News of breaking thoughts and random enthusiasms.
Justine and her children Regine and Daniella from Cameroon and their friend Jeanette from Nigeria left africa 11 months ago and have been making their way to the U.S. border, travelling by foot, bus train and boat. I met them at the Paso Del Norte bridge which connects El Paso Texas with Juarez Mexico, trying to get into the U.S. to apply for Asylum. For more details, listen to the podcast in the adjoining column.
Karamoja is one of the poorest districts in Uganda. Its vibrant traditional culture is being reshaped by powerful outside forces including money, modernization, and education. See my photo/video/essay.
Recently I tried to put down some recollections of my Dad's family that I could pass along to my kids and future generations. It got me to wondering 'Where did we come from?' and 'Who were all those Herrimans that came BEFORE my grandparents?'
I started searching and found out we got here in 1639, 20 years after the Pilgrims landed. And a lot of interesting things have happened in the family since then. Click the link to read the fascinating history of the Herrimans in America.
Herriman Family History
Bank of America lost Bertina Jones mortgage modification documents twice, then foreclosed on her house. The banks law firm has been accused of forging thousands of false mortgage documents including their own authorization to act as the banks law firm. Young activists from Occupy DC are working with Jones to get her house back. Freddie Mac, who bought Jones' house at the foreclosure auction, offered to talk things over with Jones after Occupy held a spirited demonstration at a Freddie Mac office in DC. Listen to the podcast.
More pictures Here.
January 2016, I met my daughter Erika in Raleigh where she officiated at the women's basketball game between Duke and Boston College. Before the game we joined marchers in downtown Raleigh for the M.L.King day celebration.
March, 2015...the Namungona Children's Art Center opened in a converted shipping container, staffed by Uganda Art Consortium
volunteers James Nsamba and Farouk Mukwaya. Over two thousand Ugandan children have taken part in our free workshops since we started in 2008. Now we have our own building.
We've been holding classical music house concerts at our house with an organization called Groupmuse.com which matches up musicians who want to perform with music fans that want to hold house concerts. On September 18 last year Anne Rainwater played Bach's Goldberg Variations for an appreciative audience of 27 music lovers. In May, Mosa Tay played Bach Cello Suites.
Stone Cold, a new movie by emerging Ugandan film producer Tri-Vision focuses on a father who forces his school age children to work full time in domestic service and in a stone quarry. Tri-Vision co-founder Joseph Kakembo describes Tri-Vision as "Something like an NGO, because we are trying not just to make films, but to develop the film industry in Uganda, training people and establishing standards. The standards set by Stone Cold are quite high. The film uses professional actors and skilled professionals in in every phase of production including lighting, cinematography, sound, sets, costumes editing. SEE A SIX-MINUTE TRAILER
The actors are paid, but the film crew is not. In fact the technical staff all contribute from their own pockets to finance the production of their movies. Stone Cold is the third Tri Vision film.
SEE A 6 MINUTE TRAILER
Paulo Kasumba has no cell phone and no fixed address, so I can never find him, but he seems to know when I am back in Uganda, because within a few days he shows up at my door with new songs, and new plans to cut a cd so he can break into the commercial music market.
He’s one of the most remarkable characters I’ve met in my visits to Uganda, an itinerant street musician who wanders the roads and byroads of this sprawling city playing his songs on street corners, in market places, and anyplace he can gather a crowd.
He’s bizarrely dressed…in a style something like a forest satyr with boots that look like they were sculpted out of moss, and tattered jeans and shirts. He wears sunglasses with only one lens and a beaded headband. He carries a vicious looking homemade slingshot in his shirt, that he takes out to ward off thieves and ruffians who sometimes plague him. Wandering the streets makes Paulo an easy target for petty robbers who would attack him even for the small change he has collected on a day of wandering and busking.
Paulo writes his own songs, that fit perfectly his husky voice and his rap style of delivery…he’s like a pure version of hip hop. He writes about sex, politics and God with equal intensity and frequency. He also makes his own instruments…called adungus. The adungu is an 11 string harp, a traditional Ugandan instrument that is habitually played in Ugandan ceremonies and dance performances. But Paulo has re-conceived the instrument…his current adungu is over 7 feet long and weighs about 65 lbs. Its so big he can’t fit it into a taxi cab, but can occaisionaly be seen riding on the back of a boda boda carrying the enormous harp, creating the impression of an otherworldly vehicle careening down the crowded street.
Traditional adungus are made of plain wood and animal skin stretched over a hollow body. Very little decoration or style is involved. They’ve been made the same way for centuries. But Paulo’s adungus are elaborate almost phantasmagoric creations of color, melted plastic, lots of jingling metal junk, straps, suitcase handles, interesting street trash, model soldiers and guns, bottle caps. But they still have the basic 11 strings with friction tuning pegs, and a stretched animal skin under all that decoration and personalization that Paulo has added.
Paulo hasn’t adapted well to modern civilization. He’s illiterate. Doesn’t speak English, an official language of Uganda, and a standard requirement for commerce, government, education. He lives day to day, and has never held a salaried job. He couch surfs with friends and relatives, and has never had a permanent place to call home since he left his village 20 years ago. His life style would easily fit into the pre-colonial patterns of life..the wandering musician or troubadour, moving from village to village…singing for his supper . He’s never driven a car or received an email. He can use a cell phone, but has never had a phone number. He’s enormously inventive and creative, but has never found a wide audience, because his medium is personal and intimate. No tv screen, or even radio speaker separates Paulo the person from his audience, and consequently his audience is too small to support him very well. He’s totally charming and engaging, full of jokes and good humor, and at the slightest urging he’ll burst unto song.
As I said, he’d love to make a cd. Also he dreams of having a place of his own where he can have a workshop to make adungus and other musical instruments to sell.
If I could figure out a way to help him, I would. But for now, I'm just enjoying the music.
Lawrence Kayinamura and his family only moved into a real house in 1995. Before that, they were nomads, herding cattle through the broad plains of Ankole, living on the milk, blood and meat of their herds, erecting small huts of sticks and thatch for shelter, independent and self sufficient, even prosperous. It was the wealth of his cattle that let Lawrence make the switch from nomad to homeowner. He traded part of his herd for a piece of land in Rakai district, just outside his Ankole homeland, then settled into a different routine, taking his cows out every day to his 60 acres of grass and bush, with a bore hole well for watering, and some stables and enclosures to keep the herd safe at night.
I was there one day as dawn broke on the sleeping herd. Geoffrey, the herd boy, scooted around from cow to cow, taking the morning’s milk, which nourishes the humans in this family, as well as the calves. Lawrence walked among the drowsy cattle looking for any signs of disease or discomfort. He had lost 12 cows recently to malaria, and didn’t want to lose any more. The heat of the sun here, just a few degrees south of the Equator, was hard on the cattle too. In half an hour most of the herd was on their feet, anticipating the morning foray into the wild pasture outside the enclosure. The huge placid beasts were pretty quiet, with only occasional lowing. When they moved together, their huge horns clattered softly against each others, like soft, off-beat maracas.
It was the morning routine.
I was visiting Lawrence's farm near Mutukula on the Tanzanian border with my friends Mathias and Jovia Tusiime. Lawrence is Jovia's dad, and she was raised in the Ankole cattle culture with her 15 brothers and sisters.
The Ankole used to bleed their animals and drink the blood, or cook it into a solid cake, (tastes something like liver, Mathias said). But with the increased use of vaccines and antibiotics, it’s no longer safe for people to ingest cows blood. Milk and meat are still ok, though. Lawrence and Edisa raised 15 children while they tended the cattle, though not all of them survived childhood, and two of the boys did not survive adulthood. Some of the boys went to school. But Jovia, Mathias’ wife, left school after primary 3, because at the time, her family lived pretty far outside the cash economy, they couldn’t afford school fees, and they never stayed in one place long enough.
Now, Lawrence is 73, and I think he’s glad he doesn’t have to wander endlessly with his cows. But he built a little hut across the highway from his house, and he stays there with the cattle when he has to move the herd to the pastures across the road.
The house is modern, with standard Ugandan architecture; metal roof, walls built from bricks made on site. But it still doesn’t have electricity, despite high tension power lines passing 100 feet away. There’s no running water either. When I asked for a glass of water, I was offered milk. The milk is delicious. Thick and creamy, usually served hot.
More photos from my visit to Lawrence and his family in my facebook album
I found some lively art work down at the occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square. DC artist Ray Voide did a nice job of capturing the spirit of the encampment in his acrylic-on-cardboard paintings. The Rosa Parks banner was especially striking.
More Photos Here
The November 17 Occupy DC march to Key Bridge was remarkable for its peacefulness, while in the rest of the country, Occupiers were getting arrested, clubbed and pepper sprayed. Few in DC wanted to really block the bridge. In DC, it would be a federal crime, while other spans like Brooklyn Bridge and the Steel Bridge in Portland are only covered by local laws. This march showed a lot of labor support, which could be crucial for keeping the Occupy Movement going over the winter.
More Photos Here
I went down to visit the Occupy DC folks in McPherson Square a few days ago. Amongst the unwashed and the over-educated I found a startlingly diverse group of middle class strivers, residents of suburban cul-de-sacs, left-leaning professionals and even a banker who was fired because he was too generous to people trying to re-negotiate their mortgages. The gathering had all the trappings of Occupiers you've read about in the press: Intense efforts at consensus, wiggling fingers, mike checks and free food. See more PHOTOS HERE.
Listen to the Podcast
At a quarry in Kajjansi between Kampala and Entebbe I met several children who work full time crushing rocks for a living. The sturdier kids work below ground level, with sledgehammer, wedges and picks to break chunks of rock off the rock face. The chunks are sent up topside where crews of adults and children, often whole families, sit on the ground hammering the big chunks to break off smaller pieces for use in paving and concrete making. There is a compulsory education law in Uganda, but at least 15% of school age children are working full time and are not in school. Even the free public schools require some fees for books and materials and food. Many families cannot afford even these minimal fees. See more pix in the gallery.
I'm in Uganda again 2 years later. I'm here mainly to supervise the Uganda Art Consortium projects and to see if I can kick-start the radio station plan. I'm also checking in with a couple of kids who I'm helping with school fees. And I'm hanging out with old friends, doing some carpentry at Kisa School and generally making a nuisance of myself. I've also filed two radio stories, one on Freedom of the press which was aired on KBCS, KPFW and KSER last week. archived on KBCS
. My story is about 20 minutes in from the start of the program. I just filed my second story about gay rights activists in this worst place in the world for gay rights activists. It should air on KBCS June 2.
The photo is of me, Jimmy Kibuuka and Andrew Musoke at an "introduction ceremony" an important Buganda cultural tradition which takes place before a wedding.
I made a side trip to Rwanda in May, to attend the Arts in Health Care-East Africa conference with some of my colleagues from Uganda Art Consortium
. More later.