MUSOOLI – Abuse of Power by Leaders of their Village
ABUSE OF POWER AT THE TOP
At 10:00am on February 2, 2016, in an attempt to show and film how easy and simple it is to do great projects and share selflessly with others, the Inti Raymi Fund arrived in Uganda. Within 10 minutes of collecting our film gear and getting our Visas, we met and hired our spiritually rich driver named Abed and headed out to locate the village we had envisioned.
Earlier that morning, I had been on Google Earth, scouring the areas near the airport in Entebbe, Uganda following instincts and knowledge of the economic disparities of people living in immediate proximity to the airports of the world.
Within 15 minutes of heading out, we hit our first road-block, a military guard post disallowing us from driving further. Not taking “no for an answer”, we went the other way around the airport only to discover yet another military guard station; however, these guys were friendly and let us through. Upon safe passage, we continued on this path towards the town we had only seen in aerial images. Heading towards our goal of this tiny peninsula of land, we stopped off in a larger, but remote fishing village where we picked up drinks and met a young boy of 12 or so and an other young man of about 25, who both agreed to come along and join in our adventure of sharing. Believing in the “more is better” mantra, we now had amassed our team of 6, Chimu, Chaski, Elia Saikaly our Film maker, Abed-the driver and his wife, and the two young villagers from nearby.
Within 5 minutes drive, we struck gold! Bingo, we drove up to our envisioned community on the Peninsula and met with our soon to-be-empowered translator and best friend of Inti Raymi Fund, Josh. Josh, who now made our team 7, was hard at work with a trowel in the hot sun making mud bricks in his tiny fishing and farming village called Musooli-Bunonko. Immediately upon meeting Josh, who’s face was covered in mud, we knew he had a great heart and by noon that day, only 2 hours after arrival in this new country, we had our first meetings arranged with roughly 300 community members for the following day on February 3, 2016.
On February 3, 2016, our entire team of now 7, met in the designated gathering place with all of the 277 village residents. Basically everyone was there except the 3 village elders, who felt it was a waste of their time, we later found out. We met for about 1-2 hours to explain the Inti Raymi Fund’s reason for showing up, to listen to their issues and ask “what do you need”? and “How can we help”?
Feeling confident that the entire village heard the same thing and we all were on the same page, our team left the village to allow the community the time to discuss and decide their fate of their self-determined project for the following day.
On February 4, 2016 we returned only to find an empty gathering place and a summons by the 3 leaders to their house for a private meeting. Since this was “not our first time to the rodeo”, we knew all they wanted was for us to provide them the money allowing the “leaders who know best” to decide how the money is to be spent in the village (or kept). Knowing the Elders were leading through fear tactics, and knowing the whole community was ecstatic just 24 hours earlier in our meeting place, I called “Bull Shit” on that private meeting!
Being a strong believer in Transparency, which we learned while attention annual UN World Conferences for Indigenous Peoples Issues, I refused their offer and demanded a “public meeting” for everyone to hear and to be involved with this collective community project. All of the locals were shouting, don’t give the money to the leaders, they’re just going to take it like they usually do.
This evidently did not sit well with the 3 leaders so they called the local Police, who quickly arrived and tried to ruin the village’s hope project. Upon arrival, the police demanded to know who we were and demanded that we head to the police station for questioning. Knowing the realities of this underdeveloped world’s policing powers (Google geopolitical news of Uganda) and fearing the worst, I bought a little bit of stalling time to figure out how to hide the $25,000 I had brought to share with the village. Please remember, this was the first time, which someone has come to their village, offered them hope, and a concrete plan of action towards their Self-Determined goals. I was not about to let the community down after 2 days of their workshops and discussions and our promise to financially support their dreams.
While heading to the escort car leading to uncertainty and probable theft of our money I had in stow, I pretended to have a diarrhea attack and demanded that I use the restroom before heading out to the police station. Holding my bottom to show my point to the police while walking to the outdoor latrines, the community laughed with delight. Upon arrival inside the latrine, I was hoping to find a safe spot up high or between boards, or sheet metal, somewhere to hide the $25,000, which I had in small plastic bag. Unfortunately, there was only one place which I believed no one would look…deep into the meter deep pile of feces and urine of the latrine. Being hot as hell, smelly as death and full of flies swarming around inside this hot-box, I quickly scrambled into action, tying a tether string around the money in a plastic bag and duct taping it all firmly together. With my miners lamp stuck on my head, I leaned inside the crap hole to see where I should throw the community’s money for safe storage, in the event I couldn’t come back, I could at least fulfill my promise and ensure I could tell someone who could discover it for the village at a later date. I then threw the stash backwards and behind anyone’s view while using the latrine. Covered entirely in sweat, with the stench of feces permeating my nostrils, I proudly emerged from the latrine and accomplished man!
Knowing the community’s money was now safe and unafraid of the theft of the money from my backpack, we happily head off for interrogation. Well this interrogation would be better called a kangaroo court at best. Witnessing the Policeman, the 3 elders (crooks), the chief inspector and a few thugs with machine guns revealed their true unprofessional intent of just extorting what they could get from us Mzungus. I was way more than just angry, I was “Pissed” at their insinuations about needing some funding, so I just gave it back to them with a very defiant argumentative response, which the chief inspector saw as a clear problem compared with their usual extortion victims who come from a long lineage of oppressed and intimidated people. After about 90 minutes of this bull shit, the 3 elders somehow where happy with who we were and why we were there and welcomed us to their community(yeah right). The Elders all the while, were unable to shake my hand in fear of me giving them an “evil eye” or “casting JuJu” on them as they feared I was a witch doctor, because I was covered in tattoos and jewelry.
Upon successful wind up and refusal to pay any bribes to the police employees and refusing to pay for some of their requested remodeling and computer equipment they asked for, we heading to the hotel to regroup for the next mornings restart. Message got back to the village that we did not succumb to the pressures of the elders or police and that we would be back as promised the following morning.
On February 5, we returned with an African Heroes’ salute “Muzunguzungu” which literally translates into the “aimless white wanderers and/or rich person” in Swahili. Anyway they were smiling and happy, which is all that matters.
During this day we had a lot of catching up to do, since our previous day was spent at the police station. After hours and hours of workshops with all the locals voting and narrowing down their options, “They Decided” to collect the money in 8 distinct groups, by “Their elected Leaders” to work together for community projects, due to their diverse needs and interests among the village.
Once the distribution and security of the cash was decided, then we had to go back and retrieve the cash, which was stashed inside the “very active latrine”. We proceeded to the latrine with minimal followers; however, our cameraman filmed the entire event for our “Adrenaline Philanthropy Documentary set for release in 2017”. Earlier in the morning, we stopped by a medical supply house and I purchased 2 sets of medical rubber gloves, a sledge hammer and heavy duty pick-bar to bust open the latrine, not realizing there was already a trap door in the back. Upon opening this hatch, the stench and flies came out and covered our team, I was the one who had to use a long stick and crawl inside to reach the bag, which was now completely buried in the feces with only part of the tracer sting showing. With a little maneuvering and a twist of the stick, I looped the string tied to the money, then hussled back to the community meeting where all members where quite surprised at the greenish/black lump on the end of my stick tied by a string (see photos below).
We proceeded to explain what we did and why, which was simply to protect what was rightfully theirs in the village and not allow it to go into the hands of the greedy. No one should I mention, tried to take “That Dirty Money” from us that day! After all the yelling and laughing was over, it was time to “launder the money” so to speak and literally hand wash it for distribution into 8 distinct segments for the community’s enjoyment and use. Laughingly, we all agreed to shake hands during the money awarding ceremony, through tapping elbows, instead of the traditional handshake for their sanitary concerns.
At the end of the day, this beautifully hopeful community had a wonderfully interesting experience full of thought provoking business and social enterprise ideas (see photo of workshop ideas on board). Most importantly, they were treated with Dignity and Respect and they knew the Mzungu went to bat for them and really cared about them. This was their greatest take away, unconditional acceptance.
For our part, we had a fantastic adventure, sharing many wonderful, but sometimes scary moments together with this community. The takeaway for us, was an amazing experience and the self-satisfaction knowing what we did to help others and put a lot of happiness into a village that often loses hope at the hands of those who Abuse Their Power!
We wish them well.
Elia, Joshua, Chimu, Chaski, Sylvia & Obed