Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Uganda: Sunburnt

I think this is the tenth of the series, but the delirium caused by my intense sunburn may have messed with my numbering. All this time in Uganda has gone to my head - I temporarily forgot that I'm white. The result is a nasty looking sunburn from the pool (think painful red with tan lines that make me look like I'm wearing a white bikini). It feels and looks as though I was blasted with an inferno of radioactive waves. Oh how I cherish my ambivalent relationship with the equatorial sun. On to more important matters.

Katie and I were completely overbooked today with meetings, and it's been a bi-polar sort of day. This morning at 9 we met Immaculate in Namuwongo to talk about selling the women's group products in the US. The meeting was really productive and the women seem to be very organized (seem is the key word - more on this later). We wrapped up, grabbed a quick coffee at Cafe Pap (destination of choice - we are there multiple times per day), and headed up to Kira Road to have an interview with Ben Ikalut at East Africa Business Week. Our overly confident boda drivers actually had no idea where Kira Road Police Station was (East Africa Business Week offices are adjacent) and instead drove slowly by every police station they could think of to see our reaction. No luck. Finally I recognized the neighborhood and we arrived just ten minutes late for our appointment. The newspaper is a weekly for East Africa - the only one of its kind - that serves Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Ben, our enthusiastic writer and new best friend, is writing a story on GYPA and the youth summit - he attended the last night of our summit and wanted to get more information on how Katie and I became involved with GYPA and Uganda. I guess it's a good practice for kicking off the PR tour in Ohio when I return. The article will be out in about 1-2 weeks - I'll be sure to send the link!
Speaking of PR - great news on that. I just received notice from NPR in Cleveland that instead of a 3.5 minute slot on Morning Edition, they are bumping me up to the noon arts and culture section to get a more in-depth coverage interview (10-12 minutes). So exciting and nerve-wracking! I've also been emailing with a journalist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer about an article.

After the interview this morning, Katie and I went to meet with Torkin Wakefield - one of the founders of BeadforLife - for a sort of "technical assistance" meeting. Our original intention, since the meeting with Immaculate had gone so well, was to just talk about shipping methods and fair trade pricing. Torkin's been in the business for four years selling beaded necklaces in the US, and she had a ton of information for us - but most of it was not good. One of the warnings she gave was in regards to dealing with paying the artisans. To stem corruption, it's necessary to have trusted staff on the ground paying the artisans directly and providing quality control of the goods. It's an enormous undertaking that Katie and I are nervous about - and we're also more than a bit nervous about the issue of transparency and accountability with the group in Namuwongo. We're in limbo at the moment.
While that was a setback for the morning, we more than made up for it this afternoon with a visit to Kizito - a Ugandan artist that teaches art history at Makerere University. He attended art school in Ireland and he and his wife (a textile artist) decided to reject job offers from abroad to reside in Uganda and work on making a contribution. Kizito, who is an amazing artist (his major influences have been Picasso and Matisse, and his style is an abstraction of traditional African - he focuses mostly on human subjects), has been selling his paintings all over the world. Since he lives off his University salary, he uses every penny from the sale of his art to build an arts academy that is located in the hills on Lake Victoria, about halfway between Kampala and Entebbe. We toured the school today (see photo top) - it's nearing completion - he needs about 25K (USD) to complete his work and plans to open the school for enrollment in 2008. I am completely inspired by his vision (not to mention his magnetic artist's personality - wearing a bright blue collarless Zanzibarian shirt and carrying around a cup of loose tea), as he plans to incorporate arts therapy into the curriculum - and a certain percentage of students will come from camps in the north. Needless to say, I purchased my very first artistic investment - an original painting. After traveling to Zanzibar for holiday (some of you know I've been going on and on about future travel to Zanzibar, so it felt like destiny), he started focusing on using a canvas with lots of textured white space and then a small segment with bright color and the subject. I love the style and bought a large piece - it's actually two paintings - he had started a painting of a boat in Zanzibar and then painted all of it white and started over with a small square of orange and red with a figure to the left-hand side -- you can still see the outline of the boat underneath. It's been years since my last art history course, so my description is lacking. It's an oil painting, and you'll just have to see it to understand - I'll have a gallery opening at my place (next to the original painting of Henry from the Washington Very Special Arts School). I'm REALLY looking forward to working with Jeremy (GYPA) on incorporating Kizito's school into GYPA's work. It was the perfect end to an emotionally stormy day.

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