July 28, 2009
It’s remarkable how driving down a dirt road in Uganda at sunset makes you think about life. You just sit back and take in the beauty of the red orange sunset combined with the shoulder-high grass and mango trees and wonder how anything bad could ever have happened here. The entire landscape exudes a kind of calm and beauty that entrances you. And to think that the very road I’m marveling over was impassable just 2 years ago.
While on this drive, I started thinking, really thinking, about whom I was with and where I was. And all I could think was, “How did my life get this cool?” I was on my way home from a meeting in Gulu with Bishop Ochola and several of our friends, and so many things struck me at once.
First of all: Bishop Ochola. Such an amazing man. He can’t go a single day without telling you several stories, but it’s obvious that he derives such joy from telling them that you can’t help but indulge. And to think about how much he’s been through and seen. He’s 73 years old. Uganda has only been independent for 47 years. He’s seen and lived all of the history and horrors, and he’s relentlessly fought for peace and forgiveness despite what he has been through. And I’m fortunate enough to live in this man’s home with his family.
Then let’s think about the fact that I was the only American, only mzungu, traveling in a car full of new Ugandan friends whom I could trust with anything. At first I was so scared to be in Kitgum by myself. I had no idea what to do, who to talk to, where to go. But I’ve made some really wonderful, really close friends because I’m traveling alone and I’m so much more approachable than when we travel in a huge group. I’m so grateful for these friends because I wouldn’t have made it past the first week without them. And I’ve gotten such a personal look into people’s lives, people’s thoughts, people’s pasts. These are all things I would not have had in another setting. Now I don’t want to leave Kitgum because I’ll also be leaving them.
And finally, let’s think about the fact that I’m just in Uganda. And I’m planning on being here so much more. How did I get this lucky? Some people never leave Knoxville their whole lives, but I stumbled upon the chance to travel to Uganda. I’ve learned more and seen more here in just a few months than I could ever put into word. And despite the fact that I’ll be eating Ramen and peanut butter and jelly for the next 6 months, I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything because they’re priceless.
Today was definitely one of the best, most productive days I’ve had in Uganda so far. For progress on the folk tale project with Bishop Ochola, we’d only recorded 30 stories and done nothing else. I honestly had no idea what the next step was, and I was internally panicking a bit. So I decided we needed to have a meeting with our artists, with Lindsay, and with someone who could translate the tales. So we woke up really early to make the 2 hour journey to Gulu on a dirt road riddled with potholes.
We hadn’t gotten far in our journey, and we were passing kids in school uniforms walking to class all along the road. This is normal, so you just honk the horn and drive on. But as we were driving, we passed a young girl of about 8 or 9 passed out on the side of the road. We drive on to the school because it’s only about 100 meters away, and it would be best to talk to a teacher or headmaster. We pull in and there are a ton of kids in their purple and blue uniforms, but they quickly inform us that there are no teachers or adults around. Since the teachers are paid so little (200,000 Ush a month, which is about $100) and there is no inspection to see if they’re doing their job, the teachers have no incentive and they often just don’t show up to school. Bishop flagged down another truck that was passing and asked them to pick the girl and bring her home. The poor girl could barely walk.
After this, we were back on our way and we finally arrived in Gulu. We had arranged a meeting with Patrick, a local artist based in Gulu; Vinny, our artist friend based in Kampala; Moses Lanyero, a Ugandan friend; Lindsay McClain, Bishop Ochola, and myself. This was the first time we have all gotten together to discuss what we want to see happen and what we think we can do. It took a bit of time to steer the conversation in the right direction, but we soon made some fairly ambitious plans.
We decided as a group that we would like to see four things happen with the folk tales: a book, a comic book series, animation, and an audio book. They can’t possibly all happen at the same time, so we decided that the comic book series would be the best to start with. They can be distributed to primary schools, and the format is very kid-friendly. So I’m getting the recorded folk tales to Moses, he’s transcribing and translating the first 5 or so and checking it with Bishop, then we’re sending those few stories to Vinny and Patrick to get started on some designs. The idea is that we can publish 4 or 5 similar themed folk tales at a time and have them come out in a series. Once we get this first bunch done, we can apply for some bigger grants for funding.
Now we’ve got the whole team working on it so the next steps should come fairly easily. The biggest challenge will just be communication once Lindsay and I are back in the US. And it’s great to finally have a real game plan for how we’re going to approach this thing.
It’s been a long day of working on a spread sheet with Bishop. We’re mapping out all the characters so the artists can have an idea of who comes in where.
Hope things are good at home. I’ll be there in just two weeks! (eek!)