It has felt like interplanetary travel to come to Bukoba. I can mostly make sense of things -- ahh, those two people must be selling something, those people are having some sort of political rally, he's sending SMS messages on his cellphone -- yet there is so much that I can't begin to comprehend. I wish I had some sort of cultural key that would help me translate the world around me!
The interviews have gone very well...I can't say too much since I'm going to come back to New York and go into the studio with Jad and/or Robert and tell them what I discovered about Omunepo and we like to preserve the surprise and discovery in that moment (and Jad may be reading this.) But, I can tell you about what I did yesterday.
The Lutheran church in Bukoba is connected to a church in New York City and happens to have a volunteer from Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan who is teaching at Kibeta middle school. Her name is Gayle and she proudly furnished her WNYC umbrella for me yesterday. I wanted to go to the school where this outbreak occured, so she contacted the pastor of the Lutheran church up there and arranged for us to go to church with him.
I hired a car to take us an hour up the windy, bumpy, rocky red dirt road to Kashasha Village. It was pouring rain and we arrived a little late. When the two white women entered the church -- one fully decked out with a shotgun mic and headphones -- you could have heard a ant crawl across the concrete floor. Every eye was trained on my microphone. The service lasted over 2 hours and included a rather hilarious performance by the vocational secondary school students of the story from the gospel of Luke about Lazarus and the Rich Man. I thought it particularly funny that the rich man spoke english while all the other actors spoke kiswahili and the local tribal language, Haya.
The conclusion of the church proceedings is for all the congregants to file out and conduct an auction of fruit and goods to benefit the church. Someone bought for Gayle and me a bag of passionfruit and a bag of oranges. It feels quite strange to be given gifts from people who have so little, but of course we could not refuse them.
Then, after the final prayer, the pastor made an announcement that I was here to talk about the epidemic of Omunepo with the elders and he invited them to join me inside the church. We sat in a circle, about 16 elders and me, and it was something of a group disussion on the topic - with the pastor translating for me. Many were in their late 60s and 70s and remembered the events quite well. At one point, one began singing a song -- the laughing song -- and soon the entire circle was singing and I was laughing and laughing. But, it's ok, we were all able to stop laughing without any trouble at all.
Then, the pastor took us around the site where this Omunepo is reported to have begun. It's now a vocational school where he is the headmaster. Another epidemic, AIDS, has ravished this region and much of his difficulties as a school headmaster are compounded by the masses of orphans which are here and unable to pay school fees.
On Saturday night, I went to the beach with a group of European aid workers...some of whom are volunteers at an orphanage here. They told me that it is quite common for rural children to be told, after their parents have died of HIV, to walk to Bukoba and look for work. These are children of 8,9 years old. They come to town with bloody feet from DAYS of walking and have no money, no family. A crazy older woman takes them in -- she has over a hundred -- but she is crazy and she beats them and is sometimes quite awful to them. "But she does take them in" a canadian said with resignation. "How do I get Angelina Jolie to come here?" I asked, jokingly to lighten the mood. I was told that the Tanzanian state forbids foreign adoption, but provides no assistance at all for orphans.
Today, I'll visit the HIV ward of the government hospital here, where there is an elderly doctor who knows all about Omunepo. It's a nice thing to talk with these people about such a bizarre and humorous occurance...but I can't help but feel like it is a distraction, a tangent, from the real story of this region.