Somehow these tangents connect in my head…

It’s been 4 weeks in Uganda and I still wake up in the morning under my mosquito net and think: Whoa, I’m in Africa.

Sometimes it’s not the mosquito net that reminds me it’s the blaring radio music as early as 7:30am.  There is a constant backdrop of pop music played from house windows, restaurants, stores, churches pretty much anywhere there could be a radio playing it is on and usually at full volume.  There is a song I hear literally 5 times a day (I heard it 6 times yesterday).  Actually pretty much anytime I hear it I say to whomever I’m with, I have never heard this song!  (My sarcasm is usually lost on them but I get a kick out of it.) The song is called, Takatiki.  Takatiki is the sound a clock makes like our tick tock.  The song is about a woman who is waiting for her lover to come home, to call, and to be with her.

Last night I went out to listen to live music.  Much of our pop music trickles over to Uganda, but there are many pop Ugandan and African songs.  Another popular song is sung by a man and says, I would rather be with an ugly woman who can produce children and welcome others than just a beautiful woman.  Another one is called Mwami which is the word for husband in Lusoga (it sounds a lot like “mommy” and I originally thought she was calling for her mommy).  A woman is singing to her husband who fulfills her.

Before I left the states, my best friend recommended that I read the book: He’s Just Not That Into You.  (This is the kind of book that only your best friend who loves you and knows your past relationships recommends) I didn’t get a chance to read it, so I brought it with me to Uganda. Basically the book is about the excuses women make for men who may treat them poorly in various situations anything from not calling to fear of commitment to dating other girls it tells the reader to get rid of the guy who is just not into them.  I laughed a lot at myself then I thought about these Ugandan pop songs and the many American pop songs about fulfillment in being intimate with another person.  I am realizing that a lot of empowering women is helping us realize that our worth is not dependent on the men in our lives.

Polygamy has touched so much of this society.  You can see the pain it causes the women and children and the church, for the most part, is silent.  The church does not want to split families and is struggling to address the even deeper issue of poverty.  I want to know what goes through the heart and mind of the third wife and what about the lives of her children?

Friday I went to a culture day with Mukwaya (my teacher/introduction leader friend).  It’s the African version of solo and ensemble where every school choir in a district sings for judges.  Each culture day has a theme to educate the community and has numerous performances.  First each choir must sing the East African Anthem then they compete with speeches, traditional songs, original compositions, and traditional instruments.  This culture day was about the East African Community. I learned that Uganda, Rwanda, Brundi, Kenya, and Tanzania are in a partnership and will soon have one currency.  The speeches and some of the original compositions were advocating for open trade between the countries and have a single language, Swahili.  One of the original compositions talked about poverty and how the east African community is helping to end poverty and children suffering. (I kept thinking I hope this is more like the European union and not NAFTA.)

The traditional songs and instruments were my favorite!  There were no endongos, but there were many children playing the endingidi (thumb piano) and endungu (bow harp).  It was sometimes hard to hear.  I had a really good seat for the anthems, but it got REALLY long and REALLY hot inside the hall space, so I gave up my seat to get some air outside.  When we came back we stood in the back but Mukwaya made sure to translate the songs.  One of the songs was about being a barren woman.  She went to the witch doctor and he blessed her and then she had twins!  The kids energetically acted out the whole thing ha ha!

Ugandan School Song and Dance 100_0271 100_0272

Almost every day this week I have visited with a woman’s group or choir.  I love the time I get to spend with the women because each group is different and I never know what to expect and I always learn something new!  Thursday I met with a group of women who have a development project where they teach women to sew for 5000 shillings a month (that’s $2).  I met some of the women sewing, some with their babies at their feet.  They learn on paper bags, but eventually they are able to make cloths to sell or find a job in town.  It was originally made for the women in the church, but now they have opened it to the community.  This church has a fantastic choir they taught me three songs.

I love choir rehearsals without the instruments present or when the power is out.  Almost every church, in which I have been, has an electric keyboard. I have yet to meet a woman piano player. It was explained to me that men play the instruments because a woman does not have time to learn. The instrumentalist uses one of the 10 drum loops on the keyboard and plays it behind every choir song. Many piano players do a great job of playing by ear and they transpose each of the songs using the black keys.  Yet, it is always TOO LOUD.  It is impossible for me to teach a song with a drum loop and someone trying to figure out chords in the background.  So, I usually ask them to learn the song with me, then I helped them learn the accompaniment.

Kawala UMC DancingSAM_1937

I have to constantly tell myself to slow my speech, especially when teaching.  Today I was in a group and no one was willing to translate, so I spend 1.5 hours speaking slowly to a room full of blank stares by the grace of God we learned the song, “Draw Me Close to You.”

Saturday I went to a beauty parlor, mostly because I wanted the experience to see how and where women get their hair done, but I also wanted to get my toes painted.  I waited for about an hour and watched a weave put into a woman’s head and some other women get up-dos and then put on a gomsei.  My pedicure took about an hour I don’t think my feet have ever been cleaner!  The boy scrubbed my feet!!  I had to ask him to stop because I was worried I would not have any skin left! The basin for my feet was filled with burning hot water, so I knew that it was clean and the water for the clippers was steaming too, so I felt pretty good about the whole thing It cost 15,000 shillings, which is about $6 and my toes look great.  However, my feet became dusty again the moment I walked outside!

Thank you if you are still reading — I realize this is just a random assortment of thoughts and experiences… but I have to share these experiences of a lifetime and find a way to process the privileged that I own in order to have them!

Going to Uganda

I am not quite sure when I fell in love with Uganda.  I know that it was WAY before I ever heard the words, “Invisible Children” or “ONE Campaign.”  Although these are excellent organizations, they put Uganda on the map in a way that emphasizes the hurt and the pain of the region.  I fell in love with the hope and joy, specifically through the music of Uganda.  While at FSU I earned a World Music Certificate, which allowed me to take a course in African music, and to participate in an African music and dance ensemble at FSU.  Ugandan ethnomusicologist Damascus Kafumbe, who taught he how to play a Ugandan bowl-lyre called (e)ndongo, challenged me to dig deeper in my understanding of how Ugandan women relate with music in religious contexts.

Music possesses the ability to heal, empower, connect, and guide its performers and listeners.  Music frequently engages these abilities in religious practices.  I combined all of my deepest interests into a seven week project in Kampala, Uganda for this summer.  I wrote for an “Imagination Grant” with Vanderbilt Divinity School and they are funding part of my trip this summer.  You know, the money is amazing… but what really makes me excited is that the committee is willing to invest in a project of my combined passions!

The central purpose of this project is to explore women’s leadership and liberation in the Christian church through music and dance practice in Kampala, Uganda.  Much has been written about women’s empowerment in Uganda. [1] The power dynamics have been clearly defined as women suffering from forced polygamous relationships, verbal, sexual, emotional and physical abuse, as well as a lack of power in political and family systems.[2] Many have blamed the church as enforcing powerlessness on women in the name of God. [3] Yet there are also examples of women through the church reforming political and cultural norms, in addition to gaining options for economic independence and wider access to education.[4]

Music is inherently powerful due to the importance it plays in Ugandan culture and is not narrowly defined as just song, but also frequently encompasses dance, drama, and proclamation. Recent studies on music and women in Uganda and east Africa describe music’s value as a tool to educate health practices, [5] cope with domestic labor,[6] testify to deliverance,[7] entertain, [8] build community,[9] and employ the power of cultural performance to encourage liberation.[10] In these settings and others, music communicates ideas and messages that are not always spoken but are culturally or intrinsically known.

This summer I hope to:

1.)   Build relationship with and hear the stories of women musicians in the church
2.)   Analyze the role music plays in the church and society
3.)   Observe the use of music in various religious contexts
4.)   Identify the historical, cultural, theological, and political implications of woman’s leadership in the church in Kampala, Uganda
5.)   Identify explicit and intrinsic women’s issues
6.)   Observe the global church

When I get home, I hope to create a curriculum for the church to discuss the theological implications of women’s performance practices in Uganda.  This curriculum could include themes of vocation, calling, ordination, lay leadership, gift, and blessing.

I am in contact with the President of the United Methodist Women, in the East African Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  She is arranging most of my trip, including the opportunity to meet with women’s groups, choirs, and economic partnerships in Kampala and Jinja.

I leave June 20th.  I covet your prayers as I take this trip of a lifetime.  I know that God is going to change and challenge me in powerful ways.  In the words Nouwen I see this journey as “a way in which I am saying, ‘yes’ to God’s call to, ‘Come follow me.'”.[11]  I am hoping to become more in rhythm and pitch with God’s tempo and melody.

I will be updating my blog with experiences, thoughts, and reflections!


[1] Aili Mari Tripp, Women and Politics in Uganda (Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2000).

[2] Tinyiko Sam Maluleke and Sarojini Nadar, “Overcoming Violence against Women and Children,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 114 (2002).

[3] Dorothy M. Casale, “Women, Power, and Change in Lugbara (Uganda) Cosmology : A Re-Interpretation,” Anthropos 77, no. 3-4 (1982).

[4] Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood, and Shirley Ardener, Women and Missions : Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women (Providence: Berg, 1993).

[5] Gregory F. Barz, Singing for Life: Hiv/Aids and Music in Uganda (New York: Routledge, 2006).

[6] Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood, and Shirley Ardener, Women and Missions : Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women (Providence: Berg, 1993)..

[7] Dorothy M. Casale, “Women, Power, and Change in Lugbara (Uganda) Cosmology : A Re-Interpretation,” Anthropos 77, no. 3-4 (1982).

[8] Lovemore Togarasei, “The Implications of the Dominance of Women in the Zimbabwean Music Industry for the Ordination of Women,” Scriptura 86 (2004).

[9] Karen Ralls and Graham Harvey, Indigenous Religious Musics (Aldershot; Burlington; Singapore; Sydney: Ashgate, 2000).

[10] Carol Ann Weaver, “Kenyan Women’s Music : An Agent of Social, Cultural Change?,” Conrad Grebel Review 12, no. (1994).

[11] Henri J. M. Nouwen, “The road to daybreak: a spiritual journey,” Darton, Longman & Todd, (1997).