Despite the fact that there is no official religion in the country, faith plays a significant role in the lives of most Ugandans. Christianity and Islam, imported during before and during the colonial era, have blended with indigenous religions to form a unique mix of heritage and religion. Last weekend, the country celebrated the Easter holiday, during which most students and adults enjoyed a rare 4-day weekend. Action in Africa took full advantage of the days off, opening our doors at The Center for extended weekend hours and spending some quality time with our students and neighbors.
The boarding students at St. Johnson's Primary School who were not able to return home for the holiday attended mass at a nearby church, then stopped by The Center on their return home. About 20 kids spent a couple hours with us, using the tire swing, playing soccer in the yard, reading, and shading (this is what Ugandans call coloring). The students eagerly grabbed the hands of Travis, Sarah, and Maggie for the walk through the neighboring village, Mpawo, back to St. Johnson's. Some of the younger boys dragged Travis in to their dormitory to show off, flashing smiles of pride, their neatly made bunk beds - about 45 boys sleep in the 1,200 square foot room. The school had arranged an Easter meal of rice, meat, and a special treat: pasta. As we were eating with the students, we wondered why all the kids had so suddenly clammed up - they were barely responding to anything we said and didn't utter a peep to each other! In turns out that the school had generalized the mantra of "it's rude to speak with your mouth full," to "it's rude to speak during a meal!" This was a bit surprising to us, but we tried to roll with it. A few minutes later the boom and crash of nearby thunder had them all shrieking in a mixture of fear and delight, and got them chatting again. We hurried home to avoid the inevitable 45-minute torrential downpour that is typical of rainy season in Uganda.
We arrived back at The Center just as the first drops started to fall, and immediately got to work preparing an Easter surprise for our neighbors. Earlier in the day, our local boda-driver friend, Kenny, had delivered us flowers from the Chirika flower market. Maggie trimmed the stems and packaged the flowers into mini-bouquets. Sarah added a handwritten note, and tied it all together with a small piece of ribbon.
After the rain subsided, we walked next door to deliver the arrangements to Mama Tendo, Mama Jazil, and Mama Melon who were sitting on porch eating their Easter meal. Despite the difficulty we sometimes have communicating with them, they understood the message: we could not imagine living next to better neighbors and absolutely adore them and their children! Little Jazil giggled with joy as he smelled the flowers and presented them to his mom. They implored us to sit and eat with them, to share in the community spirit that defines holidays in Uganda. As our lunch party grew, we decided it was best to move the feast back across the street on to our porch, where all of us would be able to sit at a table together. The mothers graciously (and somewhat forcibly) shared their food with us. Mama Melon and Mama Jazil had prepared two of their chickens for the occasion, and we all shared the traditional rice, beans, and matoke (boiled plantains).
As the eating died down, Maggie turned up the music and began to play some of the kids' favorite Ugandan tunes. Melon, Joan, and Jovia showed off their moves to Go Down Low. We brought out coffee as a special treat for the moms, but to our surprise, Jonathan, Jovia, and even the little ones loved it! We spent a couple of blissful hours sitting, chatting, listening to music, and watching the kids dance. The festivities wound down and we made sure the families knew how grateful we are to have them in our lives - life here would not be the same without them.
A bit later, Carol and Kato, a pair of twins who are some of our most regular workshop attendees, came by The Center with their parents and sister, Baby Daniella. The entire family was dressed in their Easter best for a special night out. Mama and Papa Kato, wanted to come by to say hello and wish us a happy Easter! We convinced them to take some beautiful photos in our garden and they demanded some with us before heading off for the evening.
We settled down to enjoy the rest of our night and reflected on what a success the day had been! We had the chance to spend some quality time bonding with families we are trying to help - nothing could be more important on the road to improved education and economic success than developing strong, lasting relationships and becoming an integral part of the community!