Friday, January 13, 2012

follow-up to the Ukiah performance

The students from Ukiah wrote us some of their reflections. My favorite: 

   I was at the high point of euphoria. They felt like both friends and family. I was so happy and proud. Someone in the audience kept saying they were having goosebumps during the performance. Awesome.
   They all danced with their heart. I connected with them through their performances. I was amazed that they still keep their traditions.
  I felt they really cherished what they have, so they really appreciated everything they learned. One girl was writing down every Chinese phrase we taught her while talking or walking. It seemed that the knowledge was precious to them. 
  I was really eager to see them. They were really happy to see us. Their performances were really lively. Their dance is gift for us. Their happiness is our happiness. I was happy we were able to give them something equal
  I thought it was cool. There is no difference between them and us. Their dance was really amazing. I want to learn the dance. I felt there is no distance (of strangers) between Ugandans and our students.
   We learned so much about how joyful and carefree their culture is, how full of life and positive. Before, we only learned about the depressing part, the suffering and loss and poverty. But it seemed like they could forget everything when they danced, and just be in the moment. We should learn from them to forget the negative past experiences and enjoy the present.

Update

I realize i have a gaping hole in my blog record. Update: I was in Uganda. Now I'm in America, and I have 20 Ugandans with me for a 7-week tour of the States. Pause for immense gratitude. This is a huge dream come true. I had so many sleepless nights while we planned it, and now that it's a reality... well, i'm still up too late planning, and still having those "working dreams" rehearsing tomorrow's plans in my mind, but mainly I'm just overwhelmingly happy that it is really real. For nearly 2 years now, every time I've flown I've walked through SFO airport imagining what it would look like to the new eyes of Ugandan children who have never flown before. Not a week ago, I walked through the same airport holding 20 passports, counting 20 heads, sending 20 through customs and immigration, counting 31 pieces of luggage, calling ahead to the bus driver and my friend Susan who met us on the other side. I was so unstressed and everything went so smoothly that I had to pinch myself again and again to be sure I was awake.
I'm sure the universe has somehow aligned in our favor. Everything feels like a miracle. We haven't lost a single person, passport, or piece of luggage. Another similar Ugandan organization (Watoto) was traveling on the same plane to London, and their kids were puking left and right while our group sailed sweetly through with only a little dehydration and some sore muscles. Yesterday we made an E.R. trip for stitches on a cut (from playing basketball) and they got us in and out in half an hour. If that isn't miraculous, I don't know what is. 
At the Ukiah performance (where it seemed the entire town came to see us) I asked one of the nuns what happened - did they publicize the performance widely? She said no, they had hardly announced it. She told me they believed that these people knew to come because they had a spiritual affinity with the Children of Uganda and the work we do. 

One of our Ugandan songs proclaims "I'll sing to the Lord, because God is watching over me." My theological training tells me to be wary of statements like "things are going well so God must be on our side" but at the same time, my gut tells me to trust it. Even though this tour is brought to you with a lot of help from our friends, by the seat of our pants and the skin of our teeth, even though we aren't sure where we'll stay next week, I am finally fully willing to trust and just to keep putting one dancing foot in front of the other.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Children of Uganda's first show

I write this as we travel home from Ukiah, a 2+ hour drive through wine country and rolling hills.
Ukiah? What's in Ukiah? (my first thoughts…)
What is in Ukiah, as it turns out, is an amazing Buddhist center (City of Ten Thousand Buddhas) including a K-12 day and boarding school, some university students, monks, nuns, organic farm, meditation center and restaurant. One of their high school students has been raising money for Children of Uganda, through Rotary club and other sources. So we decided to make a trip up to see them… one of the best decisions ever made!
We were enthusiastically greeted by a gaggle of uniformed high school girls, and soon introduced to a Ugandan Buddhist Monk who took the COU children on a lecture-tour of the center. He brought them into the Buddha hall and oriented them to the meanings of various statues and paintings, drawing comparisons to Christ very frequently, and with a casualness that surprised our children. They were also surprised to find out that some people were Christian Buddhists. One girl remarked - "in Uganda I could never go into a place like this, it would be seen as totally wrong. But here I can visit and learn about it with no problem." The children participated in meditation as well. We hope all of them have learned something about religious tolerance and even about respectful interfaith dialogue!

After lunch we set up for the performance, but soon we were invited to sit down in front row seats while THEY performed for US. We saw several different dances including the Lion dance and Dragon dance, and Taiwanese drumming as well. The audience of about 500 packed into the room, stood by the walls, sat on the floor, and made a lot of very appreciative noise. At some points it sounded more like a basketball game than a dance performance from the way they whooped and whistled. Children of Uganda performed after the intermission and I couldn't imagine a more supportive audience. At the end the COU kids were each given gift baskets, hand-written cards from kindergarteners (with greetings in Luganda!), and roses. By the time we loaded our things back onto the bus they'd laden us down with boxes of snacks, blankets, jackets, sweaters, and I don't even know what else. Their students came onto our bus for a final goodbye and I do believe I saw some tears as they exchanged hugs.

We're headed home now to our homestay families, most of whom have lamented how little time they get to spend with their guests. We've reconfigured the schedule to allow them another meal together on Thursday and a free day with no commitments but recreation on Saturday. This morning we left at 7 AM, no one's favorite time, but my host family's twin 10-year-olds stumbled sleepy-headed out to the breakfast table so they could get some extra time with their guests.

On Children of Uganda's 2006 tour we went to big professional theaters and stayed in hotels. I will admit that a theater *might* make us twice as much money as a school, and that when you stay in hotels you are subject to no one's lateness but your own. But in my personal opinion, that money couldn't possibly be worth as much as the bedheaded good-mornings and tearful good-byes.

Pictures and video to come soon!