Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reasonably Coherent on Voice of Cape FM

I recently did a talk show on a radio station here in Cape Town, South Africa. We talked about how peace journalism and community development go hand in hand, among other things. To hear a mediocre copy of this broadcast, click here.

For photo album of the beautiful University of Cape Town campus, and the less-than beautiful professor who recently lectured there, click here.

Farewell to Uganda, Part 2
Wonderful People Make Uganda the Pearl of Africa

Note: This is the last of two parts which conclude my farewell to Uganda. See entry for April 28 for Part 1.

ENTEBBE, UGANDA—Winston Churchill famously dubbed Uganda “the pearl of Africa”. For the casual observer or tourist, this moniker is easy to dismiss, given Uganda’s many warts—bad roads, rampant corruption, political unrest and violence, etc.

After trying to figure out these last 10 months what Churchill was talking about, it’s finally dawned on me: Uganda is a pearl, a gem, because of its people.

With one exception, the Ugandans I’ve met during my stay here have been warm, welcoming, and wonderful. The exception is the man who sold me my car, a Mitsubishi Lemon which was the worst vehicle ever manufactured in the northern hemisphere. My dream for you, Mr. McRipoff, is an eternity of nighttimes plagued by angry, biting forest ants, the kind that instinctively attack a victim’s nether regions.

Mr. McRipoff aside, I’ve come to love many of the non-car selling Ugandans who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

A list of my favorite Ugandans begins with Tabu, our effusive personal driver. Poor Tabu was the one who had to deal with the Mitsubishi Lemon, and thus he became a regular visitor to the incompetent mechanic’s shop. Anyone else would’ve cussed profusely at the repeated breakdowns, but not Tabu, whose upbeat spirit infected us all. My favorite moments with Tabu were spend waiting at stoplights or in traffic jams. In Kampala, vendors selling maps, sunglasses, toys, and various gadgets descend on idling cars. Tabu loves tormenting these vendors. He acts like a potential customer for a few minutes, only to pull the rug out from under the sellers by asking a deliberately confusing or obtuse question about the product, or quoting an absurdly low price. Behind his playfulness, Tabu has a heart of gold. He worked alongside my wife and son at a Kampala area orphanage, and is even housing some orphans at his humble home.

Our other driver, Caesar, handled most of the 9,222 miles that we traveled around Uganda teaching peace journalism. The roads were often awful, and the hours long, and the rides sometimes tedious, but Caesar never complained, and indeed never even showed any signs of irritation. (The same can not be said of me.) Caesar loves to laugh and joke, but he’s also eager to engage in an intellectual discussion about any topic, especially politics. I was impressed by his keen insights into the byzantine world of Ugandan politics, and told him he’d make a great member of parliament some day. Mostly, Caesar is just a nice guy—quick with a supportive comment, quick to utter a kind word, quick to offer any assistance of any kind. Caesar helped me sell my Mitsubishi Lemon. I just hope the buyer doesn’t come after him with biting forest ants. (Photo--With Caesar at Sipi Falls in eastern Uganda)

On our trips around Uganda, Caesar and I were accompanied by Gloria, the peace journalism project assistant and one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. Gloria is overflowing with energy, dedication, humor, and insightfulness. There’s something about Gloria that makes it impossible for me to resist teasing her. We first met in 2009, when she was eight months pregnant and eating more than I’ve ever seen another human being consume. I pointed this out, repeatedly, whilst asking if she needed help carrying her heaping plate. This offer was not facetious, so heavy were her loads of food.

This year, Caesar and I have teased her about a story she told us wherein Gloria punched out a boda boda man (motorbike taxi driver) when he ran into her. She was uninjured, of course, because Gloria’s one of the toughest people I know. Her toughness and determination rubbed off on the journalists she helped teach. The journalists both respected her and feared her wrath should they stray. I must confess that I was a bit afraid of her myself, though that fear was overshadowed by my immense respect for her as a journalist, as a trainer, and as a peace journalist. I have never worked with anyone so dedicated or so hard working. I got daily emails from Gloria sent at 5:00 am when I was either fast asleep or in laying bed grumbling about the damned bratty toddler across the way who screams 23.5 hours a day.

However, don’t get the wrong impression about Gloria. She is as sweet and compassionate as she is tough. The journalists loved her warmth and generosity, and were touched by how she mothered them. She mothered me as well, thanks to a not-so-secret pact Gloria and my wife had to make sure I ate and took care of myself.

As I leave Uganda, and as the memory of the last 10 months fades into the rear-view mirror (cracked, if it’s on the Mitsubishi Lemon), I’ll think less about the potholes, bad hotel rooms, and political unrest, and instead remember the real pearls of Uganda—Tabu, Caesar, Gloria, and the dozens of other Ugandans who I proudly call friend.

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