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In days before my heart was sore
from wondering what if, what next, and what for.
But today that was swept away
by the sights on the prom at Galway Bay.
A boy’s carrying a sand pale, and old boy’s telling a tall tale
and a hooker’s preparing to set sail.
At the foot of the palm tree, a smiling white Westie
is unleashed and invited to run free.

Diane, Lauren, and Julie test their jumping skills outside of the Louvre in Paris

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in Ireland (or, as the Irish tend to call it – Mum’s Day).

Luckily, we were able to celebrate it with Lauren’s mom Julie, who was visiting us along with her sister Diane. Julie and Diane’s trip, which included 4 days in Paris, was one of the most enjoyable weeks of our time in Ireland. It was also the fulfillment of Julie’s lifelong desire to visit Paris. Making it to Paris is the second life goal Julie has accomplished so far in 2010. Last month she moved from Minnesota to Naples, Florida!

Towards the end of Julie and Diane’s visit, I learned that my mom successfully achieved ‘ordination’ in the United Methodist Church as an elder. This is similar to a teacher achieving tenure, and is a very difficult status to achieve within the clergy. Mom’s journey towards ordination began almost a decade ago when she started a course in clinical pastoral education (CPE) that ultimately led her to seminary.

As I settle into my ‘quarter-life crisis’ and contemplate the many competing pressures of adulthood – money (particularly debt), family, vocation, belief, politics, friendships, etc – I take inspiration from the recent activities of my ‘mums’.

In their own ways, they have both shown the courage to follow their passions in the face of uncertainty. And, in doing so, they have provided their kids with an example of how to live in the same way. So, for Mum’s Day from Ireland, we say a big ‘thanks a million’. ☺

Throughout the last couple days, I’ve been checking lots of different news sites to monitor how things are going in Kasubi. When I went to bed on Tuesday night, I feared what I would read in the next day’s paper. I suppose the news from Kampala is both bad: some unrest around the tombs, with 3 people killed by security personnel; and good: no reports of widespread violence or rioting.  I have noticed, mostly on the Daily Monitor’s Facebook fan page, and in comments in newspaper articles, a theme of empathy and shared loss expressed by people not just of the Buganda tribe, but by Acholis and other groups from around the country.  This brings me a bit of hope that perhaps trust is growing between ethnic groups in Uganda.

Along with reading the articles, I’ve been trolling the photos and videos, hoping to not see any familiar faces. I continue to hope that many of my neighbors had the chance to avoid the chaos around the tombs. Jon and I plan to call friends from the area tomorrow to check in with them.

People in Uganda (and those watching from elsewhere) continue to wonder about who (if anyone) was behind the fire. A friend shared this Al Jazeera clip with me, and it discusses the steps that various parties are taking to start investigations.  It also highlights a lot of the issues going on in Uganda at the moment, and provides some good context.

Uganda has truly lost an important piece of its cultural heritage.  As best as I can tell, it doesn’t look like it’s lost its (hard-fought and precariously maintained) social cohesion.  I hope that that can continue, and that rebuilding the Tombs provides an opportunity to grow empathy and trust between Ugandan communities.

It is almost 11 on a Tuesday night, and I should be reading, writing, and applying to jobs. Instead, I am extremely distracted. Not by the singing revelers outside my window, welcoming St. Patrick’s Day a couple hours early – although, that is a bit distracting. It’s this news that the Kasubi Tombs, in Kampala, have burned down tonight.

The Kasubi Tombs as they burn. Photo by Joseph Kiggundu, Daily Monitor.

The Kasubi Tombs are more than important cultural and historic structures to me. When we lived in Uganda, they were my neighbors. Our apartment was at the bottom of Kasubi Hill, and we passed the Tombs every day to and from downtown Kampala. We took numerous visitors to see the tombs to learn more about the Buganda tribe, its history and culture. I always loved passing the guards of the Tombs; dressed in the traditional saffron-colored robe and leaning against the big tree out front, they waited patiently to greet the next set of visitors.

the Kasubi Tombs in October 2008

Nobody knows yet why the Tombs went up in flames. I’ve already seen a couple of theories floating around online. None of the theories involve an accident.

In the last several months, there has been much tension between the ruling party, the NRM, and the Buganda kingdom, relating to a land dispute. Riots in October went on for about two weeks and killed a number of people and damaged property all over Kampala. It is easy to draw a connection between this earlier dispute and tonight’s fire. If this theory proves to be true, it could mean a fresh set of riots and worsening ethnic tensions.

Another theory revolves around more recent news. Just last night, a security guard opened fire on students at a hostel near Makerere University. Two students were killed – both were Kenyan. Today, students protested at Makerere and through the surrounding neighborhoods. Could this be related to the Tombs burning? Or, was the fire just an accident?

Setting aside the question of how this could happen, my mind has been racing thinking of my friends and acquaintances in Kasubi. Were our boda boda-driving friends there to witness this important site being burned to the ground? What is happening in the neighborhood now – any rioting or general panic? How are John and Gladys and Alex and Mabel? What will happen tomorrow?

For the moment, all I can do is send positive thoughts their way. And attempt to dust off the distraction and try to get back to work.

The fabulous Dunluce Castle, which we visited on a trip to Northern Ireland a couple weekends ago, was built in the 1200s and was inhabited until 1690.

As they say: location, location, location.

Monroe's on a Tuesday night

Craic (pronounced crack) is an Irish word that basically translates to “fun,” “chatter,” and general enjoyment. A common greeting here is “What’s the craic?” and people often say that they are going out for a bit of craic. Galway is full of places to experience some good craic, and we have become fans of one place in particular: Monroe’s Tavern.

Every Tuesday at Monroe’s, a diverse group of people assemble, greet each other, and put on their dancing shoes. A band, consisting of different instrument combinations every week, warms up. Once enough people are present, the music starts and the dancing begins. The type of dancing is called set dancing, a traditional Irish folk dance, which reminds me somewhat of American square dancing. Pairs dance together, spinning, switching dance partners, and stomping feet. The songs are short, but the band plays one right after another, with little to no break. The dancers continue, and over the next two hours, the group grows larger and larger.

After a couple of weeks watching the dancing, we began to recognize faces and pick out some of the regulars. One older gentleman, who must be in his 70s, is the first to arrive and the last to leave every week. He comes prepared with a towel to wipe the sweat from his brow. It appears that he never needs a break – he is constantly in motion. You can tell that he lives for Tuesday night dancing. Another graying gentleman, tall and graceful, has impressed us with his skill. He knows all the correct footwork and his special dancing shoes click and clack along with his enthusiastic steps.

We were lucky to strike up a conversation with one of the regulars a couple of weeks back. Terri, a Galway local and avid dancer, was sitting for a break and a drink of water at the table next to us, when we started to chat. She told us about the step dancing festivals that happen all over the island, about the community of dancers in Galway, and explained to us the different dances as they were happening. Terri now greets us whenever we come through the doors of Monroe’s on Tuesday, and when she takes a break, she comes to chat. Last week, we inquired about some of the regulars on the dance floor, and learned that one was from France, and another from Germany. But on the dance floor, you’d never know it – everybody looks like they’ve been doing Irish step dancing their entire life.

One day maybe we will get up the nerve to join the group and learn a couple moves.  Terri would be thrilled.  If the French and German members can learn, why not a couple of Americans?


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