With my knee being so vulnerable and unpredictable, it has been a little troublesome to move around and enjoy the spirit of Uganda in ways that I have been doing previously. However, the approach of the Milege festival, hosted at the beautiful Botanical Gardens, Entebbe, has been a goal for me over this episode. Come rain, shine or fall (hehe excuse the pun), I was determined to get there providing it didn’t feel like it would be a setback for my physical health. As I knew that the set-up that it would bring to my mental health would be fruitious and rewarding. One of my closest Ugandan friends was part of the crew, and although sadly another one was unable to attend (due to performing in another amazing festival in Rwanda; talented young man that he is), it was important to my heart to get there, even if it meant me sitting on a chair for the whole time.
I had visited the Botanical gardens on my very first day in Uganda, so I already knew about the magic I felt in that place. And I so wanted to absorb more arts, culture and music from the Ugandan people.
Beforehand however, I had to work on the Saturday; my workplace were hosting an International Cultures celebration. It brought tears to my eyes to watch the performances from the students, embracing their cultures and showcasing them with sheer pride to the audience. Due to my limited mobility, I was of little use as part of the ground staff, so I sat amongst parents and repeatedly expressed my pride in the students. And yes, I cried, more than once! (My heart burst open the day I landed in this paradise, and emotions run wild with me frequently. It is a blessing most definitely not a curse).
Once the show had ended, some of my wonderful students and I meandered around the different country stalls, lapping up the delectable world foods, enjoying the different stlyes of music, and later settling down with a freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee, in a set-up that made me feel we were sat in a village with locals, not inside a building crammed full of many happy faces.
As I had not been assigned a country, (I had originally been asked to be the MC but injury put pay to that), I opted for wearing some of my beautifully-tailored Kitenge, and I was astounded by the many spectacular outfits other staff, students and families were wearing. Such a plethora of colour and creativity; Africa stood out the most for me, and it does indeed seem I have developed quite a deepset bias for the countries here!
Once finished, it was almost as if my weekend began again; as I collected my belongings, (including my brand-new tent from Johannesburg), and my most-trusted boda driver scooped me up and took me on my way.
Smiles abound, wind in my hair, sun on my skin, and my crutches in tow … then I noticed we were pulling over to the kerbside. (Well, I say kerbside but that is somewhat of a slip-of-the-tongue; to say roads here are demarcated is not especially accurate.) Wondering what was happening, my driver Godfrey informed me that we had encountered a flat tyre. Curiously, he was unfazed, and just began to look for another boda to flag down. Asking what he was doing, I learnt that he was calling on a fellow worker to go and pick up the nearest mechanic and bring him to us. It was good fun to experience. The mechanic shortly arrived, and began the tyre repair right then and there. Within 20 minutes we were already back on the road, without a worry in the world. Considering many people complain about the chaos, the hecticness, and the standard of workmanship here, I was once again able to witness efficiency, lack of complication or worry, and the completion of a task in the most naturally manner-of-fact way that one could ask for. None of the hassle and wasted time that I was used to in the UK, nor the extortionate costs attached to using a mechanic either – it cost less than £4 and this included the collection/return of the mechanic to his workshop.
On our way once more, I soaked up the sights of the Kampala-Entebbe road and its hustle and bustle. There is a never-ending stream of activity on roads like this, and people really do not ever seem to sleep. Always some sort of trade or conversation happening, and always some incredibly young children walking along the roadside on their travels home or to school. (This also always makes me stop and notice; there is no way on earth that children at such young ages would be expected to do this in the UK or perhaps even Europe. Yet these self-sufficient young ones think nothing of the 2-3 hours walks that they do. When needs must, there is less cause for concern and a much more pragmatic and happy-go-lucky manner it seems. Very admirable to me, and heart-stirring too … children do get trafficked here, and I’ve heard of three different kidnaps from the city since August. But, it is what it is. To get water, one must travel. To get education, the same. And if you do not have the luxury of a boda or money for a matatu, then your feet are your transport and well-used they are.)
Approaching the festival, I did feel a stirring in my thoughts about how exactly I would manage erecting a tent whilst being on two elbow crutches. But I also knew I need worry not, and I was right. At the camping section, my beloved Zoe arrived, as did three very supportive new friends, who worked together and put it up in no time. I was able to take the role of the non-helpful interferer!!!
The ground wasn’t ideal for crutches it must be said, so it required an enhanced level of presence and mindfulness for me. Yet another great opportunity for breathwork and slowing down. I ambled my way to the main stage, and I was absorbed by it all. Lost amidst one of my favourite atmospheres in the world, and therefore so very found.
I made more and more friends over the night and the next day, I laughed a lot, I embraced the arts and the music, and throughout the Saturday evening, I also discovered I had finally begun to ease into African dancing style, albeit mostly on one leg or with some very careful balancing on the crutches! It was a small festival and within my time there, I ended up meeting most of the festival-goers … and regardless, I was quite the sight, this yellow-haired mzungu moving herself around on sticks. I became quickly known amongst the crowds, and throughout Sunday I was embraced by masses of concern, admiration and well-wishes.
It was hard on my body to dance, but it was so easing on my soul.
A new friend also enjoyed his own fame, as he had brought his fire sticks with him. So together he and I made quite the “sticks” combo – it was a hoot!
Sadly I missed out on hearing some of the fabulous acts playing on Sunday night, as it was already after 9pm when I left, and I was cautious to travel too late into the darkness, in my condition and also with work the next day. However, all musicians that I saw, including a wonderful trio of Ugandan young men, the upbeat playlist of Uganda’s top dj, DJ Rachel, and of course the dulcet tones of Ugandan’s reggae singer Maddox, all entered my ears and moved my heart.
The Ngoma drumming group also led a session on the Sunday morning, which I had been really looking forward to. It was held within a beautiful setting on the lakeside of Victoria. Sadly my knee wasn’t happy to stay seated for too long though, and with my inner voice also rattling around my head telling me “you can’t drum”, I opted for leaving them to their rhythms and taking myself for slow walks around to converse with my many new friends.Despite not drumming myself however, I was able to absorb the beat of one of the Ugandan tribe’s drums and be mesmerised by the strength in their necks, as they moved arund with them.
Another wonderful weekend, filled to the brim with hearts, arts, and love. Blessed I am and expanding on all accounts, injury and limited mobility included.