Or so Pope John Paul II said… and I have to say, I totally agree. We went to the Final Vows and Ordination to deaconate status of the Holy Cross this weekend in Kampala, and let me say, it was a church experience unlike any I have ever before experienced. We got a bus at 5AM with the seminarians who live across the street from us, and embarked upon the journey to Kampala. (This was really really extremely early, which I was less than excited about, but hey, it happens, right? But the nice thing about it was that our electricity came back on before then, which is really really rare, which meant that I got to take a hot shower. Winning.) Two and a half hours later (the trip from Jinja to Kampala can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours depending on the traffic) we arrived into town and had breakfast with all the Holy Cross people. People came from all over to partake in this celebration: all over Uganda, and also from Kenya and Tanzania. It was truly a converging of souls to all celebrate and enjoy each other’s company. It was fun to meet all of these people, as well. Even Fr. Tyson from the States came over! Great fun.
So before the Final Vows mass started on Friday, one of the ex-pat HC priests came over to us and said, “I don’t know what the Christians were thinking when they brought Christianity to Africa, but it sure gained a lot because of it.” I have to say, during mass, I was thinking the same thing. They had set up a bunch of folding chairs out on the lawn of the facility, and had tents set up (which had Coca-Cola written all over them. Thanks Coke, for sponsoring this ordination!) We sat down for an experience. The first procession brought in the priests with dancing and singing and drums and joy, and then the same thing happened when they processed in the Bible a few minutes later for the first reading. Throughout the entire mass, people were singing and dancing in the aisles, and then after the final vows took place, I kid you not, there was a 10 minute EDP (Emergency Dance Party for those of you not in on the scoop of what the kids are saying these days) that the clergy started. It began by them all hugging each other, and then as the music played, they started boogying!
Throughout the entire mass, the entire congregation was just ALIVE. Everyone was singing, and clapping, and people just exclaimed for joy, doing the traditional shrill call which is really indescribable, but is just so full of joy and really seems like abandon full of the love of God, multiple times during the ceremony. People applauded when the Eucharist was consecrated, and the feeling of faith and love of God was tangible. There was no tripping over words or concern for the right phraseology, it was all just spoken straight from the heart, it seemed.
After mass, there was a feast of a lunch, filled with the traditional Ugandan foods: matoke, chipote (which every time I write looks kind of like Chipotle, and that might become a problem a few months in when the cravings set in), and multiple other things as well to which I’m still learning the names. Everyone was welcoming and excited to hear about how we are finding Uganda and Africa so far. Here, when someone walks into a room, it is rude to not say hello with a smile, handshake, and exchanging of words to everyone. Oh! And, super fun thing about Uganda: a handshake is not simply a normal American handshake. Instead, it’s like the entire country has its own secret handshake. You shake down like a “normal” (it’s all relative, right?) handshake, then flip your hands up and shake, and then down again. Kind of hard to explain, but super fun to do. So anyways, during lunch, I met many many people who all personally welcomed me to Uganda and gave me the warmest wishes. People have told me that Uganda is the most welcoming place in the world, and I don’t doubt it at all.
After lunch began the dancing. They had brought in a band and dancers for the event, and so the afternoon was full of traditional Ugandan dancing. The men wear small red hula skirt things and what look like leg warmers full of bells and dance with them, and the women all tie big scarves around their waists, and have bright, bold colors. I’m going to try to attach a few pictures—I hope they work!
One dance, a woman came out and started singing and dancing, and then as she proceeded with the song, a man put a pot on her head. Throughout the song, she kept having more and more pots on her head until she had 7! As soon as she was done with the song, she looked into the crowd right at us and said, “My brothers and sisters with different skin color—come out and dance.” It’s more than a little obvious she was talking to us (we stand out just a little here J ), and so up to center stage we went! She then told us that this dance is called the Unity Dance, and the pots are called Unity Pots, and so she wants to share this dance with those of us who come from a different culture but share the same humanity. So, up on our heads the pots went and we danced! None of us dropped them either, although I’m sure we looked much less graceful and had to steady the pots a few times. At the end, she gave us a pot with the instructions to take it back to America, share the dance with our family and friends, and practice, and next time we come back, we will dance with her. If that’s not welcoming and a true sharing of brother and sisterhood, I don’t know what is. I was so touched.
That night, the wonderful Joe (Jebediah for all from you in Dublin) whose path and mine keep crossing, and I’m not upset about that, got the six of us (the house minus Matt who is traveling with his family plus Joe) hotel rooms for the night, and we dined like kings in the hotel restaurant, eating very well cooked cheeseburgers. Ah, America. Downtown Kampala itself, though was quite the experience in finding our way to the hotel. It’s about exactly what I imagined a developing country’s downtown inner city to look like. Tons of people, tons of traffic which seems to have no rules or regulations, pushing your way through crowds and tripping over street vendors, “paved” streets full of potholes, lots of people just sitting on the street, and stores with huge American looking advertisements plastered all over the windows. It’s not a bad thing per se—I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to judge—but I do know one thing: the Lord knew what He was doing when I was assigned to a town, instead of a big city. I don’t know how well I would have functioned in downtown Kampala as a volunteer.
The second day started far less early, with us allotting an hour to get from our hotel back to the residence for the celebrations. The drive took the full hour (had we walked, it would have taken about half that time, but it was certainly nice to have a seat and to not have to walk on my bad ankle, although taxis are another story which I will save for another blog post!)
The mass was scheduled to start at ten, but as I have discovered during my time here so far, Africa truly does run on “Africa Time,” which in this situation meant that 2 minutes until 10, an announcement was made saying the bishop (who was saying mass) would be here in 5 minutes. Forty-five minutes after that, he showed up. But luckily people are so used to it here that there was no grumbling. Plus it meant that we got to take a little powernap in our seats. People very much expect these kinds of delays, and it is really not a big deal to Ugandans. I just thought it was kind of funny. (Kind of like today—side story—we went to the high school to talk to the deputy headmaster—awesome title, right?—about potential work placements for us. He told us to get there for our meeting at 10. When we showed up at 10:10, he was in town, and arrived back on campus half an hour later for our meeting. Oh, Africa).
The mass, was again, a beautiful ceremony. In the beginning, the MC of the whole event got up and said, “Please, do not be ashamed or afraid to sing and dance, for this is a celebration!” And believe you me, nobody was afraid of it! The procession and the Bible again came in with a dance, and this time, mass was said by an African priest, and so throughout the entire time, it was very much a give and take situation, where he would ask questions and the people would answer.
One big exchange here that happens often, which I know I have done before back home on retreats, was that the priest would say, “God is good!”
To which the people would respond, “All the time!”
And then the priest would say “All the time…”
“God is good, and that is his nature, wow!” (Or sometimes Wow, wow, wow!)
After mass, again, there was a lunch, and again a party, with dancing and celebrating. Every time we went up to dance, everyone laughed at the mzungus trying to dance, but they all loved it and were so happy to see us enjoying ourselves, so it did not feel malicious or judgemental at all! Just a sharing of cultures. I taught a few people the Anna-dance, so get ready folks, these crazy dance moves are making their way around the world! I’ll be just like wherethehellismatt.com.
So if you made it this far, thanks for hanging with me! I just had so much to say and everything was truly an “African” experience. It felt like one of those parties that you hear about where people come from all around to celebrate together and dance and feast and enjoy each others’ company for days. One of those experiences for them where, they obviously don’t do these dances every day, they don’t feast and celebrate all the time, but it’s what we think of when we think of tribal, traditional Africa. And it’s times like those when it seems they really remember and solidify who they are and where they come from. And it was such a blessing and a joy to be able to see it and take part, no matter how small.