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Antje Duvekot

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 weak experience the might of music more broadly 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 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 gained control over my circumstances, music became increasingly ornamental. a luxury. no more a need. while i am very grateful to have moved past the particulars of my youth, i occasionally 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 (ever so briefly) 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 a family in every sense. nobody knows their own birthday. each child entered into this world written off, discarded. yet here they are, flourishing with grace and agility as only children can. stuffed down a pit latrine when she was days old, clever, chatty Achin lost her eye in the ordeal but was saved by infection-eating maggots. beautiful benevolent Amina sprung from her mother's AIDS-ravished body as it 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 longer to rely on make-shift survival tools before 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 until his eyes turn red. Hakim and Agaba played guitar with me. both boys came from an abusive orphan home where they were forced to sing and dance for visitors and so their relation to music is ambivalent. perhaps because music was MY raft it felt safe to them. i am not sure. anyway they kept coming around. shyly. 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 fly. they don't ask. they know they can. they call Malayaka house founder and Vermont native, Robert Fleming, "uncle". the love is palpable. the joy and kindness that flows between robert, the "aunties", the children and the volunteers is exponential. and so i am ever grateful to have gotten to go on this most beautiful journey to Uganda.....and hope one day to return.

to see me singing with Agaba, Hakim, Sali, Isabella and to see photos of my trip click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBDx_kbfLag

to make a donation to malayaka house, click here: http://www.malayakahouse.com/#!support-malayaka-house

updated 3 days ago