I’m in Uganda. It’s the 8th of August. The place we’re staying is an arts centre just outside of town. It’s like a camp at Pretoriouskop. It’s a far cry from the divine luxury of Le Chatelat, but hey, it’s for artists and they always get the rough end despite the philosophical certainty that without art and it’s story tellers, a society will break down.
There were cultural dances and stories of Uganda being told yesterday by people in inspiring cultural costuming. There was singing of traditional Ugandan songs. It was wonderful. I was so tired after my journey. I don’t know why. It wasn’t long. I think it may have something to do with having been in the air. I think it’s the altitude that gets you. I mean the flight wasn’t long. I think the drive from the airport may have been longer. It’s an amazing road from the airport. It’s a road of constant commerce. It’s a relentless flow of shops, markets, factories, it doesn’t stop.
The weather in Uganda is overcast and not very warm.
There was a reading today of the play written by our group leader Erik Ehn. It’s about the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. It is a very good play whose dialogue is so raw, honest, painful. It’s well researched and I think, could only have been written by one who is on the outside of the experience. I couldn’t help being curious and a little mistrustful of the motive of one from a country of ‘peace’ coming and researching for the sake of ‘art’ the indescribable pain and horror of Rwanda. Why? Surely it is the preserve of one from that country. Surely when the Rwandese are ready they will write their own plays and record their own experiences and tell their own stories in a way that satisfies them. Is there not something macabre about this fascination from an American? I don’t know. Of course the artist can make art about whatever he or she wants to make art about, and there is no doubt that the play is a very excellent piece of work, but something in me is uncomfortable. His intention doesn’t seem to be exploitative. His intention seems to be documentation. But I am uncomfortable with African histories being told by those who are not African, especially this history.
Throughout the reading there was external noise. It happens throughout all performances here. People walk in and out. People carry on conversations well above a whisper. Chairs scrape against the wooden floor. There is so much distraction. I don’t understand it. It seems disrespectful to the work, the writer, the performers. It appears to only be we who are foreign to this country who feel that way.
Erik warned me again about the journey ahead. We are going to the north. We will stay in a monastery much like the one I ran from when I first arrived in Kigali; perhaps less comfortable. The word comfortable has no place in the description of that prisonlike circumstance I ran from in Kigali. I want to go north. I do approach the trip with some trepidation, but I want to have the experience.
We were ‘subjected’ to a bunch of kids who danced traditional dances for us. I was not charmed. It was in the rehearsal studio and they were too close to us and they were sweaty and amateur as kids always are, and yes they danced well, but it was more of the layperson doing theatre. We have had so much of that and I felt impatient.
Later I learned that these were former child soldiers and the young girls had been sex slaves during the war. The context made me feel bad for my former impatience. Their art is an enormous part of their rehabilitation. They are wounded, traumatised young people. I will learn more of their stories when we go to the north. We are going to visit the centre where they live. They have no families. There is little funding to keep them going. Their experience is harrowing beyond imagination.
Again I ask myself what do this group of Americans give to these children? I see what they take. They take their experiences and create plays that are performed in America. What is the result? Does it result in funding? It doesn’t seem to. I haven’t heard them talk of what they give. They perhaps do workshops with the children. I have only heard talk of them listening. That translates, for me, into taking. So they write plays and perhaps win awards for the plays, but what does that give to these kids? How does it heal them? How does it contribute to their future? I am not comfortable, but I am curious. I want to see. Again, my discomfort comes from the feeling that this is exploitative. I could be wrong. I’m willing to be wrong. But, that’s how I perceive it.
I have a mosquito bite on my face. I have been tabarting like mad, but I guess if the little buggers are determined to bite, they will find the bit that you missed. I should have bought tabart soap. The accommodations here at Ndere are rudimentary, but clean and comfortable. I have no complaints. One in the group said it was luxurious, like a resort. I so don’t agree. It’s like a bush camp – a very basic bush camp. However, compared to where we are going next, I’m sure it has six stars and counting.