Our days so far have been continually jam-packed, which has been great, waking early and returning after dark to long discussions about the day. The last few late nights have resulted in Misaki, Alyssa and me each taking turns nodding off while in discussion about the community. Saturday morning, after the dusty affair of going into Mbale for some supplies (the red dust of the roads is continually kicked up), Misaki, Alyssa, Professor Swan and I met with part of the community at Shilongo Lower. Richard from FDNC, as well as the village chairman, Vincent, the vice-chairman, Tom, and a few other people sat with us in front of about 40-50 members of Shilongo as the discussion proceeded. This was a normal meeting time for the village, but our presence was immediately acknowledged and we were all graciously received by wide smiles and resounding responses as we introduced ourselves in Lugiso and greeted everyone there in what we have found to be typical fashion. Misaki gave a great introduction of our group and what we hope to accomplish in our time here. In a talk that looked forward to our time in the coming week, and to future trips to Uganda, she explained that we are here to learn from the community about their lives and some of the challenges they may face, and to work alongside them to help develop some of the ideas they have for overcoming those hardships. Again we were very well received, and the discussion opened up to many people introducing themselves and explaining some of the issues the village faced. What was especially great was the group’s readiness to suggest potential future projects they felt could help the community to grow. Tom translated all the while, and we got some great suggestions – one suggestion that was voiced a few times and that was built upon by various members was the desire for a technical/vocational institute in the village that would be available to kids who did not continue on to the college or university, the main idea being to teach kids practical skills such as carpentry, knowledge of electrical systems, plumbing, sowing, construction, and computer skills. Afterwards we thanked the community for welcoming us so warmly into their village and homes, and for making us feel so immediately at home. Tom suggested we make a photograph with everyone at the meeting and as the group was quite big, we made a few, each section of people requesting that we come sit and join them.
In the afternoon we met up with Rogers, Fred, Florence, and Tom, and we walked with them over to the sub-county Bukyende for a coming-of-age ceremony that went into the early evening. It was a really interesting look into ‘Uganda culture’ as many people have referred to it, and we were welcomed not just to observe the ceremony, but to get up close, join in the festivities at times, and meet some of the important members involved. It was altogether an extremely interesting experience that I don’t think any of us will ever forget. Many people in the area talk often about the ceremony, so it was great to experience it first hand and thus continue to learn about the community in which we are living and working.