Friday, May 23, 2008

The Healing Power of Beauty

It's been a great week. The work is endlessly fascinating if not always easy, and the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. It's actually not a bad spot to be in. It's when I feel I've seen it all before that work becomes monotonous and soul-numbing.. I can honestly say, I have not had one of those moments since I arrived...

One of the initiatives I have become most excited about is a project in collaboration
with a group here in Uganda that helps young people who have been recruited into the sex trade (desperately poor, mostly sexually abused) and want something else for their lives. It is a natural alliance as BeadforLife looks for those most in need of an economic and emotional life raft. The collaboration will also help BFL access the inventory needed to meet an ever-increasing demand for the beads in the U.S. and elsewhere. Though there is much groundwork to be laid before the project begins, the possibilities are exciting. The young enthusiastic social worker ("enthusiastic social worker" is not an oxymoron in this case) who arrived at the office to discuss the project brought with him a frail young woman who was a participant in their program. She didn't speak at all during the discussion and several times I found her staring at me with huge, wary eyes. At the end of the meeting, we showed them the beads and explained how they are made. It was then, for the first time, that I saw her eyes light up. She observed the beads carefully, turning them over and over in her hands asking, "I could make these?" And when we said yes, she broke into a wide, beautiful smile. It is often said around here that "it's not about the beads - it's about poverty eradication." And that's true. Sometimes though, it is about the beads and what it means to create something of beauty when your world has far too little beauty in it.

Let me do a quick health update before signing off this evening. The first
week I was here, the staff traveled to Jinja for a three-day retreat. It was a good time for meeting people and beginning new relationships. Unfortunately, it appears that several staff members have come down with Malaria now and the most likely place for contracting the illness was at the lodge in Jinja. I asked a co-worker today if she had had Malaria and she said, "Every Ugandan has had Malaria. I prefer it to the Flu." So - I intend to keep my perspective about this .. and about everything else as well.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

There's a Monkey in the Hall

One of the things I love the most about Uganda is the steady stream of surprises that make life so interesting. It might be a boda boda (motorcycle for transport) suddenly lurching in front of you on the street, or a sign saying "God Is Able Beauty Saloon"or it might be the turkey I found living under my back stairs. Life here is a never-ending pageant of surprises.

One morning, sitting on the porch during a torrential rainstorm, I noticed a little boy just inside the gate romping around in the rain butt naked. He heard me laughing and as a result, became much more animated and much less inhibited. Soon his friends joined him and there ensued a full-out burlesque extravaganza. Still laughing loudly, I became mildly aware that someone's indignant mother might appear at any moment demanding an explanation from me. Blame my years as a child abuse prevention trainer for that one. In any case, no adult appeared and if one had, I'm sure they'd have soaked up the pure joy of kids dancing in the rain as much as I did..

About that monkey... I guess all these years there's been a part of me that has secretly wanted to make the statement, "There's a monkey in the hall" though I've never been aware of it before. At long last then, I am able to truthfully make that statement. Next to my apartment building, there is a tree that is home to a family of monkeys. Maybe several families, how would I know. In any case, there are quite a few of them and they're the very essence of monkeyness. By now, you have no doubt come to the conclusion that at least one of these monkeys ran into the building and down the hall. You are correct. He or she then ran up the stairs and proceeded to eat the cat food left out by conscientious pet-owners. I guess the title of this post made the end of the story a bit anti-climatic and I apologize for that. Next time, I'll make the ending a surprise....