarding the threats I received last time I was there by a rifle-wielding vigilante security guard posing as a police officer. He said that I would be arrested if he ever saw me there again. The sunset photos we got would have been worth a night or two in the Lyantonde clink.
After Michael and I left the spirit grounds we made a stop at a compound that would rival the Bush family ranch. This was home to a young women who has been coined “the holy one”. In her, the spirits from the other sites often take refuge to escape the trials and tribulations of the celestial space. Photos were not allowed there, but the holy one has built herself a nice little empire from a herbal medical product line, and happened to be out of town overseeing her new church in Kampala. Apparently on certain holidays you can find her parking lot full of the Benzes and Range Rovers of Kampala’s finest coming to seek blessings. I searched the labels of as many of her oils and solutions as I could to find a cure for the hatred of onions, issues with fundraising, or lack of college degree, but to no avail.

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