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Antje Duvekot

My Trip To Africa!

Antje Blog #8 "My Trip to Africa"

the victoria nile at night is darker than outer space but brimming with sounds. i lie awake all night. stomach churning. heat. africa. this night the villagers burned patches of field behind their huts for cultivation. the flames, dancing on the hillsides, turned the moon blood red. men gathered around dim light bulbs in town. the dangers here are real. lions. snakes. near the equator the crescent moon lies on her back like a cheshire cat's smile. i am here now. as in a dream. here where the half moon lay bleeding above the fields when the Lord's Resistance Army roamed them murderously not long ago. little brother and little little brother. such a big road such small feet.

before i left for Uganda, i watched a documentary called "war dance" which followed a group of children from Uganda's north, where i am now, as they prepare for the big music competition in the capital city of Kampala. during the war years, the LRA was notorious for taking child soldiers. children as young as five or six years of age were abducted from their parents, forced at gunpoint to kill their own neighbors and kin and made to fight for the rebels. the children in the movie bare these scars of war. but in making music they find forgetting and redemption "when i dance i feel free" says an orphan named nancy.

her testimony makes me wonder whether there exists an inverse relationship between actual power and the spiritual empowerment available through music. do the disenfranchised experience the might of music more acutely than the autonomous who aren't forced to call on her for emotional feats of endurance? i think i've encountered this kind of inverse relationship between power and music in my own life. there once was a time when i was utterly powerless. in those days, music carried me. like atlas. like a bridge. like an arc. i might have slipped into oblivion if she hadn't said to me "I see you. let's dance while we wait". as i grew out of my situation and was able to gain control over my circumstances, music surrendered her central role in my life and became increasingly ornamental. a luxury. no more a need. while i am very grateful to have moved past the particulars of my youth, i sometimes miss the intense relationship i had with music then.

maybe that is why i wanted to come to africa.
maybe i wanted to remember the beautiful ways in which we survive.
what i found, instead, are the stunning ways in which we thrive.

enclosed by corrugated metal walls, Malayaka house is a small orphanage near the center of entebbe. we arrive in the dark. an older boy unlatches the hinge and barking dogs pour out of the compound gate. in the dark, it feels cramped and dingy and i panic somewhat that we are going to be living here! on the first, night sleep evades me. but the morning sun reveals brightly painted walkways and laughing children. one out of six children in Uganda is orphaned. factors such as war, disease and poverty have ravished Ugandan society where the life expectancy is a mere 54. for a third of Ugandans daily survival is a feat. and so Uganda is no place for children.

and yet….

here we are. on an unlikely safe-island of childhood. the children of Malayaka house are not up for adoption. nor are they forced out at eighteen. they are one family. nobody knows their own birthday. each child entered the world written off and discarded. yet here they are, flourishing with infinite grace and resilience. stuffed down a pit latrine as an infant, chatty Achin lost her eye in the ordeal but was saved by infection-eating maggots while awaiting rescue. beautiful gentle Amina sprung from her mother's AIDS-ravished body as she departed the earth. i so wish Amina's mother could have met her daughter, though, because Amina's smile is wider than the universe itself. quiet, but neat and skillful at mural painting, little Ishimat was found on a large road darting back and forth through heavy traffic with his brother Didas. charismatic and lively, Bobo came to Malayaka house badly burned and malnourished with broken bones, making his early days unimaginable to me. but despite the neglect that marked each of their early lives, the orphans of Malayaka house grant and demand the natural love and respect they deserve without hesitation. the older ones struggle more because they had to rely longer on their own make-shift survival tools before finally arriving at Malayaka where they were finally told "you are special. you are worthy"

and yet it takes so little…

i am struck by this. we can't become powerful until we are seen. but a seed wants to grow and it will sustain itself through many dry seasons. we discover tools of sustenance within ourselves. Hakim loves animals. i often saw him pacing around the compound making animal sounds to himself. Viola cares for everybody. Isabella dominates with her verbal prowess. Agaba works. when he needs to quiet his mind he swims in the city pool until his eyes turn red. Hakim and Agaba played guitar with me. both boys came from a horrific orphanage where they were forced to sing and dance for visitors but as soon as these left, were neglected and abused. understandably, their relation to music was ambivalent. perhaps it felt safe to play guitar with me because music had been such survival raft for me. i am not sure. in any case, they kept coming around. shyly at first. there is a humbleness that speaks of suffering and i recognize some of the pain of my youth in them but, more strikingly, i recognize the triumph. the tenacity. the search for something better.

defying all odds, the children of Malayaka house just soar. they know they may. they don't need to ask. it's the stability and support of the loving staff, volunteers and contributors around the world that makes this possible. Malayaka house founder, Vermont native Robert Fleming, or as the kids call him "uncle", is at the center of the operation. the love is palpable. personally, i can't wait to see what these kids will do with their lives and how they will transform the world in which they live. i am ever so grateful to have been invited along for a snippet of it.


for more info, please visit:  www.malayakahouse.com


to see me singing with Agaba, Hakim, Sali, Isabella and to see photos of my trip:

updated 1 week ago