The Voice of Dance
"We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving"
I found it amusing and ironic that the taxi I was traveling in towards the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was playing "We are the world". United Support of Artists for Africa's collection of singers included a who's who of performers from Michael Jackson to Ray Charles to Bruce Springsteen. A video screen attached to the car's stereo system displayed the super group and their super talents. They banded together in 1985 to raise millions of dollars to aid with African famine relief. The taxi driver noticed me grooving to the beat that reminded me of childhood and innocent days -- he decided to play it on an endless loop. The novelty of the song and situation quickly lost its lustre and I was too polite to ask the DJ to change his playlist of one. The long ride to Nkuringo took just a tad longer.
I was at the tail end of my 3 month long Africa trip and I was in Uganda specifically to get close to a family of mountain gorillas. I was excited to be walking on earth steps away from a hulking silverback. In the end, the beautifully grand silverback appeared docile, concerned with sleep and immune to our presence. And in the end, my favourite memory of Uganda was not the sizeable gorillas, but the diminutive Pygmies.
As the taxi neared Kisoro on our return voyage, the driver asked if I would like to visit the Batwa Pygmies. He mentioned how I would visit a village and be welcomed with a dance. All I had to do was either pay $30 directly to the village or buy them a sack of rice. Earlier in my trip, I had been brought to a village in Tanzania to meet with families of the Masai, jump with the warriors, visit the local school and offered to buy trinkets. I was a bit hesitant with the latest offer as the Tanzanian visit left a "touristy" feeling in my mouth. The Ugandan Wildlife Authority was offering a Batwa Trail tour, but I preferred the sense of giving to the community directly. Despite feeling tired from an early morning start, I was up for the visit as I'm usually prone to trying most things once. I decided on purchasing rice and off we went to see the Pygmies.
As it turned out, the village was not so much a village, but a temporary situation. The group I visited lodged as guests on farmland at the base of their former home, the mountains. As the nearby mountains in Kisoro were made park land in the 1990's for conservation purposes, the Batwa Pygmies were evicted from their forest homes. The hunters and gatherers were forced to adapt to a modern life in an instant and, as you can imagine, did not adapt well.
The small village gathered in front of me welcomed me with smiles and curious looks. Through the interpretation of the taxi driver, the village elder conveyed their message of having no home and no voice and asked for my help as I was from Canada. Unexpectedly, I was then asked to give a speech. It felt surreal to talk to these people as they listened intently, almost like I was a Canadian diplomat. I expressed my thankfulness of being welcomed to the village and how sorry I was to hear of their situation. All the while, I was feeling helpless thinking how powerless I was and that I couldn't do anything for them.
The beat began and the dancers feet hit the ground. The joy of music and dance flowed through the air and across international boundaries and cultures. Soon, I was asked to join the dance. Who was I to turn down a dancing opportunity? As the taxi driver explained later, most people who went there were too shy and reluctant to dance. I soon got in a dance battle with the choreographer and the village roared in laughter and appreciation of a visitor dancing for them and with them.
The dance finished and I left the village feeling elated and uneasy. I had agreed earlier to try to help them -- I just didn't know how. And so now, I am using this platform to highlight their situation and raise awareness. "We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving." I ask that you consider clicking on the link below to see how you could help with the Batwa Pygmies and donate to a worthy cause. And if you're interested in trekking with mountain gorillas, consider also dancing with Pygmies ;)