Berlin in Spring

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

I’ve been to Berlin a few times over the past few years, and have left each time incredibly hung over and happy as hell. As in my normal life, I experience a wide range of emotions mixed with enlightenment and self-realization, however when I go to

Delicious trout and Miss Maria

Delicious trout and Miss Maria

Berlin it happens within a matter of days instead of years. Perhaps this is why I have a special place in my heart for the vibrant German city that offers proper European

Cem and Maria, tour guides and drinking buddies

Cem and Maria, tour guides and drinking buddies

hospitality. Yes, European hospitality seems like an oxymoron, especially coming from my

Bikes in the Park

Bikes in the Park

life in Turkey, but somehow the city and the people contained within shine like polished gems. And I fucking love them.

My dear friend Maria, who I met in Istanbul a few years ago, was the perfect hostess and tour guide. She made sure we tasted every beer possible, ate all the tasty German morsels, and explored as far and wide as possible. Drinking beer on a rooftop community garden,  Klunkerkeranich, overlooking the city was fucking awesome. Riding bikes around all major historical and government buildings, through parks, and

Art for babies

Art for babies

along the Spree was fucking great. Listening to Hip Hop heads make beats at Cafe Wendel, wandering through Bethanian, an old church converted into art studios, and eating California pulled pork during street food Thursday at Markthalle 9 were, well, fucking brilliant. Let me not forget the May Day festival in Kreuzberg, which was a mass of humanity from all walks of life enjoying live music and life in general.

Cafe Wendel

Cafe Wendel

We heard metal, Hip Hop, and traditional Turkish music all within a 3-block radius, with colorful people dancing tirelessly and imbibing freely.

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May Day

I had the honor of being a “model” for my friend Alesh’s sketch class. While it wasn’t the dreamy, romantic notion of sitting nude, draped in velvet fabric, in front of passionate artsy types, I enjoyed sitting on the pavement, drinking beer and chatting with a

Sketch class with Alesh

Sketch class with Alesh

lovely lady from Hamburg, all the while being sketched.

As I had usually visited Berlin for music festivals and short

Neus Museum

Neus Museum

stopovers, I wasn’t able to absorb the rich history of conflict that is an integral part of the city’s past. Maria is a wealth of knowledge about the GDR, Nazi regime, and the cultural implications both entities instilled into modern

Maria waiting for Korean sustenance

Maria waiting for Korean sustenance

Germany. What amazed me most was how far the German people have come in reversing the damage that was done and how progressive they continue to be. Especially when I compare to police brutality in the United States that hasn’t ceased to exist.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Cem and I visited Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, aka concentration camp, a short journey outside of the city. The small town of Oranienburg is very sweet, with colorful houses, children on bicycles and white picket fences. As we reached the camp, the experience became very surreal as the smell of death permeated my nostrils.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

While I still have images in my memory from the atrocities displayed in the Holocaust Museum in Houston that I visited nearly 20 years ago, walking on the earth was a completely different sensation. This camp was a “home” for mostly Senti and

Hair and eye color samples to determine race- Sachsenhausen Camp

Hair and eye color samples to determine race- Sachsenhausen Camp

Roma, or gypsies, who are people I deeply respect for their cultural contributions to civilization. Walking around the land, imagining thousands of people forced into a slow demise, was sickening, yet humbling somehow. The categorization of people according to their eye and hair color made me nauseous, but also pushed me to have a better understanding of humanity, both good and evil Hatred for people based on ignorant perceptions is a concept I will never fathom.

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The Victory Column

The moral of my story? Drink beer. Appreciate art. Listen to good music. Respect people regardless of their skin color, gender, or education level. Then all will be well. Peace.

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Maria and Mathias

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History Repeated Itself last February

Jumping for Joy

Jumping for Joy

During my formative, albeit rebellious years, aka high school, I fell in love with musicians and photography. I spent countless weekends at local clubs in downtown Houston snapping photos of friends playing in Metal and Hip Hop/Metal fusion bands before they were cool. My best friend and the most influential person in my life during those few years was the multi-talented and incredibly self-confident Geoffrey. He taught me bravery, self-love and that musicians are badass. There was a particular night I “stole” my parents ’86 Chevy Suburban, much too large for my petite self, to see Geoffrey’s band play at Fitzgerald’s, in the once decrepit part of the city. It most certainly must have been his overflowing courage that inspired me to drive the ’86 Suburban that night, fearlessly, like a proper dumbass teenage girl should.

Geoff

Geoff

Fast-forward 19 years. As important life events are always put on social media, I learned that Geoffrey was on a European tour with the sultry Jolie Holland. I searched for flights to Spain and France attempting to find the most logical city to meet my high school sweetheart. Logic aside, Valencia turned out to be the right decision. Unfortunately, there was a massive snowstorm in Istanbul the day I was supposed to fly, so I was grounded in frustration at missing an extra day with my virtuoso classmate.AHH_7936

I headed to the airport the next icy morning, in hopes my flights would be on time and get me to the beautiful Spanish land I had always dreamed of putting my feet upon. On my layover in Ataturk airport, I strolled through the throngs of people from all over the world, (literally people wearing everything from dashikis to stilettos) with a skip in my step incited by excitement of this reunion. It had actually only been 11 years since I last saw Geoffrey in NYC, when we had the privilege of seeing the Beastie Boys play Madison Square Garden, but still. My heart fluttered a bit as I went through the 3rd security check, with everyone around me speaking Spanish. Fuck yeah. Let the adventures begin!

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Geoff eats patatas bravas

 

Naturally, I inhaled a few mini bottles of imported red wine on the short 3-hour flight, as I was unable to sleep due to the flood of memories from three lifetimes ago. It had been a long time since I felt like a giddy little girl.

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Breathing deep once outside the airport in Valencia, I headed to the hotel where I found Geoffrey, sitting on a sofa, in all his Texan glory. It turns out people don’t really change much with age, aside from the occasional wrinkle. He still has the death grip embrace that blesses those lucky enough to experience it. After a quick refresher thanks to the bidet (major swamp ass occurred from the lack of AC on the plane), we hit the city streets chattering away as if we hadn’t missed a day.

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Geoff took me on a tour through the architectural history he had learned in his explorations the day before. We drank delicious wine, climbed castle stairs, and noshed on cured pork and patatas bravas. We spoke incessantly of our pasts, relative presents and new found love for Valencia. It’s a city we could live in, based solely on our minimal hours of experience here. Duly noted in my infinite book of future plans. Part New Orleans, part El Paso and part Game of Thrones, Geoff and I conceded that this Spanish city wasn’t so unfamiliar, yet was different enough to incite a sense of vigor.

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Geoffrey

In the early evening, we were off to sound check at Loco Club, where I met the headmistress Jolie, and band members Breezus, Whoopi, and tour manager Thorsten from Germany. They’re unique characters that produce a band of sedating and lovely players. Speaking with Jolie, much like conversing with Geoffrey, was enlightening, inspiring and motivating. My love and appreciation for musical artists is a constantly burning fire, and these endearing people tossed on logs and spewed lighter fluid.

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Jolie and Whoopi

Jolie appears as the child of Janis Joplin and Leadbelly, who was raised by the nanny Skye Edwards (of Morcheeba). Intoxicating vocals mixed with calculated, yet captivating, guitar picking demand attention on Jolie, despite her distaste for the spotlight. Members of the audience tapped their toes and bounced their heads in the dimly lit dive bar. I felt as though I was in high school again, admiring musicians with guts enough to stand under stage lights while entertaining mesmerized onlookers. The music was a perfect mix of heart warming melancholic melodies and bluegrass enthusiasm that provided the spiritual refreshment utterly necessary for my personal growth.

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Thorsten

 

I joined these beautiful people again the next morning, and watched them eat breakfast as I had inhaled mine earlier at my hotel before racing over to theirs, in fear they would hit the road before I could spend a few more moments with a group of American souls I’ve been missing. (I won’t mention the alcohol had yet to wear off in the three or so hours of sleep that somehow happened so logic didn’t exist yet). Turns out they were still sleeping when I arrived, so my

Whoopi and Jolie

Whoopi and Jolie

indigestion was unnecessary. Ah, we live and we learn.

My final dose of Geoffrey’s utter positivity and smile brighter than the sun prepared me for a day of wandering the streets of Valencia solo, as the band was headed to the North. It was a short, but extremely sweet reunion with the delicate man that remains as my first hero. Death grip embrace number two accomplished, I was ready to take on the world, or at least Valencia city center. We have to start somewhere right?

Breezus

Breezus

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Geoffrey at Loco Club

Walking shoes ready (or so I thought), I explored the architectural wonders of the City of Arts and Sciences. I strolled through a massive kilometer long park full of palm trees, people promenading their spoiled dogs, and children running amuck chattering in their sweet Spanish. To my astonishment, I realized no one was interested in talking to me, and if I knocked elbows or bumped into someone, all parties apologized swiftly. Not like Turkey, where every body wants to ask me where I’m from and overgrown women intentionally “brush” shoulders then scowl at me as if I had run head on into them. It’s quite amazing how a slight bit of decency can change the atmosphere of a city and ultimately, an entire culture. I had almost forgotten what personal space, minding your own business, and respect meant.

Breezus and Whoopi

Breezus and Whoopi

Once my feet were blistered and my mouth parched, I made my way to Mercado de Colon, where Geoff and I made our first pit stop the day before. I sat on a cushiony wicker sofa, kicked up my feet, and ordered red wine. Oh hell yes! Drinking wine on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Yes please. The veggie paella was filling enough to get my shopping legs ready to continue wandering about, with a different focus from history, architecture, and culture. It

was time to find some cool Spanish boots.

 

City of Arts and Sciences

City of Arts and Sciences

Unfortunately, I didn’t find boots, but did manage to understand that “siesta” really means “We will look at you inside the store, but we’re not fucking working.” So I found my way back to the hotel wherein I, yes, drank more wine and ate more cured pork and cheese. This was heaven I tell you.AHH_7899

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The following morning, I somehow jumped out of bed, inhaled the buffet breakfast, and walked briskly to the marina so I could see, smell and breathe in the Balearic Sea (or a cove AHH_7892 copywithin said sea). My spirit and heart were rejuvenated, yet again, this time from seeing nearly everyone on the street walking their pups early on a Sunday morning, some purebreds, some mutts, some big, some small, but all jubilant with wagging tails. I must take a moment to give respect and blessings to people who love and take care of animals.

I made my way back to the hotel with only a few minutes to spare (thank you again my bidet friend) to get my shit and go to the airport. The wind was blowing furiously, and I secretly hoped my flight would be canceled, or at least delayed. Of course it wasn’t, but a girl can wish! As I reveled in my concluding mini bottle of non-imported Spanish wine, I reflected through three decades of existence. It seems the winds of change are a blowin’…AHH_7988

The Best Turkish Wedding Ever

Maybe because she was one of my first friends in Turkey or maybe because she’s a stunning and humorous woman. Regardless, Ceren got married and I was blessed to be a part of it.

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Ceren and Naz

What was planned to be a “girls” weekend in Istanbul turned out to be a fucking wonderful and enlightening experience. Leaving dry and dusty Ankara behind, I embraced the 4-hour drive (riddled with monsoon rains) and tried not to think of the inevitable cosmopolitan traffic that would no doubt be waiting for me.

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Naz

Arriving late in Bakirkoy, my friend Anika and soon to be new friend Chelsea, were nearly 10 sheets to the wind when I arrived. The sangria was deliciously fruity and the conversation entertaining, candid and much needed. Some of us suckers in domestic relationships forget all too soon the inherent spirit and empowerment born from close female relationships. I haven’t forgotten the need for a proper ladies night, but I had forgotten how lively we can be when unleashed and unbridled.

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Ceren and Fatoş

The following hung over morning consisted of meeting twin girls who would be my bosses for the summer, an attempt at going to an overcrowded kuafor, ne hairdresser, and dolling myself up for a wedding I had anticipated for nearly 2 years.Image

Hair curled, heels on and dress covered in cat hair, I went with Ceren’s sister Derya and niece Naz to the family home. I walked in to a room of older women (and 2 men) waiting to send Ceren into her next life.   There was a heaviness in the atmosphere as Ceren and Derya’s father died 2 years ago and though not physically present he was very much in the air. Ceren was in a perfect dress that matched her raven hair, dark eyes, and red lips; nervous smile and impatience intact.

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Derya and Mum

The Cevahir Hotel in Bostanci is nothing short of grand, providing a lush green lawn facing the Marmara Sea. I sat with the family as we had arrived too early for cocktail hour, however conversation was very little due to my serious lack of Turkish. A young cousin played the role as translator for me, but by the end of the night he was a man of few words. I had exhausted yet another translator. Naturally.

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Ceren and Emre

The wedding was full of lights, smoke machines, Turkish love ballads, American pop songs, deliciously prepared and presented food, and limitless alcohol, and a belly dancer. What more could a girl in heels and creeping (down) strapless dress ask for really.

The following hung over morning consisted of Anika and I dragging our asses off Derya’s couch, primping young Naz and hitting the streets for more. Anika and I met 2 of my lovely students in Kadiköy for breakfast/brunch/tea and loose talk. The “girls” weekend continued with more laughter, more enlightenment and more solidarity. Ah, how I miss Istanbul.

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Fulya, Yasemin and Anika

Anika and I then proceeded to sit in traffic for the next 3 hours attempting to reach a tulip-laden park where her friends were having a picnic. The drive along the Bosporus through Istanbul’s most expensive neighborhoods elicited emotions of awe, appreciation, jealousy and conversation about Ottoman history. We finally found Emirgan Park and I must admit the tulips were breathtaking, however the never-ending tour to get there had us a bit frazzled. After sitting in the parking lot for nearly 45 minutes waiting for a space, cold beer calling my name as Anika had began to imbibe as co-pilot, we finally rested the Fiat. By the time I stood up, my left calf was broken and shaking at the idea I would have to use the clutch again in another couple of hours. Nevertheless, we arrived and rejoiced at standing up in fresh air.

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The Naz

The girl’s weekend had ended as the boyfriend was there, however my reenergized spirit was blessed to have had the insights, the laughter, the gossip, and the camaraderie.

Cheers to the ladies.

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The Season of the Grasshopper

It’s been two years since I last landed on African soil, so needless to say I was giddy like a schoolgirl.  My trip through the African skies was full of imagination, ancient history and childlike wonder.

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Her Royal Highness, St Nelly Sade and Yours Truly

I don’t recall the world below during my last flight from Istanbul to Entebbe, but his time around was nothing short of magical. Perhaps it was the clear skies; perhaps I was sober or just simply paying attention.  The first time I decided to lift my window shade and gaze below, we were flying over Luxor.  For me, the name Luxor represents an enchanted and ethereal time in history.  Seeing the lights line the upper Nile and imaging the pyramids of pharaohs I’ve only seen in photos, I smiled as I was transported back in time.  I watched in awe as we continued our flight over the great Nile River, the banks illuminated by small white lights surrounded by darkness spreading away from the shore.

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My next grand decision to lift the window shade displayed the sprawling city of lights of Khartoum, Sudan.  Again, having only seen photos of the infamous city, I imagined the bustling streets and night markets in the capital of Sudan.  Flying farther south, I observed the city lights of Juba, the capital of South Sudan; pass by much quicker than those of Khartoum.  The vast difference in the size of the lights made apparent that despite Juba being the world’s newest capital city, its quite small in comparison to it’s neighbor and more often than not, enemy.

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Mugagga making lunch

Somehow I didn’t read my flight info (totally possible) or wasn’t provided the information until I was boarded (less likely), but we had a layover in Kigali, Rwanda where we would “exchange passengers”.  Rwanda?!  Yet another place I’ve only imagined seeing, especially since the horrific genocide in 1994.  As the mostly European commuters got off the plane in exchange for mostly Eastern travelers, I sat in wonder that I was actually in Rwanda.

Arriving in Entebbe at 4 AM the next day from when I left  (whenever that was), the first thing I did was take a deep breath of the fresh, moist air.   It was like a circus of banana trees, humidity, and dust in my nostrils.  It was a breath of fresh air, relief, and thanks to the goddess that I was home.  My dear friends Burney and Cyno greeted me, their smiling faces welcoming me back to a country I had truly missed.

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Burney and Fasie

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CYNO and Mugagga

On the drive to Kampala, I got the latest gossip about everyone I knew, was involved with or was just curious about.  And then there was the laughter.  Cyno has a special way about him.  He’s quiet and almost innocent, but the humorous lines he drops at random make me laugh so hard my sides hurt.  The two of them together are like a never-ending comedy show.  It’s a kind of laughter that comes from the depths of the soul, which you share with old friends or comedic family members.

We met my other dear friend, Mugagga, in Makindye where I lived in 2010.   He yelled obscenities at me, as we do like brother and sister, then nearly squeezed the life out of my body with his hug.  My best friends and brothers together again, we laughed and talked shit all the way to Bukoto.

Burney and Cyno have a home in Bukoto, a ghetto area near Kamowkya.  They struggle to pay the rent each month, but have established it as a base for End of the Weak, the Hip Hop community I established there in 2009.  I was impressed they had a true home and both were happy and healthy.  The last time I was there Burney had tuberculosis and Cyno was dying from a heart problem.  Now they were both fit and maturing as gracefully as a young musician can.

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Burney in Namuwango

I fell right back into the grind of business meetings, photo shoots, overeating and drinking like a fish.  The flavors of Ugandan food were something I had really missed and of course, the pork. Oh the pork.  I don’t know why it’s so delicious in Uganda, but it is.   I ate so much my digestive system suffered for the following week or so.  But I admit it was worth the pain and struggles.

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Interviewing JDM

I was surprised at the amount of “muzungus” or white people that were there now.  Sure I saw the occasional whitey a few years back, but now I saw them every where every day.  They were young women, such as myself, working with some NGO or arts and music programs, some with their local boyfriends, some still searching.  There is a bar; I won’t say its name as to not give free advertising, which was established by a white South African, or Afrikaner I believe.  He didn’t allow locals into his fine establishment.  Naturally, it went under.  Other white South Africans that actually let locals attend their lovely restaurant/bar/club somehow revived it.   The first time I went I had a bad taste in my mouth and a snarl on my face which was exacerbated by the presence of white business men and the white South Africans working the bar.  Not to even the mention the asshole in an Australian outback hat like a typical Afrikaner.   Let me just clarify that I was born in Johannesburg and upon returning to the country of my birth 26 years later, I saw, heard, and felt the division between black and white in South Africa.  I can start an argument as to why white people don’t belong on African soil and the white farmers that are killed is justified, but that’s really a whole different story.  Enough of my rant let me get back to my fun-filled adventure.

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Catching Grasshoppers

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Grasshoppers=Money

The highlight of this trip was grasshopper season.  There were “light stations” set up in different areas of Kampala.  Fluorescent lights stripped of their exterior glass rested atop poles, which in turn illuminated aluminum sheet panels stuck into metal drums.  There were piles of burning trash at the base of the barrels and swarms of people around these stations.  In theory, the grasshoppers were attracted to the lights, confused by the smoke, smacked the aluminum panels and slid into the metal drums.  People with plastic bags surrounded the area scrambling to catch as many stray grasshoppers as possible.  The following day, people wandered the streets with plastic buckets full of fried grasshoppers, selling the seasonal delicacy.   One late night, Mugagga and I walked up the hill from Bukoto to Kamowkya, a bustling area of pubs and street food vendors and, well, grasshopper light stations.   The scene was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before and depending on the season may never see again.  As we walked up the street, I looked into the sky and it was a blizzard of grasshoppers.   I looked at the street strewn with carcasses that had met their untimely death upon car windshields.  When we returned home, there were a few visitors that had made their way through the cracked window into the bathroom.  They were fucking huge grasshoppers.  I understand now how they decimate crops in one fell swoop.  As I looked into their eyes, their antenna twitching frantically, I assured them I wouldn’t eat their friends or cousins.  Despite being offered the fried crunchy insects, I have yet to pop them into my mouth like peanuts.  I know one day I will, but now was not the time.

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Bon apetit!

By the end of my week, I was thoroughly exhausted. I had secured End of the Weak as an official LLC company, began the organization of a monthly Hip Hop night and instilled the energy to host at least nine European countries, the USA, Canada, and the Philippines at the end of this year for a Hip Hop festival.  It’s a massive project in the making and we could use a prayer, meditation, or lighting of a candle.   My best friends and partners will make it happen regardless if we have grasshoppers as sustenance.

Back to the North….

Last week proved to be another eventful adventure….

Burney MC and Friend

Burney MC and I caught the Post bus to Gulu in northern Uganda to attempt to establish End of the Weak in the north.  After the 6 hour bus ride we arrived safely and covered in a fine layer of red dust. The highlight was having grilled bananas, called gonja, so I was satisfied.

Having been to Gulu before, we walked the familiar streets to find the guest house Happy Nest, where we would rest our bones for the few days we were there.  We met with Juma, a radio presenter and local promoter to discuss running the MC Challenge in Gulu.  As it would be, all he really wanted was money as the amount of NGOs and misappropriated money has spoiled the people in this war fatigued area.  We attended a talent show, which consisted of young men and one woman miming over a well-known artist’s song.  Most of it was Hip Hop from the US such as 50 Cent or local celebrity Bebe Cool.  Although Burney and I laughed about it, it is quite disheartening to see these kids imitating Western music instead of creating their own. However, these talent shows seem to take place in so many cities and towns, that this is the entertainment of the times.

I met a producer named Babu who has become my main guide and go-to guy for information about the Hip Hop scene in the North.  He is a man of few words who barely cracks a smile, but he has been honest and helpful.  His partner and co-producer, Ash Bee, has also proven to be of infinite help and is the comic relief in my endeavors to provide a platform to help strengthen and educate hopeful artists in Acholiland.

Burney and I retired to the guest house late that night, discussing the struggles we faced with working in Gulu.

MCs in Gulu

The next morning, we enjoyed our breakfast of buttered bread and coffee, then set off to Babu’s studio for more discussion.  We met Ken, brother to Babu and a jack of many trades. He took us to a T-shirt printing shop where I proceeded to have End of the Weak Uganda shirts printed. Then off we went to meet with local boxing coach and mentor to Stacy, Kidega.  He gave us useful information on how to work in Gulu and with his brother Komacech, helped us gather rappers to introduce the idea of the MC Challenge.  After a brief nap, we returned to Alobo, which is a bar, restaurant and community center.  We met with a few MCs before the electricity went out and more came to speak with us in the darkness of the restaurant. When the power returned, Burney played DJ and the MCs spit their freestyles, most of them in English, which showed us again how imitation of Western artists is their main education.  It was great to meet the guys and see their talents and eagerness for some kind of recognition.

We had more meetings at a discotheque called Herm before going across town with another new friend, Adi from London. Adi is a filmmaker working with Al-Jazeera (largest Arab TV station) on a documentary of people involved in the 20 year conflict with Sudan. He had some interesting stories as the people he had met had experiences common to a war zone.  Talking to people about where they were and what they were doing during the conflict reminded me of my time spent in post-conflict Croatia in Eastern Europe.  There are many people who carry many signs of war, mostly large scars of violence inflicted on them.  After a few more Nile beers, we retired home yet again.

Friday was spent having meetings with radio personality Emma of Choice FM and manager of Herm’s where I intend to have the End of the Weak event.  I battled with them as they wanted too much money, but I think with the proper use of ‘fuck’ in some of the conversation they realized I wasn’t an easy force to battle, like many other dishonest whites in the area. However, they are getting more money than they should as my bargaining skills are developing with every meeting. It was a frustrating day, but we finished it off with spending a comical time with Babu, Ash Bee and friends. After too much booze for Burney, Stacy and I, we slept a few winks before rising for the next day….

Burney headed back to Kampala and Stacy and I headed to Kitgum, farther North.  We arrived in Kitgum, somehow, after the bus broke

Santana and I

down for what seemed like forever.  In a place without AAA, Stacy and I wondered how exactly we would get to our destination if the bus crew had not managed to get it started again.  As soon as we hit Kitgum, we went straight for a lunch of pork at a friends restaurant.  It is nice to be welcomed back with big smiles and warm beer.

It was a big night for Stacy and I, as our friend Hoppy Benny organized a Hip Hop show at Club Galaxy.  Benny’s friend and promoter, Santana, took Stacy on his motorbike and Benny taking me on his motorcycle, we headed to a radio station to promote the night’s event.  The radio show was in the local language Luo, but Stacy and I spoke about our projects in our best English. Although many people in the city of Kampala consider the North to be traditional and uncivilized, the Acholis speak better English than the Bugandas (people in the central where I stay).  After a short but entertaining set on the radio, we went to Santana’s station, which was in a large house and though the equipment is old, it gets the job done. After yet another entertaining 10 minute show, we went back to our local haunt for dinner, of, yes, more pork.

Off to Club Glaxay we went, where we found many young men and women ready for a talent show and Hip Hop event.  We stood outside talking before being escorted in to a large club full of people sitting watching TV. We went back to the VIP room where Stacy and I had a beer and talked about solving world issues while the people watched a soccer game. Once the show started, we went to the main room and sat in the very front row as we were the guests of honor.  Benny and Santana wanted us to speak, but we denied wholeheartedly as being on the microphone is not what we came to do. The  talent show consisted of more miming to Western music and some really great traditional dancers.

I discovered we were true VIPs when I had to pee and had a bodyguard escort me to the back.  He moved people out of the way as if I was Obama and no one could touch me.  I didn’t like the treatment as I don’t want to be singled out, but I imagine I would never have moved forward as many people are interested in talking to a muzungu.

Ice Dream and Chainy Crispy

Benny organized a mini MC Challenge so that someone from Kitgum could go to Gulu to represent a major town in the North.  Organizing this event has proven to be difficult in many ways, and trying to have musicians from many areas represent their local language has been my focus for the past week and will continue for the next weeks.  I was impressed with Benny getting the people together and I am so incredibly thankful to have him on my side.  After the Challenge ended, we were escorted to the back where Stacy and I became surrounded by MCs wanting to talk and see what we thought of their performances.  After many discussions with people we met before mixed with new faces, we were escorted out the back door as though we were JayZ and Beyonce.

After a few hours of sleep, we were up and ready to receive musicians from the previous night to discuss End of the Weak and Hip Hop in general.  Although people were slow to come, their was a great turnout.  Benny is establishing the Northern Uganda Hip Hop Culture to help stimulate and expose the artistic abilities in the North and so we spoke about what Hip Hop means and how it can help guide them.  It  seemed to be a productive meeting, under a tree in what little shade there was, and I hope the meeting will help strengthen the ideas and hopes of these guys.

Stacy remained in Kitgum to run a theatre workshop and I jumped on the Gulu Express bus to finish up my duties in Gulu. I had been told about edible rats in the North, and got to experience it first hand on the ride to Gulu.  They only come around in the dry season and so are treated as a delicacy.  At a roadside market, the biggest selling item was this big ass rodent that had been sliced in half and dried for sale.  With many people buying these supposedly delicious creatures, the bus had a scent of dead animal that would fill the bus whenever it stopped and the air became stagnant. I asked Ash Bee about this source of food and he became very excited in describing how they prepare it.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, I wasn’t able to partake in rat soup.

1st meeting of Northern Uganda Hip Hop Culture

I received a copy of the Sunday Vision, an country wide newspaper that had a Q+A with me.  I was pleasantly surprised to see it and was quite happy with the response from people.  If someone calls me a celebrity one more time though, I’m going to have to look into buying a car as celebrities don’t walk. Ha!

After a mellow night with Ash Bee and a brief encounter with Babu, I slept a few hours before catching the 7AM bus back to Kampala.

the road to Sudan

6 hours and a headache later, I arrived in Kampala where my bodaboda friend picked me up and took my dusty body and backpack home.  My bodaboda friend, Mayaja, being much in love with me, brought me a bouquet of roses and lilies and a chocolate bar for Valentine’s Day. It’s nice to know where ever I may go in the world, there’s someone who loves me.

A day of not much rest, and I had to get the End of the Weak auditions organized for yesterday, Tuesday the 16th……..

Having the day start with monsoon rain and then having people show up late to the venue Club Rouge put a damper on my spirits, but the auditions turned out to be a success.  Although there where minor glitches in getting started, the emcees did their best to display their skills to judges Tafash, a female MC from Kenya, and Sylvester, an MC from Uganda. After a few exhausting hours, Burney and I had accomplished what we came to do.

EOW Auditions

We finished up the night with Spoken Truth, a weekly event for poets and musicians to talk about whatever and then back to Makindye for a night of restless sleep.

Now I will eat my first meal of the day (it’s almost 5PM) then meet with a few End of the Weak partners and champions, who (some) will make their debut on Jam Agenda, a local show promoting music.

Another day down and more hurdles to jump but success remains attainable.

A shitty week….

7 Feb 2010

I started off the week by watching Stacy attempt her first community meal at the Bavubuka House.  She had intentions that everyone who wanted to eat would contribute  200 shillings (about 10 US cents).  So off to the market she goes and upon her return, she was smacked with the reality that the people didn’t understand or just didn’t care.  3 individuals made the meal, but other than that, there was no contribution.  It is unfortunate that in a so-called community house there is no real community.  The mindset isn’t there for the locals to help each other out, they prefer handouts. The only person who has not expected a handout from me is Burney, the emcee who is my partner with End of the Weak.  I’m not sure why he is different, but he is. He understands the value of working to achieve something.  The others just want things given to them.  So my frustration with the kids/adults at the Bavubuka House has been elevated this week, but I learned last year to not give too much of my resources.  Unfortunately, Stacy learned the hard way, as did I, that the most locals don’t understand the meaning of ‘contribution’ or ‘community.’

SP at “Miami Beach”

The funniest day of my life also occurred this week when I went with a friend and MC, SP Omungunjule to his home in the ghettos of Makindye and Katwe.  As Burney, SP and I started our journey in Makindye, we encountered 2 military police who were exiting the ghetto and headed back to the barracks across the street.  They were kind and quite funny, as they just wanted to make friends with a muzungu (white person).  After a few minutes of small talk, we continued our journey through trash filled streets and rows of concrete houses.  SP, being a comedian, jumped a rancid ‘creek’ of water and climbed atop a trash pile.  I jokingly asked if the stream of trash and human waste

ghetto girl

was Lake Victoria, SP responds with, “This is Miami Beach.”  As he continues walking through trash piles, he decides to climb into a ‘shed’, which was a few pieces of sheet metal and wooden boards thrown together, and do a freestyle. Not 1 minute into his speech, he slides backwards into the ‘trash’ pile, his face covered in horror for maybe 7 seconds.  When he realizes where he is, he screams, “Fuck off man! This is a toilet!” As he emerges with one side of his body covered in shit, I laugh so hard I cry.  Burney watches in disgust as his

SP in shit

brother attempts to scrape the human waste off of his pants with a piece of metal.  After a few minutes of hysterical laughter (and me making a video of the whole scene) a man passes by and tells us to follow him to a water spout.  SP washes the shit off him as a crowd of women and children stand and watch. I photographed the kids after my friend was clean as could be, then off we went for more ghetto adventures.  We walked through areas where I usually pass on a boda boda, except for an unfamiliar market area with clean streets.  Clean streets are a rare sight here, as trash bins don’t exist.  As it would be, the market area is for the government, and so it made (some) sense that it is the only clean street surrounded by ghetto.  Then the rain came.  The three of us stood under what shelter we could find, and when the drops slowed down enough we continued walking back to the house.  I’ve since watched the video every day, multiple times, and when any of us that have seen it even speak about it, laughter rises to levels that cause pain.
And so the week continued, with meetings to get sponsorship and advertisement for the next End of the Weak MC Challenge.  I organized the auditions for last night, Saturday the 6th of Feb,

making chapatti in Makindye

at Club Sway, a former hotspot but now dead spot. It began as a positive event, but about halfway through, a manager pulled the DJ out of the booth and cut the microphone.  Apparently, the woman I made the arrangements with either did not relay the event to her manager, or didn’t have the power to give me the space for the time she said.  Or they wanted money or they didn’t like Hip Hop.  Regardless what it was, they kicked us out.  So 30 emcees and about 15 onlookers poured out on the street and watched me curse and talk shit until I calmed down.  The 2 judges that were there, Tafash and Sylvester, said it’s no big deal, welcome to Africa.  And so I  brought my anger down a level and went home to drink.  My friend and housemate who has been in pain for a week, went to the clinic and discovered he has worms. And so we talked about parasites, eating meat, and well, shit.  We compared parasite stories and had some good laughs.
So now I sit here, cold, watching from atop a hill, the rain fall on Kampala, turning the dust to mud and pushing the waste of all kinds through the ditches.  I am still frustrated about last night, as it was a waste of money for many people involved. But, I will book another venue this week and continue on with my plans. As Nelson Mandela said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
And so I will fight like hell to continue establishing End of the Weak Uganda, a movement of improvement through Hip Hop.

The dry season….

As I sit at Speke Hotel, watching a stork feed her baby in the tree, I am sweating in my mini skirt.  This is what they call the dry season.  Relentless sunshine, a warm breeze and enough dust in the air that I think I am in the Nevada desert during the Burning Man Festival.

Mugagga, Stacy + I

When darkness sets in, the view from the back of a boda boda is one of headlights, bicycles and speed bumps all slightly diffused by the encompassing red Kampala dust.  Sometimes I feel as though I am in a dream state, until the boda swerves to miss a pothole and I am jarred back into the present.
This week was slightly uneventful compared to some although it was productive. I had a meeting with WBS TV and they are willing to put MC Challenge winner CYNO MC and Uncle 33 Bwongo on a show called Jam Agenda this Wednesday.  When I saw CYNO the other day, (as he checks in with my progress) I asked him if he is ready to be on TV.  His response was, “I am an MC. I am forever ready.” And with the crack of his smile and my laughter, we continued on with our duties.
Stacy started a mural project on the property in Makindye (ma-chin-day) that employed the skills of Mugagga and Zubie.  Zubie is a girl that lives next door and sister to the only female MC in the house, Fasie.  Mugagga painted a massive lion

painting by floodlight

head with an outline of Africa, and Zubie painted a beautiful African queen, or as she likes to say, a phenomenal woman.  It was fun to watch the progress through the week and now that it is nearly completed, it is fun to watch the sense of accomplishment of the mural team’s spirit.  It has become a nice and semi-relaxing place to chill at the end of the day to watch the stars and occasional bat fly by.
I met two more very cool and inspiring people in the Hip Hop industry, female MC

The Bavubuka Mural Project

Saints CA and manager to superstar GNL Zamba, Emrun.  They gave great insight in to the various characters in the small scene here and applauded me for the work I am doing with End of the Weak.  Getting more positive people on board will for sure help the project to grow bigger and better.
On friday, a few people from the house went to see Kwesa’s dying father in the hospital. Kwesa is a young MC who is quite stubborn, but is losing his father at a very early age and so I try to nurture as much as possible.  A few weeks into my stay in Kampala, he asked if I would be his mom.  I’m pretty sure its so I’ll give him ice cream and take him to America, but it is endearing to have some one greet me as mommy without my having to go through pain and cleaning up after a shitting,

Kwesa and friends

vomiting baby.  The hospital reminded me of my time spent in a hospital in Croatia, with old equipment, urine soaked blankets and well, sick people.  But I know we made the old man’s day by showing him his son has a good support system.
After a meal of an omelette and salad, it is now time for half price ice cream.  That is the highlight of Sundays here in Kampala city.  Two scoops of delicious ice cream for $1.50.
It has been a lazy Sunday, and I look forward to a busy and productive week ahead…..