Friday, September 29, 2006

Anthropological Poverty

Anthropological Poverty

If you go into the stores here in Uganda, you can find creams that make a persons skin lighter so they will look less black and more closer to white. If someone eats well in the rural areas, they might say that I ate like a mzungu. It disgusts me. I have realized more and more why the work being done here on inculturation is so important. It is not a matter of making things African for the sake of aesthetics or appeasing culture. Rather, there is a real poverty here besides the one concerning finances. There is an anthropological poverty! People here often associate anything that is good with mzungus. People adopt the fashion of the west. Teens tell me they want to find an American girl cause they are the only ones who can understand them. Even when such talk might be in jest, it is sickening. People have been brainwashed and conditioned to think that anything from their culture is bad or outmoded. Inculturation is not just a manner of making things accessible to people, but it is an empowerment. It is a way of saying that your culture, your wisdom, your means of healing are all wonderful. It is a means of saying that you have human dignity for who you are! Inculturation must be a part of liberation. Liberation must be a part of the church. If inculturation is to truly happen it must take into account the gospel, the culture and the context of the people. What happens when this context, however, is abdject poverty and suffering. The church must also be there! It cannot ignore the suffering, but that must be its point of departure, its starting point.
That’s enough of a tirade for now.
Feast day and names

Today I celebrate my feast day. Imagine that! Most of you in the states might not know what that is. Within the Catholic church, for a given saint we often have a day in which we celebrate a feast in their honor. I was named after St. Michael the Archangel, who shares this day with St. Gabriel and St. Raphael the archangels. (my older brother is named Gabriel and my younger brothers middle name is Raphael). This is a practice which is not really celebrated amongs catholics in the states. When I went to france for study, I was surprised when my great aunt martine called me on this very date 2 years ago to wish me a happy feast day. I had honestly not been aware of its passing.

Now here in Africa, I again celebrate this feast day. Here, at least amongs the religious who I interact with, this is a day of celebration as we might celebrate a birthday. Now, contrary to a superficial, skeptical observation, I don’t think thtat this is just a relic from pious missionaries. Rather, it is indicitive of something greater. For Africans, names take on a very great importance. Although when someone hears an adult ugandan give their full name as Peter Kayandago. It would be false to assume that this means that peter is their given name and kayandago is the name of their parents. Their African names are often names that are given by the grandparents in a naming ceremony. These names are often drawn from the clan names, and they reflect something either about the circumstances or thoughts surrounding a birth or some other special meaning. Their English name often is the name that is given to them at baptism. Names have a revealing factor about the expectations of a person or a persons nature. These names can drop aside and even accumulate as time passes. So for the African, their names can have great importance. When celebrating a feast day, they are celebrating a joyous occasion, which is the linking of themselves to a person of great importance in the church.

I think that the African world has in fact enrichened an ancient Catholic Practice.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

As I sat in an Italian café today in search of free internet after a morning interview, I had a chance to see how the other half lived. It reminded me when I exclaimed in shock that our rooms were cleaned for us in South Africa and my friend Bruce jokingly said, “welcome to the colonies mike.” Well, as much as I enjoyed seeing, how the other half lived, I think I will stick to my 2$ meals of matoke and beans.
Yesterday I made my way out to Uganda Martyrs university to meet with a theologian/ethicist named Peter Kanyandago. He gave me some really neat insights into his own experience and his thoughts on inculturation.
The most wonderful thing about Uganda is that it is safe to take the taxis. I still maintain a healthy suspicion that is left over from my time in south Africa, but I am gratefull for the freedom that comes with security.

the brain drain

I have just had a long conversation with a priest about the “modern slave trade” of Africa, or modern colonialisation or more specifically, the brain drain. He posed the question from the start, asking about this greencard. I didn’t see exactly what he was getting at at first, so I went on a bit of a tirade about the state of immigration in the states, but then he got more specifically to the point of the brain drain. What is the brain drain? In effect, America is promising jobs and opportunites, while also censoring those people it allows to come based on education. This is most clearly happening with the case of nurses. Many nurses are consentually “exported” to the states to fill the gaps in our hospitals. You can imagine then that there are then less qualified public health people here in Africa, where it is truly needed. This trend is shared across the board. People who are victims of circumstance (poverty in these countries) give into the temptation of greater earnings in the states and go there. Many of them then send funds back to Africa. A similar situation is happening on a micro level here in Uganda with the effects of urbanization. Because the standard of living is much better in the city and in towns people who are educated flee the rural areas which often don’t have electricity or decent roads, much less plumbing of any sort.

What is one to do then??? The government is exporting power to Tanzania, Rhwanda, and Kenya, while many Africans don’t have any power. The government needs to support itself too. Meanwhile, trained Ugandans are leaving for “greener pastures” so they can better support themselves and often their families at home. Even though they have a “choice”, economically, they really don’t have a choice.

Then again, that frame of thinking is from a western framework, where the needs of the individual supersede often the needs of the community. I have been reading a guy named Benjamin Buzo, who is working to develop an African ethic. This is a communitarian ethic which places the primary emphasis on the community. This is an ethic that is developed from the traditional African system.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I promise more photos to come

Where is AAA when you need it??

Where is AAA when you need it??

Well, I can tell you that AAA isn’t out here in developing nations. Not that I was expecting it, but this past weekend we certainly could have used some professional roadside assistance. I drove to the very western part of Uganda, past the town of bushenyi to a small village called Kabira. While only about 300 kms away, because of the state of the roads it took a whole day to get there. On our way there, our vehicle, which was not fit for such a long journey, actually broke down. This was just after we went into a service station because the car wasn’t going fast uphills. Much of our crew thought that it was sabotage from the service men who might have done it to get more money. Regardless of the cause of this torn tube, it took near 3 hrs to get it repaired.

On our journey back yesterday, because of the previous condition of the car and the state of the roads about 5 hrs into our journey the bearing from the tire broke off. Now, can you imagine trying to find a spare part at 10:30 am? We were fortunately able to eventually find some men who pounded away at the tire for about 3 hrs until they could get the old bearing off and replace it with a new one. Well, we were back on the road at 3am and I arrived back at the sisters place at about 4 in the morning. I have never had so much car troubles in my life! It was overall an exhausting journey, but the destination was great….

So what was I doing?
I was invited by a Pentecostal pastor here to join him for a seminar/crusade that he was leading in western Uganda. This is no typical African Pentecostal and he does a lot of interdenominational work and a lot of work with community development. The topic of the conference was Christian social values and with us came a woman doctor speaking on family values and marriage and a politician who works in security in the presidents office speaking on Christian values.

Arriving in western Uganda, I felt like I was visiting the promised land. Now those of you who know me well, know that I generally refrain from biblicising (if I can create a new word) my experiences, but this place was just beautiful. Bannana fields spread throughout the land covering hills and valleys. You indeed felt like you were in the land of milk and honey. It was lush and green and just beautiful.

I certainly had some adjustments as I came out to these rural areas. I really had an African experience as I god rid of some of my western conveniences and dug into the common plate with my right hand (never the left since that is used to clean your backside) and ate with my hands. I have been thoroughly schooled in African foods since I live with the sisters here, so much of the food was familiar to me. One particular dish was new to me. Carro is a breadlike substance (more like a dried non sticky dough) made of millet. I had a chance to use and practice my Swahili out there since people there often understand it. There native language is Acholi. I also loved their chai (Swahili for tea) which was made with mostly milk and the local tea leaves. It actually tasted very similar to the Oregon chai you might find at one of the coffee houses in downtown Portland.

Mzungus (white people) are even rarer out there. This may sound odd, but I felt very much like jesus at times, walking around with flocks of children at my heels. The majority of the people didn’t speak English, so it was a struggle at first, but there are many ways of bridging the language gap. On Saturday night after all of the preachers spoke the people got in line for food. They started singing some songs. One of my goals was to learn some of the songs, so that I could participate more in the services and in the culture. It took about 5 minutes of gesturing to try and explain to a boy that I wanted to learn the music the crowd was singing. Soon after, however, I was surrounded by 30 faces all eager to sing with me and teach me their music. They got a great kick out of it everytime I tried to sing their songs. I was very happy though to have at least a few strands of their culture that I could hang on to.

Here is an example of one:

Asimwe asimwe
Ruhanga weitu
Izina rjawe
Ninkira agandi

Nomubashaija tihi
Ne oryine
Izina Rjawa

The theme for the weekend was Christian social values. Unfortunatley, the whole thing was in acholi, which I don’t understand, so I honestly didn’t get much out of it. That which I did understand, I actually didn’t agree with typically. When preaching on family values, the woman seemed to glorify when a woman sticks it out in a marriage. While I think there is times that is to be values, I worry when someone merely preaches on women submit to your husbands, men love your wives, because for so long such phrases were used to oppress women. If a woman doesn’t have an adequate “exit option”. If she is not confirmed in having the power to leave abusive relationships, then Christianity itself could be spreading oppression. Now, I don’t think that the woman preaching intended this, but I think it is a possible effect, that one has to be aware of and address.

In my study so far, I really appreciate how certain authors say that you can never have inculturation without liberation as well. John Waliggo in particular emphasizes this point. Inculturating Christianity does not mean inculutration and spreading oppressive attitudes and systems of thought.

Some thoughts about food here.
I have been very fortunate to be living in a place where I can have African food every day. It actually has been quite a shock to anyone from here when I tell them I eat matoke every day.
Matoke is a type of banana. Rather than being considered a fruit though, it is a vegetable. You generally have to cook it. We have it often with tomatoes and onions.
I am amazed at how many different types of bananas there are. I have counted at least 6 already.
I also have posho on a regular basis, which is a maize flour that looks like mashed potatoes but has a much stiffer consistency.
Cassava was what we ate for breakfast in the village. It is a very hearty vegetable.
We also ate African potatoes, which are sweet potatoes.
At almost every meal we have pinto beans (at least they look and taste like pinto beans) rice and often irish potatoes.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

more photos at

If I can't get the rest of these photos up on this blog, you can also see them at:

a few photos

Well, I am going to try and get some photos up here. We will see. I am currently working with very very limited internet and very little food in my stomach.

Here is an update on what I have been up to as of late. This past week I attended a funeral with one of the nuns with whom I live. This was my chance to see how this is done in Uganda. It was a real beautiful service, even though I didn’t understand a word of it since it was in Luganda ( the local language here in Uganda). I will try to write some more later about it.

Tuesday I left with a Ugandan friend of mine named John to a national shrine commemorating the first martyrs here in Uganda. These were individuals who were converted to Christianity here in Uganda and then when they refused to denounce Christianity, they were burnt alive. These 24 martyrs were canonized by Pope Paul XI in the 60’s. the church is designed to look like the indigenous huts of the time and the interior church is a circle. We then took a taxi- 14 person minibus- to Jinja to see the nile river. The nile river begins in Uganda at lake Victoria. We went to some falls that are just past jinja and we enjoyed some nile special beer while floating on the nile.

I leave tomorrow for Western Uganda to the Bushyenyi province with pastor abel where he will be leading a seminar/crusade addressing issues like community development, Christian values and ethics. Anyways, I hope to write in more detail about my thoughts and experiences later. So long for now.

Here is the view from my old room. I swear, when it is sunny here everything appears to be filled with color as if it was dusk on a spring day.

Here is the shower i have to squeegee every morning

Here is my old room- mosquito net and all.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I am a mzungu. Mzungu means colloquially white person. It is an uncomfortable status. Sure it makes you a local celebrity with children as you walk around. It also means, however, that you are associated with money and influence. This is easily handled when dealing with boda-boda’s (mopeds) or other negotiations. Within business exchange, it is easy to see how someone is trying to get extra money out of you because you are white, because they perceive you as coming loaded with cash. As I said, easily handled in the market place. In the market place you are able to negotiate. The market place is the forum for challenges, discussions, bargaining and rejection. What happens though, when this attitude of the rich white mzungu leaves the market place and enters into your personal life? I am getting the feeling that I am seen as an asset not because of who I am, but because I somehow represent cash and influence. I have been approached by a guy who I have come to know over this past week to help find ways that money can be raised for the various projects he is involved with. He is doing good work and I would like to see them come to fruition, but I am also getting this sense of entanglement. The other day, to my surprise, I was introduced as someone who has accepted to be the coordinator of Uganda for some organization. Now this was a big surprise to me! I already said that I would like to see good work be furthered, but you can see why all the sudden I start having anxiety over these issues. So when one is in an area of great need, how does one discern where help can be best given? Is it a matter of first come first serve?

Well, it seems a long time since I have blogged. I haven’t had regular power, so I haven’t been able to use my computer. I have also been quite busy with my research. Yesterday I finished up a second interview with a theologian named John Mary Waliggo. I can tell you that our conversation really restored a lot of vigor and enthusiasm to my project. He is a remarkable man. He is a theologian who runs the social justice office for the Ugandan catholic secretariat. He does an excellent job of marrying together liberation theology and inculturation. He makes it matter of human dignity. One thing that he said that particularly struck me was that a civilization cannot be built on borrowed values. Things cannot be imported, if they will take seed, they have to be owned!

I met another theologian right here in my residence by chance! His name is Fred tinsingere and he is from western Uganda. He was here getting his visa for the embassy and as I told him that interviewed J.M Waliggo regarding Inculturation, he told me that he has met with him too regarding a chapter in his thesis on the problems with inculturation. Well, the next day I visited the white fathers, and one of them lent me Fr. Fred’s book that he wrote as his dissertation. After running around that day, I made my way home and started reading it. Later that evening I interviewed him on the topic. He is more critical of current uses of incultratuin and says that a more full inculturation of evangelization has to take place before a real authentic African liturgy can occur.

Otherwise life moves on normally here. No paved roads, risking my life on mopeds and all in all having a grand time

Thursday, September 14, 2006

cell phone update

I think i put the wrong number down earlier. Here is the cell number: 0774320926

Uganda blog 3- buisness sense

Alas, my days of (relative) luxury have come to an end. My room must be vacated for the bishop is coming. It is not all terribly dramatic, for I am moving into a place just across the hall. I will gain another window, and lose my own private bathroom. My view of the farm behind the house and the subsequent hills will be replaced with a view of the discotheques. I guess it is often when we lose things that we begin to appreciate them. Well, nuff said about that.
I have really been enjoying getting to know this new area. Everywhere I go I am called out as mzungu (this means white person. The name origionally derives from a Swahili word meaning English speaker). It makes you feel like a local celebrity at times as children poke out their heads and yell hello mzungu!! It is a good thing that my Swahili professor warned me about this term. Otherwise, I might have misinterpreted the reason everyone calls you it. Even the boda bodas try to charge more for you because you are a mzungu. It is not that much money, but it is worth negotiating back to the regular price since they are only trying to take advantage of you. It is odd how even though I am the only white person in my neighborhood, I still don’t feel like as much as a minority as I did at times in South Africa. Maybe it is the absence of the racial tensions in South Africa. I don’t feel the same anxiety. I don’t get this sense of racial profiling. I am not associated as a white person here with the same historic oppression that had occurred in south Africa.
I have been getting more chances to practice my Swahili as I talk with charles from Undungu and his other Kenyan friends. Today I met his roommate Gerald and another friend of his named Victor. Victor is a Rastafarian who spins. I have promised to share with him some of my favorite artists (namely Matisyahu: Hasidic Jew Reggae singer and Paul Oakenfold).

Oh, great news! It appears that we have power again. Not to infrequently the power is turned off here in my neighborhood and sent to another area . My laptop has been dying over these past few days and I haven’t had a chance to get a charge in it. Now we should be guaranteed power for the next few hours.

So it has been a good experience here so far. The taxis are safe (well, from criminals at least) and I have a good sense of mobility. I have become established here. I have had a few experiences that do provoke some reflections in me though. I can’t help but get the feeling that whenever I start chatting with someone, I am starting to enter some business deal. Maybe I am sensitive to the fact because I am the “mzungu” I am pereceived to be someone who is very wealthy. Iknow that I should not confuse hospitality and kindness with a person doing a type of business, but my time traveling has made me more guarded in certain areas.

While in South Africa, I remarked that there is a type of fear or paranoia that is indwelled in the people there. Indeed, this is an infectious feeling and I perhaps gained too much suspicion when I was there, but I wonder sometimes. Now I have no problem entering into agreements with people and going into business contracts concerning helping me either in my travel or my research, but it the informality of it that kills me. I never know when someone is trying to be nice or to be business savvy and seeing me as an asset or bank account.

I know I should shed my suspicion, but a certain healthy amount is always good. I guess I need to try to be as “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
So long for now.

Uganda Blog 2-- out on the town

Oh my, you have to hold onto your seat when you are in Uganda. Today, I made my big trip into the city, twice over. I went by car in the morning with Charles, who helped me to take out cash and go buy a cell phone. Not that it is useful to all you out there, but my cell number here is 0774320926 . Anyways, I used all modes of transport today as I traveled by car, taxi (a minibus really) and by boda boda which is a motor cycle or a scooter. Indeed, hold on to your seat. For only 500 shillings I can make my way into town by taxi. That is about 30 cents, but it does take a good amount of time. The boda boda is much faster, but you risk breaking your neck if you somehow get into an accident. It is true that coke is all over the world. I had a real realizaition of my being here in Africa (what I call an African moment) when I was sitting in a small hole in the wall restaurant with painted clay walls drinking a coke.

Pastor Abel ( a Pentecostal interdenominational preacher) took me to one of his ministires today. I met a great guy there named John who is an assistant pastor and as we got to talking I told him about my interest and involvement in Prison ministry. He told me that he in fact had first come to religion through prison. He was told to be an interpreter for a religious group that came in and preached there. While everyone around him was giving their lives over to Christ (I think it was a Pentecostal group) he just kept on. On the third and last time this Pentecostal group came, the lady looked out at the crowd and said you have a pastor here, and she indicated John, who had only just decided to become a Christian in his head before that service. I know that we catholics have different approaches to our faith often, but this mans witness was quite awesome.
Later that day Able took me to a Catholic center named Pope Paul VI memorial, where I met a man who will be quite helpful in my research. He said that he can help me as I arrange for interviews and he will be able to get me a meeting with the cardinal. Oh happy day!

first blog from uganda

Hello All,

I have safely arrived in Uganda…

There were a few exciting events that happened in my last week in Jo-burg that I didn’t have a chance to share with you. Friday was quite an exciting day for me in South Africa. At about 11am I left with Chris Townsend, who is a local parish priest and the director of communications for the South African Bishops Conference. He is a personal friend of Russell, one of the Jesuits who I was staying with and he spent 6 years working in Soweto.
Chris offered and took me on a tour of this township. While Soweto may sound to our western ears to be an African name, but really it is an acrynom for South West Township. People were forcibly removed from a place called sophiatown to here in the 60’s. In some respects these townships are chillingly planned. There are practical aspects to them. They are placed close to where the mining facilities are. This ensures that workers are close to the mines. This is of no help to anyone who actually works in the city though and indeed, it makes it quite difficult to get from Soweto to the city. These townships were placed right next to the old mine dumps and even the new ones. This is now causing untold health problems amongst people who breathe in the fine dust left over from the mining.
Soweto is also the place where the first uprisings occur. Unfortunatley we did not have time to visit the hector Peterson memorial. In 1976 students decided to march in protest of the forced learning of Afrikaans, which was imposed by the very strict nationialist party.
Well, it was one thing to read about all this during the apartheid museum and a whole other issue to see in person the physical effects of this policy. We visited regina mundi catholic church, which hosted many of the meetings in 1976 and also many of the funerals. There were bullet holes inside the church!! When the police raided the church to break up the meetings they fired guns with live ammumition inside the church! I could hardly believe it.


Friday, Sept 8th seemed to just sneak up on me as the ordination of my friends bruce and shaun. It was a great ceremony. I was creating the DVD for the ordination so I wasn’t able to enjoy the first half as much as I might have, but I was happy that I could make my own contribution to it. It certainly became a hectic week as time led up to the ordination. The following day all the local Jesuits and bruce and shauns family went out for dinner. It was a fitting way to end my time in South Africa. Good liturgy and good dinner!


Flying in over Uganda, there was nothing that excited me more than seeing green! The land was covered with green grass and sugar cane plants. South Africa was certainly beautiful, but in many respects it was a dry sort of beauty. I have been here now for 2 days. Waking up this morning in Uganda was quite a thing. It is really unbelievable…. Well, that would be romanticizing my first morning here. I can’t exactly say that I got great rest. There are certain things that I will have to adjust to. First would be falling asleep to the sound of pigs squeeling. The sisters who I am staying with have a bit of a small scale farm. When I first heard the pigs I could have sworn that a swarm of bats had descended upon the house. I also will have to adjust to the rooster that decided to serve as a personal alarm clock for me. Well, that is being a tad dramatic, but it is indeed true that this cock crows and 3 am, 5 am, 6 am and 7 am and then irregularly throughout the day. Given however that light is limited here, I probably won’t have any problems going to bed earlier. In fact, I am learning that it is important that I carry a flashlight with me whenever I leave the house. There aren’t street lamps around here and Uganda is prone to “power restriction.” That is to say, there is not enough power for the whole country, so if you have electricity during the day, it is unlikely that you will have it at night. Fortunatly many of the buildings around here store solar power that they can use for lights when there is a power outage. I am also lucky to have my mac with its long life battery as that is what I am using as I type here. Welll…. Let me update you on my general situation.
I am staying in Nsambya, which is located outside of Kampala. It is quite interesting because there are at least 5 Catholic residences of sorts located right here. The Jesuits are just down the road from me. Charles Kizza, who is a Jesuit brother of my Ugandan friend from Berkeley has been most helpful in helping me get situated.
The white fathers and the mill hill missionaries are on the same road as well. I still have to make my rounds to meet these people.

I have already become connected with a youth program here called undugu family, which serves to create local communities praying and dancing and working towards peace and unity. This is run by a Jesuit named Stephen from Tanzania. I have already become close to his main media guy, Charles Lenjo. A local “free range” pastor who preaches interdenominationally met me on the first day and has taken an interest in my research. I will have a chance to visit many of his ministries and see the various areas of his work. This will be particularly interesting since I will be able to look at how various different denominations address liturgical incultration

PS other good news- I have been on my malaria meds for 2 weeks now and no nightmares. That doesn’t mean I don’t have other odd (medicinally induced?) dreams. I had an odd one last night where a whole group of Jesuits perfomed a musical Eucharistic prayer included with a jazz handed consecration. Perhaps I am spending too much time in church, eh? Inculturation on broadway….

Sunday, September 10, 2006

safe in uganda

Hello all.
Just letting you know I have arrived safe in Uganda. It was a fine flight and it was wonderful to see that it was green here when I came in. I will post more info once i have a chance. i am running on solar power right now.
ps- highlights from my last week in jo-burg
- trip to soweto, one of the more famous townships.
- Bruce's ordination

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Farm

Shelia and I posing for the camera. It was very difficult getting a picture cause the dog tried to lick it everytime i set it up to get a photo of me

my fist wildlife sighting! I finally saw a baboon. I didn't get too close cause i didn't want poo thrown at me or other vicious things that happen when animals go wild...

looking over the vast expanses. Here i am dressed for the occasion. I felt like a dungaroo.

Final Destination- 500m drop

My Hiking Companion Shelia... Boy do I miss my dog Lucy

for a change of pace, here is my solo hiking destination when I was out at the jesuit rest house, "the farm". 4 hrs in the south african sun did a number on my skin. It is a lesson learned and i am sure to lather up once in the tropics

The farm --
I have spent the past few days in the rural parts of South Africa out near Rustenburg at the rest house of the Jesuits. This place, dubbed “the Farm” by the Jesuits is quite wonderful. These men certainly deserve such a retreat away from their work. While living here I have had a chance to see all the difficulties that come with life working in a parish. While at the farm I entreated myself to some pleasure reading (Big Bang by Simon Singh). Within this text I learned that the big bang theory was first suggested by a Belgian catholic priest named George Lemaître. I also had a chance to stretch my Oregon legs and took a four-hour hike into the hills. My hiking companion was a dog-named Shelia. She is a South African mutt who snuck under the fence to join me for this hike. This hot and arid land had a harsh beauty to it very similar to the karoo. I hiked until I reached a cliff that dropped 500 m. On my hike back I spotted my first indigenous wild life. It was a baboon! Amongst these hills there is also apparently an ancient Stone Age settlement. I didn’t find this while on my hike, but all the same it was wonderful just wandering in the wild. Though I hail from thoroughly suburban upbringings, I consider myself very much to be a nature boy and with a decent collection of books I could find myself at home in the most remote wild lands. Well, I like to think so at least. I am now preparing for my departure to Uganda. Bruce’s ordination is tomorrow and from then on the festivities will go until I leave Sunday morning. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I travel.
Peace, Mike PS my new address will be Moroto Diocesan House, Nsambya PO Box 7572 Kampala, Uganda

Apartheid Museum

A common sight in the townships during the latter part of apartheid (70-94) was military police vehicles like this one

Inside the apartheid museum- this is a room that describes the lives lost in the fight against apartheid including Steve Biko

inside the apartheid museum some of the walls were set up to give you the impression you were in a prison

This is San Rock Art made as a part of the spiritual warfare against the while colonists

San Rock Art

Horrible Quote right at the beginning og the apartheid museum

Last Saturday I went to the Apartheid Museum. This was quite a striking museum. I am still trying to take it all in. It is hard to believe that such a systematic oppression of human rights and dignity could have occurred over such a long period of time. It was a gripping experience to see the photos taken of the first riots in 1976 against the Bantu education system. This ugly instrument of humanity did not end with one riot. It was only in 1994 that this system came to an end. For nearly 50 yrs apartheid gripped the nation. This included the forced relocation of several black and colored communities to far outside the city. There were pass laws that would send people to jail if violated. The museum showed both those affected by apartheid as well as its instigators. To hear speeches justifying this system as merely being the means of being good neighbors disgusted me. It disgusted me because he made his language so stylistically pleasing and rational. He made it sound like something that could and was bought and believed by people throughout the country. They created their own neat worlds in these speeches where apartheid was not awful, but rather the necessary means for people to live together. Yet below this flowery rhetoric hid one of the most disgusting regimes in the history of man. The museum did a good job of making sure that people did not polarize around the issue of race. It portrayed the many white people who fought against this system. The effects of this system are still prevalent in society today. Crime in South Africa often is more than just petty theft. It often takes on a violent character. Someone will not just rob you, but they will also stab you. Don’t worry mom and Dad; I have been quite safe here. Within these next few days I hope to make my way to Soweto (South West Township) to get a better sense of the apartheid regime and contemporary South African life.

A culture suffused with Dancing

The day before I went to the apartheid museum I finally had a chance to go clubbing here. I had told Gabriel, a Nigerian fellow who sells religious items during the week in front of the church, that I really enjoyed dancing, so he made it his mission to get me out to a club. I was quite excited for this adventure, but to be honest a little nervous. Perhaps all the talk concerning safety had begun to affect me and create a paradigm of fear through which I looked at the world. On Friday night however, I decided to trust this fellow and his judgment and live for the moment. Carpe Diem! Now, one might wonder why I find it important to update you all on my clubbing experience, but this was truly quite extraordinary. I went to this place called the Harrakafe in Newtown. It seemed like any ordinary evening establishment. Once again I was a definite minority (I saw perhaps 4 other white folks), and this is both an exhilarating and anxious experience. Compared to my other experiences isolation, as I was the only white guy walking around the various intercity neighborhoods, I had a chance to interact. Oh was it a dynamic place. We made our way to the covered outdoor bar and people all around us were sitting in picnic benches. It seemed like any old place, with people sitting and chatting and a few people on the dance floor. All the sudden a song came on that everyone knew. People stood right where they were at and started dancing. It was as if a whole spell had been cast over the establishment. As I listened, I found that this was the music that I had been looking for as I asked students about South African music. I think I was just asking the wrong generation. There was also intermixed music from Cameroon and Zimbabwe. As people danced in their places or shuffled about the room, they began to interact with those around them. I got a few high fives throughout the night. I was just so struck by the dancing. This culture is just infused with dancing. I find it to be truly remarkable. It goes so much further than the night club. During the latter years of apartheid, blacks and colored would get together and dance the toy-toy to both protest the establishment and raise the spirits of those oppressed. The toy-toy looks like people running in place while shaking their hands in front of their shoulders. Back at the Harrakafe I felt less separate and apart from these communities surrounding me.

Letter Home - reflections on a month in South Africa

Sawubona friends and family, (zulu for hello)

I hope all is well at home and abroad for those you who have already taken leave of your state or the country for foreign places and experiences.
For those of you who are wondering why I might be sending a big long email to you, I am in Africa! I will be traveling through Africa over the next 12 months studying in(ter)culturation in the Catholic Church. Inculturation is in effect, the intentional Africanization of Christianity. Interculturation implies that this is not a one-way exchange, but that there is reciprocity. This is all made possible by the Watson Foundation, who awarded me this fellowship along with 50 other graduating seniors last march. I have written to you all to tell you a bit about what has been going on so far here since I arrived on August 2nd.

Well, life has been moving right along here in South Africa. I apologize for not having written sooner. I have tried to update my blog frequently ( but for some reason I have found it difficult to sit down and write the emails for home. I have been living in South Africa for nearly a month now. I am mainly stationed (as I like to call it) in urban areas, so no, I haven’t seen the wildlife here. Even if I had lived in a more rural area, much of the wildlife has been placed in reservations. Of course, just because my time here hasn’t been spent in the wild, doesn’t mean that things haven’t been exciting.

My first week in South Africa was largely spent adjusting. It is so odd thinking back to those first few days. It doesn’t feel like I am in the same residence, the same city, the same Africa. That Johannesburg was unknown and foreign. Even with no language barrier, I felt like I was seeing the world through a photo book. This sounds silly, but I remember how proud I was with my first purchase at the store. I began to accumulate visas stamps and prepare my plane tickets for my countries to come.

I am currently living in a student residence called trinity house, right next to the Jesuit residence. I am here in Johannesburg largely because of a friend of mine from Berkeley, Bruce Botha SJ, who is getting ordained next month. There are students in my building of all disciplines. Richard, a first year engineer student is always a regular at the “happy hour” put on once a day by Bruce in one of the kitchens. Richard and I have taken to playing cards in that time. Another fellow named Patrick also lives on my floor. He used to be in charge of the national Catholic Tertiary students organization. He is a directing student at a local private film school. We have had our own interesting discussions concerning his views on inculturation. Tich, from Zim(babwe) is an architecture student who I have had late night discussions with concerning race issues here. At the Jesuit residence there is David, Anthony, Russell, Graham and Bruce. David is in his 70’s and is a chaplain at a local school. He is an avid sports fan and has actually explained to me how cricket actually works. Russell is a high-powered younger priest, always off to meetings always full of energy. Anthony is an academic. He is a professor of ethics and enjoys guns. He is always good for conversation and seems to be able to talk about anything, even if he may know nothing about it. Graham is the superior for the Jesuits here. He is always preceded by his spunky, but very well trained lapdog, doglet. Yvonne is the Jesuit residence cook. She is really quite an amazing woman. She can whip together a meal very quickly. She has been the cook here for some 30 yrs and runs a little soup kitchen out of the church every morning at 10. David and Vussy live behind the Jesuit residence and they do basic services around the facility here. I wander however…
I have spent 2 weeks in Jo-burg (1 at the beginning and 1 now) and 2 weeks in Cape Town. Cape town is a really gorgeous city. It is built right on the ocean with Table Mountain in its background. Our drive between Jo-burg and Cape Town was quite reminiscent of my trip with tab 4 years ago across eastern Oregon and into Nevada. The karoo is a long expanse of a harsh beauty. Scattered throughout the karoo are stone paintings left from the San tribes (also known as the people of the eland, their totem animal or pejoratively as bushmen). While in Cape town I got some excellent hiking done and had a chance to meet with Jim Cochrane, a friend of my prof Doug’s and a prof of religious studies who focuses on public health and globalization through the lens of religion. While I was in Cape Town I certainly did a great amount of touring. Bruce and I drove to cape point, which is the southern tip of Cape of Good Hope. We also hiked up Table Mountain, minor peak and lion’s head. All this is good preparation for climbing Kilimanjaro. Most of my fellowship work has been in the realm of theory since the Catholic Church here isn’t a prime example of inculturation. I have had some great discussions with Jesuits and students alike concerning this topic. While in Cape Town I was going to mass at the Student chaplaincy. As one student described to me, wherever the students planning the masses, they seem to take over and do what they want. The songs for the service were often done in 5 or 6 different languages there. South Africa does have a strong tradition however of African Indigenous or independent churches (AICs). These churches typically have no links to any of the missionary churches and are often related to our Pentecostal churches.

It has been interesting trying to adjust here. Often all of the coffee that you find here is instant. Rooibos (a red tea known for high anti-oxidant that reduce your blood pressure) is a happy addition to my daily consumption. It was cold when I got here! The season is currently winter and I was ill prepared for the snow I saw on my second day here. Few of my adjustments have had to do with food and weather though. Right within my first week here in Jo-burg I began to worry my friends. I decided one Saturday afternoon to take a walk through the surrounding neighborhoods. I am living right on the edge of the university within the business district. This business district, braamfontien, was dead, but the moment I stepped just on the other side of a busy street I found vibrant neighborhoods. Kids were playing soccer in the street. I walked on past a long string of shopping stalls next to Joubert Park. I only learned later that this area is notorious for muggings. It has been interesting getting used to the security issues here. Sadly, it is not an issue that you can just ignore and deal with should it ever happen. Crimes here often have a tendency to be violent crimes. Many of these crimes have their roots in the current state of poverty and the history of race relations here. It often makes me think of the last line of Langston Hughes poem a Dream Deferred- what happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or does it explode. I have been fortunate so far to have no problems here. It is an interesting balance. I have enough common sense to not go to those neighborhoods after I was told how dangerous they were, but there is also quite a bit of paranoia here. I think people are in particular worried for me because I am a tourist and I am white. I refuse to live by fear, but I have to balance that with at least a little sense of self-preservation.

Another related adjustment is dealing with issues of race and poverty. I am a minority here. Walking around the town I get the feeling that I am the only white guy here. That is because all the white people are in cars or in the suburbs. Although I know there already is an unequal distribution of wealth in the US, this is quite prevalent here. Thus I am both a minority in terms of my whiteness, but also in terms of the wealth that is associated with it. I also feel terribly distant from poverty’s extremes here. Cape town was a city of great beauty and great ugliness. I was living right next to the university and thus I was isolated from the situation of poverty there, but as I drove between Stellenbasch (wine valley of the western cape) and Cape Town I was struck to see kilometers of shack towns that had popped up alongside the freeway. These were not temporary dwellings either. Many of them have power running to them.
Always lurking in the background is the history of apartheid and the current devastation caused by AIDS. The impact of the AIDS situation here is widespread, but you have to dig below the surface here to come face to face with it. The government has not as of yet adequately addressed this issue and many people have lost faith in the biomedical solution.
I have another week here in South Africa. I plan on making a trip to some of the areas with historical ties to apartheid. I will make my way to Soweto where the black students first rioted in protest of being forced to learn Afrikaans. (It is interesting to note that now, by and large; Afrikaans is the language of the poor.) I also will visit the apartheid museum and Alexandria. I am trying to get a meeting in with the Bishop here as well. He helped write a recent letter from the bishops council here that does not allow priest to be Sangomas (traditional priests).
Bruce’s ordination will be on Friday the 8th. I will be filming a DVD for him of the event. On the 10th of September I will be flying out of Jo-burg on to Uganda. My new mailing address will be:

Moroto Diocesan House,
PO Box 7572

It seems I have hit the end of my rope in writing this email. I have many more details and photos on my blog at I hope that you all are doing well at home and abroad. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I travel up north to Uganda.
Much love,

Michael Le Chevallier