Teaching and Oratory, Thu-Fri July 3-4

Barbara and Pam taught Thursday morning at Rweteera, which is several miles south of Kasiisi near the main part of Kibale Forest. The lesson was about fractions and percentages. The two teachers had revised the lesson significantly after our chimpanzee trek last Sunday: our guide, Charles, had given us a number of statistics about the forest and its denizens, and these worked well to tie the math lesson to the kids’ daily lives. The lesson was well received, but the students were slow to respond at first.

Things warmed up considerably when Barbara and Pam started handing out literally hundreds of gifts to the children. Pandemonium nearly erupted. The headmaster kept ringing his large hand-held bell as hard as he could to bring the children back into order and quietness. It worked only sometimes.

Thursday afternoon we were in Fort Portal for internet and shopping, then back to the field station for a quiet evening dinner.

After teaching at the various schools Friday morning, the whole group converged at Kasiisi School for an unexpected massive afternoon assembly, during which the Kasiisi staff and children bid their farewells. There were very few speeches – anomalously – but much singing, some of it doleful. A few children actually wept. The ceremony was beautiful and moving. And it came as a surprise, as the visiting teachers had expected to be working in classrooms all this day.

In the evening we had – guess what – another celebration, this one a farewell at the field station (MUBFS) where we've been staying. Thunderstorms loomed all around us as the sun set, and rain brushed us a few times but never came down hard. Speeches went on into the dark, interspersed with songs and dances, followed by dinner and dancing. The whites danced, or tried to dance, first. When we had cleared the floor, the Ugandans took over and sparkled. We were envious. Even the oldest people among the Ugandans dance extremely well, with grace that is beyond description. One of them, a tiny and quite elderly man, danced right in front of Barbara and me with consummate joy and fluidity, completely aware that we were watching and admiring, twinkling back at us now and again as he turned.

Non-political speeches by Ugandans are true works of art. Almost always the speaker or the introducer declares that a few very brief remarks or comments will follow. The speaker proceeds calmly and quietly, with wide, meditative silences between words and phrases. The tone is conversational, often with humor and sometimes with direct words to certain people in the audience. The pace varies and the volume flows up and down, all gracefully and musically. It feels like quiet jazz, structured but with relaxed improvisation, confident and amused, playful. Just the like old man dancing. Wonderful to observe and to immerse oneself in, whatever the words happen to be about. And the words are often poetic too, in counterpoint to the music of the delivery.