Celebrations and Sadness as Our Visit Comes to an End
As much as we were happy about the festivities, it also meant that our departure was imminent. We were all reflecting on our time together. Even though it was only a short time that we’d been at the school, we had really learned a lot about each other.
“All mzungas looked alike to me,” said Esty, a secondary school student. “But I can see the difference now.”
For our part, we learned how generous and giving the entire community can be. We may have donated a cow to feed the students, but there was a lot more that went into making the celebration a success. The men and boys built a canopy tent with sticks and old sacks that kept guests sheltered from the sun, while the women spent all night cooking a feast for 700 people. There were gigantic vats of rice, sweet potatoes, peanut sauce, chicken, beef and, of course, matoke — all sitting in the school yard by the outdoor kitchen.
Before the feast began, we sat through mass, then speeches from various local leaders. The Minister of Education for Uganda even made an appearance, backed by full police escort. He had attended St. Charles as a child.
The kids in the different grade levels performed songs and danced. I also had the opportunity to dance with them. I only had one practice during the week, so I was a bit nervous about performing a dance routine in which I didn’t know all the steps. I’ve had dreams like that. This time it was a reality.
I was dressed in a blanket that was tied at the waist with a blue sash. A jingle bell was tied around my ankle. I followed the girls to the “stage” under the mango tree in front of the audience. Kids were giggling and adults were smiling as I began the routine. I knew I was the comic relief, so I played up my mistakes. Pretty soon, men and women were coming up to me and placing shillings or candy in my hand as a show of appreciation. Or maybe they were paying me to stop dancing?
In all, I earned more than 6,000 big ones. I felt guilty taking people’s money. In rural Mulajje, every shilling counts when the cost of living is skyrocketing.
But the day was more about forgetting troubles. Everyone got food to fill their empty stomachs and fun to fill their spirits — even if it was only temporary.
Darkness fell and the music stopped, and our last few days were quiet. Late Sunday, we said our last goodbyes — for now.
It was hard to walk away hearing the wails from these wonderful children. We will miss them.
— Laura Watilo Blake
Be sure to check out photos at flickr.com/photos/dldt.