Thursday, March 27, 2008

Last Day in Kampala

TASO - The AIDS Service Organisation of Uganda

Dr. Lydia Mungherera, one of the directors at TASO, welcomes us

An admitting nurse at TASO

Anne Kadddumukasa explains the workings of TASO to us

The TASO values

Dr. Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare, Head of the Department of Drama, Music and Dance,  sits with us, 
and a group of faculty and staff on the grounds of Makarere University

Playwright and teacher Patrick Mangeni talks to his students. Anurita takes notes.

Drama students at Makarere

Roselyn Nandawula, who works in PR at Reach Out Mbuya

A woman who receives the help offered by Reach Out Mbuya

Two children in the Mbuya district of Kampala

Outside a house in Mbuya

The grandmother in Mbuya who invited us into her home

One of her grandchildren

The National Theatre in Kampala

Actor Michael Wawuyo at the National Theatre

Liesl says so long to her new boyfriend, Hector, at Banda Inns

March 26, 2008. An enormous day.

1) Up at 6am to be at TASO for 8am. TASO is The AIDS Service Organization of Uganda.

We met Lydia – the director – who is an old friend of Anurita’s. Lydia was in a rush preparing for their World TB Day events. She handed us over to Anne Kaddamukasa, who in the perfect and astonishingly articulate English I am coming to associate with Ugandans, gave us an overview of TASO history and current structure.

This is an organization that not only does admirable work (provides ongoing treatment all across Uganda for people with HIV/AIDS), but organizes itself in a way which would be the envy of almost any institution I know: sensible, practical, ethical, competent.

2) Coffee and a bookstore.

Here we learned the amount of coffee that it takes to truly wake Binyavanga up: a triple espresso, followed by a double espresso. That, a couple cigarettes and a slice of cake, and he is ready to face the day…

I bought Doreen Baingana’s book, Tropical Fish (recommended to me by Binyavanga), with the sly hope of getting it signed by Doreen at supper tonight.

3) Makarere University again, to meet the Head of the Drama, Dance and Music Department, Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare.

Makarere has close to 350 students in the department, and offers a large range of undergraduate and graduate degrees in both academic and practical aspects of the performing arts – including training in theatre, dance and music criticism (ahh – trained critics!). 

I had read an essay of Dr. Ntangarre’s before i met her – a look at the female archetypes in Ugandan drama – and the challenges faced by women living in a society where art portrays them too often as saint / whore / nag stereotypes. There are exceptions, of course, but feminists such as Dr. Ntangarre seem to have their work cut out for them.

Patrick Mangeni, whom we met yesterday, had also set up a meeting with twenty or so other faculty and students, and we had a fascinating chat about approaches and curriculum. We were much impressed by the students - a happy, dedicated and inspired group. I began to get the sense that work in the field here tends to be much quicker, improv-based and issue-driven than theatre in Canada. 

4) We next drove across town to Reach Out Mbuya – another HIV/AIDS Initiative based around a catholic church in the Mbuya district of Kampala.

We were given a site tour by Roselyn Nandawula (a vivacious young woman who began there as a volunteer – scared of AIDS – and is now their PR director). 

One of Reach Out’s many successes is that it has found strong markets for garments and crafts made by – again – the primarily female recipients of treatment, women who otherwise have no income, but who have children to support. This is an initiative that has a whole neighbourhood around it. We left the main clinic / gathering site and drove out along narrow dirt roads to a house in a crowded cheek-by-jowl neighbourhood in which a grandmother, two of her children, and five grandchildren live. Their house was about the size of a garden shed back home. Mud brick, tin roof, walls lined with paper.

One of the terrible tolls of AIDS across Africa has been the elimination of parents, and the creation of poor orphans being cared for by poor grandmothers. The woman we met was radiant. Gracious and lovely.

The greeting we receive everywhere in Kampala, as our hands are clasped, is “ You are most welcome”. And we are made to feel exactly that – even in this most humble of places.

5) From Mbuya, we drove back to the city centre to the National Theatre.

If the Africa Trilogy is ever able to find the funding to tour Africa, I would like to bring it to Kampala. I met the Technical guru of the Theatre, Leonard Okwave. Yet another lovely Ugandan. It’s a modest, and old space, 377 seats, but with a terrific vibe. It reminded me of the Neptune Theatre in Halifax. The tech package is old – two manual LX boards, 60 dimmers but only 40 antiquated lamps. But the room is wonderful.

At the café by the theatre (yes, even in this poor, Third World country, they have – unlike most theatres in Canada – figured out that café’s and theatres go together!), we sat and drank ginger beer and sodas with a group of local theatre professionals. Another meeting organized by the miraculous Patrick Mangeni – playwright, teacher, and social convener – whom, I am now seeing, is loved by everyone.

At the meeting:

- Three members of a young and outrageously successful comedy sketch drama group called Theatre Factory. They do a different show every week, collectively created, consisting of 10 skits. We met Philip Luswata, Richard Tuwangye, and Veronica Kiwanuka.

- An actor/creator named Patrick Mujuuka, who works with a group called Afritalent. They also use a collective creation method involving improv, but in their case, a writer presents scenarios and then creates final scripts based on the work. Like many Ugandan theatre artists, Patrick works primarily in radio for income.

- A lovely actor named Michael Wawuyo, who was introduced to me by a Development Theatre facilitator named Baron Oren, as “a national treasure”. Striking, tall and magnetic, perhaps in his fifties – he told us it’s impossible to make a living as a theatre actor in Uganda. Michael works also as a welder. We fall in love with him instantly. An impressive human.

All agreed that serious drama was on the decline in Uganda. The group mused on whether this had something to do with uncertain politics – and that in the time of Amin, comedy also thrived.

6) From the theatre, we went back to our hotel to pack. Then out to dinner with Doreen Baingana and several other folks (Billy – the Kwani editor from Nairobi, Bernard – a journalist from Kampala, and a very fun, smart and dynamic Kenyan from UNAIDS: Jane Kalweo - a friend of Anurita's).

I chatted mostly with Doreen and Liesl. A lovely night of far-ranging conversation.

And Doreen did indeed sign my book.

As we walked towards our minivan, and bid goodbye, I am struck with just how many utterly tremendous women I have met here. 

Home to bed for 5 hours of sleep, on the eve of the 9-hour drive to Southern Uganda in the morning. We bid goodbye, too, to the man who has driven us all over Kampala and Entebbe for the last five days, James Ssebayigga – a godsend: competent, careful, calm and a great energy to be around. We’ll miss him.

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