The Trees of Uganda Witness Life Return to the War Youth – Entry 9
“What time will we arrive?” The inevitable question was posed. “Someone could give you a thousand answers and never be right,” the bus driver responded. Dust consumed everything in sight as life ran backwards. Villages composed of the ancestral “yurts” with thatched roofs, passed by as history stood still. With our faces painted with red-earth and the concept of time slipping into a hurricane of illusions, Pader jumped right out of ‘Old Kansas’ as if the entire trip was waiting for us to merely tap our heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home”. We made it… Destination IMAGINATION! Rainbow lions, pink-striped zebras, and storks carrying baby elephants in cloth of traditional motif await the compositions of the Ugandan war youth. Little do they know that their journey into the unlimited possibilities of free expression has just begun. As we trust the moments “lost” and dance upon the phantasy of control, the remembrance of each and every miraculous self is inescapable.
The Bahari Project of 2011 shared art therapy with an entire village who had just recently been freed from debt bonded slavery. While the focus originally targeted children within three days the entire village was knocking on the door of creativity, from wise grandmothers to the father builders. “The best day of our lives was the day we were freed from the brick factory and the second best was the day we learnt how to paint.” A street child of Cuzco painted himself chasing a condor, the protected iconic animal of Peru, with a fork and knife. “When I am hungry I do not care what I eat,” he shared with me. It is fascinating to bare witness to how art touches the world: the inner-city of Los Angeles, Mexico, Peru, Scandinavia, the gypsy culture in the caves of Southern Spain, the red-zone of Colombia, Bosnia, Cuba, Russia, Nicaragua, and the Democratic Republic of Congo… all generations and backgrounds; the power of healing through creativity serves every region of this globe in its own way without imposing, intruding, nor manipulating. From its rawest form art can be traced back to the origins of humanity. Regardless of how dormant the spark may be, art therapy awakens the root creator within all who are willing, for we are both the creator and the created simultaneously. We hold space for the creativity, connected to all things, to begin channeling the healing process through a positive outlet towards a self-empowered wellness for which everyone on this planet is worthy, yet few choose.
Now, the Mami Wata Art Therapy project reaches Pader, Uganda, where we are blessed to share the gift of creative healing with the youth of fourteen to thirty-five years-old and the beautiful babies of rape victims. As we walked into the compound of Friends of Orphans for the first time, the hundreds of pounds of art supplies were matched by hundreds of eyes dressed in blue numbered jumpsuits and white overcoats. Many students here have never entered a classroom until now… and just like that, the art classes have begun and students are piling into the classroom 6 days a week; every student in the Western World could learn a thing or two from the attention span and unconditional thirst for learning that emanates throughout our pupils. As the world turns, the Mami Wata Project evolves and now I am honored to announce that three new members have joined the team: Emma Kurtz, native to Southern Oregon, surfs, takes great pleasure in popping bubble wrap and dreams of one day adopting a baboon that cradles a baby while riding a goat named Honey. Seka Mkini is a Tanzanian mother elephant-spirit with zero tact, is a committed humanitarian worker and is our official sunrise paparazzi. Emma Garforth-Bles is our Canadian giraffe who has returned to the red-soil; her smile extends beyond her face and warms the children with her love. All three of these ladies are deeply passionate in their artistic expression with a variety of experience teaching children.
The Lords Resistance Army led by Kony has unfortunately influenced the lives of every Northern Ugandan youth one way or another. However, here at Friends of Orphans we can gratefully say that 300+ youth are learning every day how to build houses, make brick, build furniture, design and sew clothing, hair styling, customer service eticate and catering, and now drawing and painting. This first week has astonished all four of us as students have taken our instruction and already transformed the lesson into a perception they can call their own. On Thursday they learned how to draw an eye and then were asked to practice through repetition and draw a tree with eyes in place of the leaves. One boy said, “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe trees have eyes. I cannot draw it.” When he came to understand that art does not abide by the rules of this reality, he unleashed his imagination and eyes of all shapes and sizes exploded all over his composition with tree limbs expanding beyond the page. A young woman drew an eye on the ground and said in her adorable broken-english, “Look, the eye fell down.” Another woman named Peace holds her sweet, nursing baby in her left arm while drawing with her right. Our hearts are blown wide open and this is merely a snapshot into what is to come from these courageous souls and inspired minds.
Taken by the hand, we were led into the far classroom of the compound where two tables were elegantly set and awaiting our arrival. The catering class had prepared the most delicious lunch that any of us had tasted since entering Uganda. With full bellies, we celebrated their successes by giving ratings of over 10 all the way around and a well earned tip. As we strolled home just before dusk the red sun of Central Africa danced between air and water, bulls grazed with silhouetted horns, and a black hawk cut the sky in half… We returned home to the cement blocks that have been transformed into warm cocoons, glowing, in love with life itself and forever inspired by hundreds of kids who may not have more than a first grade education, but the will that is overshadowed by no other. The day seduced us and the full-moon embraced us… each of us crawled into our individual palaces of white mosquito net and slept.