Nov 21, 2017

Saxophonist at the Farragut North Station

Nov 11, 2017

One Writers Beginnings: Chimamanda's Story Rooted in Africa

Chimamanda gives second annual Eudora Welty lecture. 

I stood a little downcast in front of the Lincoln theatre, the air chill nibbling at my extremities. With hands tucked deep into my jacket, I waited with anticipation for a kind stranger to come along. See, I’d hoped to purchase a ticket to the Second Annual EudoraWelty Lecture but they were sold out. The lady at the ticket booth apologized. I held on to the prospect that someone would show up with an extra ticket. People begun to trickle in. Girlfriends who’d planned an evening out spoke in excited tones and took selfies in front of the lecture poster. They showed their tickets and stood in line, while I a little envious thought about heading home to my family and getting in from the chilly outdoors. Then it happened.  A lady walked up to me and mentioned that her friend had bought an extra ticket and just like that I had a close to front row seat to listen to female African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s lecture on “One Writer’s Beginnings”.

Her lecture centered around four values that informed her writing; home, family, church and school. Her articulate narrative and funny anecdotes sprinkled with a good dose of self-awareness held us captive. Standing in radiant red, in the center of the spotlight, she serenaded the audience with her clear calm voice that peaked and dipped at alternate junctures. She shared stories of her childhood, of life on the University of Nigeria campus. Her reading passion rooted in her father’s study, and watered by books such as Pacesetters, Mills and Boon and James Hardly Chase. These books wonderful but foreign informed her imagination growing up.
Her description of life in a middle-income family in Nigeria left the audience a tad jealous. She, a privileged African living in a close-knit family without the need to question her origin. With parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, she developed a sense of belonging by simply living in community. I was reminded of Africa’s dynamism. I nodded in agreement occasionally mumbling to myself for she told the African story like I couldn’t and yet I identified as though we grew up together. She painted a picture of a rich and industrious continent. The juicy mangoes picked from a tree in the compound. The luxury of slaughtering one of the chickens for Sunday lunch. The outdoor markets, steaming with life and color and stories with no end. She owned her story and told it well, no one could contend her experience as she talked about the Africa she knew and grew up in. An Africa she loved and was proud of. The audience was dead silent as we each secretly reached back into our past to compare and contrast our origins – some in envy, some in amazement, some in agreement. She weaved in themes from her famous lecture – The Danger of A Single Story. Africa is not all starving, malnourished children or potbellied corrupt government officials, it has educated hardworking, fun loving people too.

Her lecture and in her writing, she shows the power of authentic human truths curved out of experience and conviction. She also shows how being rooted to a physical place  informs narrative and self-awareness. Motivated and inspired at the close of the lecture, I joined the procession of energized ladies and gentlemen as we walked out of the theater to parked cars, cabs and Uber drivers. As the crowds thinned, I crossed the road, slopped down into the U Street Metro station. I tucked into a corner train seat for an hour of contemplation thank full for my physical heritage that springs from Usuk, Serere, Kampala, Kigezi, Kisoro, Tororo, America but more my spiritual heritage rooted in the cross of Christ.

Happy Sunday!

Oct 26, 2017

Stranger Connection

The Needle Tower (Hirshhorn museum)
Ever meet a stranger and immediately connect?
For the longest time such stories were safely locked in a box I labeled "Movies" - guy sees girl at bar counter, guy buys girl a drink and they lived happily ever after. I mean yeah right! Coming from a small city like Kampala chances that one would befriend an outright stranger in the middle of the day were slim. America on the other hand is huge, people leave familiarity and travel to new cities for school and work among other reasons. And that is how I met this guy.

The museum had closed and I was taking photos of the Needle Tower in the Hirshhorn gardens when he came over. We exchanged a few remarks on angles and lighting then I decided I best get on home.
He said “There’s going to be a photography club meeting here on brutalist architecture. I don’t know much about it, but you might want to stay.”
I thanked him and said "Sure, why not." It was going to start in 20 minutes.

We met up again at the venue and he signaled me to sit with him.
There were a few moments of silence before he said, “Hey, I would like to smoke, come with me.”
The casual expectation that I would willingly tag along came as a surprise. His carefree nature and humor had me intrigued. We went to the designated smoking zone and he blew clouds into the fading sun. Labels made loops in my head: Black woman. Black married woman with 2 kids. Black married woman with 2 kids and a strange accent. Black married woman with 2 kids, a strange accent - a Christian. All little boxes society made me conscious of. Boxes I carried around for identity. He didn’t peek into any of them. He didn’t seem to care for them. His freedom to live outside the boxes of societies expectations held my intrigue. We laughed and talked about shared interests. He mentioned a museum he thought I should visit called “Post Secret” and I immediately recalled listening to a fascinating story about the same on National Public Radio (NPR). It was a cool Saturday afternoon about 3 years ago, a guy talked about how he’d asked people to anonymously send him their secrets on post cards and how he’d received an overwhelming response. “Yes, yes” I said with excitement, "I remember that guy." Then he showed me some photos he’d taken there. I was amused at our connection, at how in less than an hour of meeting he knew something that would interest me. He showed me photos on his phone, occasionally handing it to me with ease. I guess he felt safe with this stranger.

We attended the meeting, listened to a talk on brutalist architecture and mingled with other photographers. At some point he turned and said, “I’m Brian by the way”, “I’m Mary. Nice to meet you”. We shook hands.
As the sun disappeared over the horizon, I bid Brian adieu and run along home to my family. I don’t know if I’d recognize him if we met again but I was glad for the brief, meaningful connection. Something about human beings wading past stereo types to appreciate human connection beyond race to deconstruct that single story.

Oct 12, 2017

Market Day Excites Serere

Market day (Okisoni) in Serere

Early in the morning, before the birds came out to sing, before one could see beyond their nose -  in the pitch-black dark of night, feet shuffled outside; People talked in the distance and footsteps went pitter-patter on the village paths. A special day dawned. A day to buy and sell - to exchange and trade.
People came from miles around, from neighboring towns and villages. Some walked, some rod bicycles, others came by bus or taxi.

Oct 9, 2017

Uganda’s Green Grass: The story of a homesick woman

Kigezi hills 

Once the excitement over clean, organized streets and sophisticated infrastructure in the developed world wore off, it came down like a wet blanket -  I missed home. I observed as people rushed along pavements, up and down escalators, round and round revolving doors. There was no time to lose, no smiles to share, and eye contact? No way! Were they embarrassed by my presence? But then again they didn't know me. I could as well have been invisible. I began to miss the familiar strangers on Kampala road. The smell of wet soil after the rain. The sense of community and interdependence I'd grown to take for granted. I longed to hear the “toot toots” of taxis and the sounds of diverse languages spoken with ease. I yearned to speak Ateso, even Luganda however broken and mispronounced the syllables tumbled out. The gnawing desire  for home chewed at every fiber.

Oct 8, 2017

Chaka Mu chaka Military training at Shimoni

Dad tuned to radio Uganda one bright Saturday morning and heard an announcement inviting boys and girls on holiday to attend "chaka mu chaka" military training at  Shimoni Demonstration School. "Chaka mu chaka" refers to the military march in Swahili.
Soon after the announcement Daddy declared that my brothers and I would attend the training. Our jaws dropped. What?! A whole 3 weeks holiday was going to be spent on military training? So while our friends shared stories of fun holidays events our hot news would be military training at Shimoni Demonstration School, nice!!
I rather suspect, he didn't want us to idle around. This was a cheap easy way to keep us out of trouble.

Oct 6, 2017

Happenstances of a Ugandan woman in Washington D.C

the largest book in the world
Project not realized: This book would measure at 21 feet long and 12 and a half feet high. It’s a testament to the Kabakov’s long-standing interest in literature and storytelling.

As I studied Kabakov's unfinished project of art work in the Hirshhorn museum a guy came over and said:
"This book reminds me of judgement day when we'll stand before God and account for how we lived our lives."
Me: "oh yeah! I totally see what you mean. Are you a Christian?"
Guy: "Yes I am, amen to that."(almost switches to tongues)
Me: "oh great I'm a Christian too."
Guy: " I'm looking for a wife to marry "
Me: "wow!! You are quick."
We laughed 🤣🤣🤣
Guy: "The registrars office down the road is open till 5:00pm"
Guy: "There's no time to waste. We’ve got to cease the moment."

He returned to say "I talk to people everyday and they scowl, they may respond but you can feel the tightness in their stomachs (he made a grimaced face) but you smiled”.
Not sure what to add to that I said "thank you"
He walked away with a big smile.

We need more smiles in Washington D.C. to keep the human connection alive.
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