Sunday, March 17, 2013

(Saint) Patrick's Day

So, today is St. Patrick’s Day.  I remembered when it was this year long before I usually do, because Griffin is oh so proud of her Irish heritage.  Honestly, this day doesn’t normally have any really special significance for me, but this year is a little different, due to the ironic coincidence that today was also “Visitation Day” at Patrick’s school.

If you remember, we are using the money raised from selling CDs to pay for Patrick’s first year at Minor Seminary (the level of seminary that would match up with late middle school and early high school years in the US).  Once per term (and there are three terms per year), all boarding schools, whether they are primary, secondary, seminaries, nursing schools, or whatever, have a Visitation Day, usually near the middle of the term, when students’ families come to talk to teachers, see grades, listen to speeches, eat a big lunch, and spend time with the kids.

So, a few weeks ago, Max told me that Patrick’s day was March 17th (it took me a few days before I realized the irony of it also being St. Patrick’s Day), and on Friday he said that he and Teddy would come pick me up at about nine in the morning.  I was actually up in time (rare for a weekend), and they got to my house a little after ten – close enough.  The drive to the seminary took a little less than an hour, and, about five minutes before we got there, Max decided that it was a good time to inform me that two of their other kids had visiting days today as well.  So, for at least a few hours, I was going to be the family’s representative at Patrick’s school, while they went to their daughter Gemma’s school.  Wonderful – so I was heading into a sea of people I didn’t know, except for Patrick, which wasn’t a huge help.  What I find kind of odd about these visiting days is that it seems like families don’t actually get to spend a ton of time with the kids.  All of these activities, meetings, and presentations happen, but the students are often separate from the parents.  For example, during the two hour Catholic mass, all of the students sat in the middle of the church, while the parents were behind them or in the side pews.  During lunch as well, most students didn’t sit with their families.

As you would probably guess, I’m not really the person who walks into a gathering full of strangers and immediately starts making friends with people.  Actually, the opposite of that would probably describe me a bit more accurately.  So, there I was, sitting on a bench, watching what might be called the school’s marching band, in that there was one group of people playing brass instruments and drums, and a second group of people marching to the music – not exactly the type of marching band I remember from high school.  There I was, sitting in a pew trying to pick out anything I could from the mass (which was completely in Luganda), discreetly glancing sideways at the guy next to me from time to time so I had some idea of when to stand up, sit down, kneel, or cross myself.  There I was, sitting on a stool outside, listening to someone give directions about lunch, and hoping that I understood enough of what he was saying to know the correct procedure.  Actually, now that I think of it, it was kind of nice…I felt a sense of anonymity that is usually lacking in my life here.  People weren’t making a big deal about me, and no one was going out of his or her way to make me feel special.  Strange as it may sound, I enjoyed and appreciated this.

As I was sitting on my stool, waiting for the huge buffet line to dwindle, Max and Teddy returned.  I was happy to see some familiar faces, but I also realized that my status had now reverted back to “honored muzungu guest”.  Within a few minutes, a priest was leading by the hand, past all of the people waiting in line, and he put me at the start of the buffet table so that I could get my food immediately.  I thought about protesting and saying that I didn’t mind waiting, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t make a difference.  On the other hand, maybe this system works better for everyone, since I eat about half as fast as most Ugandans…

After we had eaten lunch, it was about 4:00 pm, and we still needed to go visit Emma, Max and Teddy’s youngest son, at his primary school.  So, we talked with Patrick for a few minutes before heading out.  Patrick seems to be doing well, by the way.  He was one of the acolytes or altar boys or whatever they’re called during the service (sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve been to a Catholic mass), and he is currently 10th in his class, out of, I don’t know, a lot more than ten.  The list was long, and there were a lot of numbers…but I did notice that his music score was very high – that’s my boy…

We drove to Emma’s school and probably spent about an hour there.  Emma is in Primary Four, and he can’t be any older than ten or eleven.  I have to admit that this whole idea of boarding school really amazes me, especially for kids that young.  Even in high school, I was never away from my family for more than a few days at a time, and those periods, usually related to swimming or music, didn’t happen frequently.  When I finally went to college, I got used to the idea of being away from my family relatively quickly, but I still missed them, as well as friends back home (and I also miss them now, of course).  It’s really hard for me to imagine leaving home for months at a time when I was in elementary school, middle school, or even high school.  Ugandan parents who can afford it send their kids to these schools because it will likely give them greater opportunities in the future, I think, but I still have trouble grasping it.  I’m certainly not saying it’s a bad thing the parents are doing – it’s great that they’re trying to give their kids these opportunities.  I just don’t know how I would react in this situation, personally, either as the child or as the parent…

Anyway, after hitting all of the schools on the list, we headed home, back to Kalisizo.  Max decided to take a shortcut on some bumpy back roads, making it very difficult for me to read, and I don’t think we got back any faster than we would have otherwise (Mom and Phyllis will likely be chuckling right now).  But, we did make it back with no problems, and Max dropped me outside of my compound.  As I was saying good night and thanking them for letting me come along, Max said, “Thank you for the friendship you’ve shown today.”  It was sort of a striking statement, and it reminded me that, sometimes, doing something very small can mean a lot to others.  I certainly didn’t start the day thinking that my tagging along would be a big deal, but Max and Teddy seemed to appreciate it quite a bit.  So that’s a plus.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dancing in the Moonlight

Last night was interesting…

At about 10:30 PM, I heard a knock on my door.  Wondering who in the world would want to talk at such a late hour, I reluctantly got up from the comfortable chair in my bedroom and made my way into the front room.  Opening the door, I found that the person responsible for disturbing me from my relaxation was a woman who helps to run the guest house next to our compound.  She is also a friend of my landlady, and she had been sent to invite me to a graduation party for my landlady’s daughter.  The party was scheduled to take place at…10:30 PM last night.  (Actually, it was probably scheduled for like 8 or 9 PM but was actually just getting started.)  After overcoming my surprise surrounding, first, the fact that my landlady has a daughter old enough to be graduating from college (I’m assuming it is college…it was never explicitly stated), and, second, the fact that I was being invited to a party that was starting at 10:30 on a Thursday night, I found out that the party was happening at the guest house next door, and that they were hoping I could come “just for 30 minutes or an hour.”  (I’ve learned enough in the past year and a half to know that this timeframe would be a significant underestimate.)  I paused and looked down at my outfit, which consisted of the dirty t-shirt and shorts I only wear before bed when I’m alone in my house, and my friend at the door quickly realized that this ensemble simply would not do.  So, she told me that she would wait for me at the guest house.  I agreed, shut the door, and put on some pants and a slightly less dirty shirt with buttons.

It was a really beautiful night.  The stars were out, and the yellowish moon, just past full, was shining brightly down onto the courtyard of the guest house.  I paused at the entrance to the courtyard and took a breath, knowing that, as soon as I stepped through the doorway, I would become the center of attention for at least a few minutes.  I generally need to take a second to prepare myself for something like that.  If you ever want to experience service, be a muzungu guest at one of these Ugandan functions.  Once I finally did make my way to the section of the courtyard where the party was getting started, chairs and tables suddenly moved to provide me with a place to sit where I could easily see everything.  In his haste, one guy, trying to move a small table, only grabbed the top part (the legs were left sitting where the table had previously made its home) and, without even realizing his error, tried to place the table in a new location.  As he let go of the table top, it promptly dropped to the ground.  A second guy discreetly passed him the forgotten legs, but not before everyone had a good laugh.

A few speeches were made congratulating Maria (who I had never met before last night), Maria said a prayer, and then food was served.  Now, it was past 10:30 PM, and I had obviously already eaten dinner.  Actually, Griffin had been in Masaka yesterday and had brought me a huge cheeseburger and fries from an amazing restaurant there, because she’s just an awesome person.  As you might expect, I had really enjoyed dinner and was feeling completely satisfied.  I would have been quite content with not eating anything else last night.  Instead, suddenly, sitting in front of me was a huge platter that on which you might serve a small turkey.  (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit here…It was probably only big enough for a whole rotisserie chicken.)  Every square inch of this thing was piled with matooke, rice, and some sort of meat…I’m guessing beef.   I was not hungry at all, but, thinking that it would be impolite to refuse, I slowly shoveled as much as I could into my mouth for the next half an hour or so.  I made it about three-quarters of the way through the stuff, and I think I impressed Rita, the girl who had served me.  After picking up my nearly-cleared plate, she said something along the lines of “You didn’t give your food to someone else, did you?”

After 'second-dinner,' a few friends gave Maria some gifts, and then the dancing started (and the title of the blog starts to make sense).  Ugandans can dance.  These people have rhythm.  Even the little kids have solid skills.  On the other hand, if you know anything about me, you probably know that dancing is not one of my favorite activities, and I am not very good.  Sometimes, I think that the reason I like playing music so much is because, when I play music, I don’t have to dance to it.  Well, as you might imagine, a muzungu standing up and dancing would be quite a spectacle, and quite a few people were trying to persuade me.  I remained steadfast for a few minutes, but then my neighbors in my compound started to work on me.  I like them a lot and found it much more difficult to say no.  So, it happened.  I stood up and found myself dancing in the moonlight with my neighbors.  Actually calling it “dancing” might be a bit of a stretch, though, seeing as my only move consists of rhythmic swaying, incorporating very subtle knee bends on the beat.  Granted, the long hair adds an entirely new dimension, forcing me to include a few quick head movements to keep the hair out of my eyes.  Needless to say, the company enjoyed this sight quite a bit, and I suppose I’m glad that I could add to their evening.  Sometimes, I guess, you just have to accept that you’re going to be a spectacle and go with the flow.  Obviously, though, to an impartial observer, I was put to shame by the others dancing around me.  Sarah, who I described in my last post as the woman who cooks, cleans, and takes care of some of the kids in our compound, had some especially impressive moves.

Finally, around 12:30 AM (didn’t I say that 30 minutes would be an underestimate?), things started to wind down, and I told my landlady that I needed to get to bed after thanking her for inviting me.  As I left the guest house and walked the short distance to my door, I thought a little bit about the experience.  What I found most striking was the sense of accomplishment that permeated the entire group.  It was not just felt by the graduate herself, but by her friends and family as well, as if it was a team effort.  Truly, I’m sure it was.  Personally, I know from my own experience that I would not have been nearly as successful as I was in school if I did not have a wonderful, loving family, a great group of friends, and supportive teachers standing with me through it all.  It seems that Maria has these things, and I think that the children of several other families I have met here have them, too.  This is the kind of realization that brings me joy and that allows me to truly enjoy my time here.

So, our compound's saga of interesting and amusing events continues.  Who knows what next week has in store…