Friday, April 4, 2008


I have not written much about my time in Uganda.

The truth of the matter is that here I am, months later, still processing everything I saw and experienced; and while I am further along now than I was upon my return, I think it will be years before I fully understand the effect it has had on me.

This evening we gathered in a dance studio on campus--the students from this trip, from last year's trip, and people who just wanted to learn about our experiences. We watched a few short videos from both years, and then each student shared a reflection. Some were short, some were... not. Some brought tears, some brought laughter. But mostly I felt joy, and a sense of community.

I will share one of them with you now.

On our last night in Uganda, we went to see a performance of the NDere troupe--an amazing group of traditional Ugandan dancers. I wish I had photos or video of the Pot Dance, which is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen, but alas it was dark by then and none of my photos turned out. However, here is an example from earlier in the evening...

Incredible, no?

Aside from being a national treasure of sorts, the NDere dancers are also a large tourist attraction. As such, touristy-type entertainments take place, generally to cover the costume changes. At one point all the children in the audience were brought to the stage to dance. Another time all the foreigners--which was over half the audience--came to the stage and we sang "Amazing Grace" (which, heretic though I may be, I must admit brought tears to my eyes).

Towards the end of the evening, two groups were called to the stage. Ours, and a group of Australian missionaries.

We had a dance-off.

Bear in mind that, while yes we were there to study dance, half of our number were not dancers.

It seems that none of the Australians were.

Yet their energy was impressive as they leapt and cavorted and, well, taunted us quite extensively. After a few seconds we pulled ourselves together and found the rhythm of the drummers behind us, falling into one of the steps we'd learned from our immensely patient teachers, now cheering us on from the sidelines.

After several minutes of dancing (on our part) and silliness (on the Australians'), the drums ceased. The Emcee culled several volunteers from the audience to act as our judges. In turn he asked each of them which group should win, and why. In turn, they each named the Americans victorious, which was gratifying in and of itself.

By the time he reached the final judge, a Ugandan woman, we had already won by a landslide; but still he asked for her vote, and she replied... "The Americans."

He asked her why.

"Because they understand African music. They understand African dance."

I felt my heart swell with pride and love as the Australians ran across the stage to hug us, and our Ugandan friends joined us on the stage for a victory rendition of the Owaru dance.

The remainder of the evening passed in a blur of tearful farewells and singing on the bus back to our final night at our peculiar Chinese hotel... and yet that one moment is crystalized in my mind.

Standing on that stage, vacated only moments before by some of the most incredible dancers I had ever witnessed, I realized that these friends had taught me much more than steps and words.

I may have left a piece of myself in Africa, but deep inside I brought a piece of Africa home with me.

1 comment:

Princess Pointful said...

This was a beautiful story.

And what makes writing worthwhile-- being able to recount such memories.