I’ve been searching for a particular song for some time now, actually years, really. Once upon a time, when I worked at Bootlegger Stores decades ago, a supervisor of mine who had the largest record collection ever, recorded the song, along with many others, on a cassette for me.. he actually made several tapes for me over the 7 years we worked together. One I particularly remember the title of was ‘Exile at Grandma’s’ in reference to the hotel – Grandma’s Inn – that I was staying at in Prince George, BC, for an entire summer while on a ‘trouble shooting mission’ for head office. So, anyways, there’s this great line in the song and I sing it often..”Oooo when we’re Loving each other, how everything falls into place.”
So many of my life experiences feel just like that.. people so wonderfully Loving each other, everything so beautifully falling into place, and, these past few days spent with the Bee World Project people during our journey Mbale and Sironko way, were most certainly no exception.
Following a delicious vegetarian meal half way through our night journey from Kampala to Mbale, at an Indian restaurant in Jinja, the city that boasts the source of The River Nile here in Uganda, we had a very quiet and contented drive the rest of the way to Mbale with just the occasional surprise speed bump to keep us semi-conscious! Fred indeed was correct as he, Vincent, and myself said goodnight to one another at my home after dropping the “visitors” off at Mt. Elgon Hotel a few blocks away, exactly as he had predicted, just before midnight, Sunday.
The plan was to meet and set out the following day, Monday, our day to venture Sironko way, at around 9am. Deciding to stay both Sunday and Monday nights in Mbale meant the Bee World group could stay put for a couple nights, back to back, which would be great for them, and, we wouldn’t have to rush our Monday together as we had thought we might, if we were going to do the return drive to Kampala that same day. Instead, we decided to schedule the drive back to Entebbe to meet their onward flight at 5:30pm-ish, all on Tuesday.
I found Shlomo, his wife Jane, and their daughter Steph sitting in the garden at the hotel, enjoying some early morning sunshine, Wanale hill overlooking them, just off in the distance. I secretly wished I had time to take them for a drive up that hill to the seemingly blissful, very beautiful and delightfully magical communities woven along and around the winding roads, paths, and waterfalls. Next time.
Throughout our time together, the Bee World people and I had been getting to know one another more, and Shlomo took that Monday morning moment to ask about my earlier life before LITA, what had I been up to for the better part of my adult years? My answer covered the years as quickly as I could manage, and the best part of it all revealed to us another friend we both hold in common as someone very special in our lives! Beautiful!
Time to venture with agenda and schedule in hand.. (we were already leaving, was it, an hour or more behind our planned time..?!) we all packed into the van, with Fred and Vincent up front, and headed out Budadiri way to an ACIO caregiver/bee keeper’s home on the beautiful slopes near Mt Elgon. We bounced, we made good time, we crawled, and shimmied and skidded, over mud and through ruts, up and up, and even further up, till some of us were asking in our best child “Are we there yet?” .. “How much longer?” Vincent answered, “About 20 minutes.” Oh my goodness.. patience. And then, just moments later, we turned in a front yard to see a number of gentlemen sitting on the front porch awaiting our arrival! Haha, Vincent had tricked us.. we had reached!
We were all welcomed so very warmly and invited to walk the trails over the land to the place where a number of hives are kept.. only some miles away from the home. Ok, not that far, but certainly over a creek and a few rather large pastures away. The morning was beautiful, the land idyllic, the sounds, peaceful, and the energy, calm. Crops were growing, birds were singing, cows were happy, children were laughing. Shlomo was busy stickering little hands and big ones alike, the bee keepers were all together talking traditional and modern hives and practices, and I was feeling myself floating along in this most precious place with all these beautiful people.
After a time we all returned to the front porch and there in the shade sat to discuss bee keeping, and take tea. A table draped with a cloth was relocated from inside the house and we were served a wonderful assortment of delicious treats including locally grown, roasted and freshly ground coffee, tea, hard boiled eggs, gnuts, bread, even a taste of superb local honey! It was warm and beautiful; it was community, respect and sharing; questions and understanding; appreciation, generosity and kindness.. all way round.
In keeping with our ‘agenda’ and considering the fact that we were already now a few hours behind, it eventually was time to depart and make our way to Mutufu trading center to be welcomed at Vincent’s storefront/ACIO office. In the “what goes up must come down” department, several children were watching for the van with all the mzungus in it to roll on by, and all the way down to the connecting road we were greeted several times with sweet, happy, very enthusiastic ‘Mzungu, How Are Yoooooooo’s!’ Delightful!
We arrived in Mutufu to a number of caregiver/bee keepers at the office, signed the guest book, looked at all the photos of ACIO projects, caregivers and children on the walls, and were treated to a couple speeches by ACIO members. Piling back in the van we headed up the back road to above the center.. we’d walk down the short trail to it, so we wouldn’t all get too muddy en-route. Fred dropped us as close to the trail as possible, and just as we began to trek our way to the center, the first few drops of rain began to fall.. splish, splash, the rain started to come more quickly and for a time we all took refuge under the roof line of a home we were passing by. Within minutes, the drops were fewer between and Vincent led us onward.. all the while Shlomo played tunes, and much like the pied piper gathered quite the following of happy and curious neighborhood children behind him!
As we arrived at the center, the ACIO children, clad in their recently acquired red soccer uniforms, socks and running shoes, came sprinting out from one of the classrooms in full song, just as the rain was also picking up speed and volume! There we all were, standing, about to get quite drenched, listening to “Welcome our visitors, we are happy to receive you, we sure Love you and we shall never, we shall never, never forget you!” everyone, with great big smiles on! Soon enough, we all moved under shelter where the fun continued! Shlomo put on more clown regalia and made his entrance to the children.. he motioned for one of the children to honk his clown nose.. a little hand reached out and gently squeezed. Right around the same time, the heaven’s opened and the torrential rain came pouring down only inches away from us all standing under the iron sheet roofed shelter.
Joy and laughter led to more excitement and curiosity, while more and more little ones from the surrounding homes came by to peek in, the rain continuing to fall all around us. Stickers were stuck on cheeks, foreheads and hands, and each ACIO child was given a red clown nose and swept straight away to the land of make believe!
The children asked to perform a special play they had created for us. We all gathered at one side of the ‘classroom’ and watched the educational play unfold.. amazing and empowering, it was about HIV and child predators.. to be aware not to be tricked by bribes and traps including the promise of school fees, or a cell phone, etc, for sex.. followed by a song about same. We were welcomed by and introduced to the photo/essay group who created “Voices of Hope”. We met the four volunteer teachers at the school, the patron and chef who also volunteer at the center, and Vincent thanked us and our Creator for the very good Blessing of bringing rain with our arrival.
The sun was soon back to shining, and it was time to walk the trail to Vincent’s home for a meal that his wife, Toppy, was preparing for us all. Many of the children accompanied us, offering to carry bags, taking hold of hands to help steady along the muddy trail, as we all slip slide-ed our way, collecting mud galore from our knees down, and creating beautiful, precious memories with the children!
Served a ‘four burner meal’ that was actually prepared one pot at a time above an open fire between 3 rocks, in the simple and warm comfort of Vincent’s family living room we were graciously treated to rice, beans, matoke, sauteed cabbage, stewed eggplant and hard boiled eggs.. everything so very delicious, you could taste all the care, kindness, appreciation and Love in every morsel!
All our shoes eagerly cleaned by the children and lined up by the door waiting for us, just to make the beginning of the next part of the trail easier, we hugged and thanked Toppy and moved on down the path to join up with Fred who was waiting for us with the van in the trading center. Love and more Love shared with the children and various ACIO members still present, another scrape of the shoes so as to not completely ‘destroy’ Fred’s van, and it was time to climb back in, waving thank you and good bye for now.
We arrived back at Mt.Elgon hotel some hour and a bit later, where we were all treated by Shlomo to massages at the spa! As I lay lapping up the comfort, visions and memories of the magical day floated all around me! Tears often filled my eyes knowing that I am so Blessed and feeling beyond grateful to have had the incredible opportunity to share the Love that I know with all the children and caregivers here, with our new friends from Bee World Project. In their patience, willingness, joy, kindness and Love, they had all embraced and appreciated every moment of this special day, every plan A that had turned into plan L, M, N, O or were we at P..!, they had all gone, happily, and very openly, with the flow, bringing their compassion, respect, joy and Love to each scenario. And now in the evening, as we all moved back and forth, to and from our massages, we shared pizza, appreciation, and reflections on the beautiful day, and after hugs of gratitude it was time to bid a Loving good night to all.
With our departure time from Mbale set for 8am Tuesday morning, I made sure the alarm on my cell would wake me around 6:30.. it would be a good idea to make sure Fred had time for a hearty breakfast before setting off on the long haul to Entebbe.
More soon, in my third and final “Part Three”..
With Love, Catherine