Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Music Diplomacy

Without a doubt, the most useful cross-cultural skills that I have were taught to me by my dad. A dove call with my hands and another sound made with a blade of grass between my thumbs. Since I learned them initially as a child, I've had ample opportunities to use them as an ice breaker of sorts. Men and children are especially interested in learning these skills, while for some reason women are more reluctant to give them a try. I've developed an impressive range on the dove call, I don't mind saying, so my repertoire includes actual songs. Crossing linguistic barriers, they offer an easy and fun way to engage with nearly anyone in the world. Dad will be surprised to learn how such a small lesson became a big asset.

Another asset is that of song. A couple of weeks ago, when driving from Gulu to Kampala, Uganda, we had a flat tire in a small village. Three of my compatriots headed directly to what turned out to be a lively church service under a tree. After a few minutes, I tried to engage some shy village children with my aforementioned bird call skills. They giggled as I showed them the calls from several meters away, unsuccessfully attempting to replicate the calls themselves. They were clearly interested in this "muzungu" (Kiswahili for white person), but afraid to get too close. After awhile, I grabbed my guitar from the van and went back into the field of grass to sit down and play. Now doubly intrigued, a bunch of children immediately gathered around to look and listen, bringing with them a cloud of small flies. Two adult men, too, found places to sit at the front and asked about the music I played and sang. Some 40 minutes passed and I was sad to learn that the spare tire had been repaired and put in place, so we were ready to go. The children who had been so shy just 40 minutes prior to that warmly waved as I returned to the van and we continued down the road. A serendipitous connection indeed.

In northern Uganda, home to countless orphans of war and HIV/AIDS, I was invited to sing a song at a local Rotary meeting. The song choice was easy. "Orphan Girl," often performed by Gillian Welch, is one of my favorites and the first I learned to play on a guitar. A normally chatty bunch of Ugandans fell silent while I sang. The song held deep meaning for me before this trip, but it became more significant for me among these people who have themselves been orphaned and for the others who have provided for the many who have been orphaned. The song reflects their sorrows, and their hope.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Greeting from ND!! I enjoy reading your journey aboud, it makes me appreciate my loved one here even more!!!! What a gift you are giving to the people of Ugunda!! Your parents are surely proud of your giving spirit...and I just felt compelled to let you know that your "town" is just as proud!


Cari Oppen (Randy's spouse!!)