Happy Sukkot!

This week in preparation for Sukkot, Ezra did a bunch of arts and crafts at school that he introduced to us this morning. First was a sukkah. He proudly told me “Daddy, this is my sukkah!”

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Then he paused a moment, and said “Open the door….and you see….Ezra!”

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In addition to his sukkah, Ezra made a lulav with glitter paint and leaves. It was delightful watching him shake his lulav around the kitchen and explain to us what he had learned.

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African Painting Class

This afternoon we took a tour of Kasubi Tombs, the top historical site of Kampala. Kasubi Tombs is situated on the top of a hill and houses the bodies of the previous four kings of Buganda. We were excited to see the main Royal Tomb, the largest thatch-roofed building in the world.

When we arrived at the tombs, we walked in past the guard house (where two guards-for-life still live) and the man at reception asked if we knew about the fire and still wanted a tour. Turns out that three months ago, this Unesco World Heritage site was the subject of a tragic arson attack. The site was closed for about two months for investigations, and had just been re-opened to the public, though with the Royal Tombs still a burnt out husk and off-limits to tourists. We did wish to continue, and were assigned a knowledgeable guide, Franklin, who gave us the history of Buganda kingdom and showed us around the grounds. The smaller buildings, including the royal drum house and those for the widows of the kings, remain intact, though they can only give a small taste of the former grandeur of the Royal Tomb. Franklin did describe the layout of the Royal Tomb, showed us the (now visible) inner scaffolding, and explained its architecture and current plans for rebuilding the structure.

Result of Kasubi Tombs fire
There was a steel girder substructure under the thatched roof that got completely mangled by the fire

Lauren in an African skirt
All female visitors to Kasubi Tombs are outfitted with traditional African skirts

It turns out that Franklin is not just a guide, but also an artist; he ended our tour with some background on a type of traditional African art: bark-cloth painting. The canvas for a bark-cloth painting is made from the fig tree. The first pull of the bark is too firm to use, but later pulls are more supple. After the outer bark is removed from the tree, they cover the tree with banana leaves, which protects it and allow the bark to regenerate. The bark is then cut, and ironed to straighten it out.

With the canvas in place, he sketches the design in pencil, and then makes powder for the colors using flowers from Kenya. Then powder is mixed with wood glue to make the paints, and when he is done painting it hardens enough to resist scratches and future ironing to re-flatten a rolled painting. It was a very interesting lesson, and I wound up purchasing one of Franklin’s paintings that he made after the fire – a panorama of Kasubi Tombs, with details drawn from memory.

Lauren checking out Kasubi Tombs
Lauren checking out the bark of the fig tree

Painting of Kasubi Tombs
My first piece of Ugandan art

Jaaga

The Babajob office is located in Richmond Town, across from a hockey stadium (which makes for an excellent landmark when giving directions to rickshaw drivers). Next door was an empty lot until just a few months ago, when a few local community artists (our friends Freeman and Archana [a friend we haven’t actually met yet]) began work on Jaaga. A bit about it in their words:

Jaaga is a community space created to serve the arts, technology and social change communities in Bangalore. It includes web enabled co-work spaces, a cafe and a large multi-level public space for screenings, workshops, lectures and performances. Additionally there are several private spaces that select teams can use to develop their projects.

What stands there currently is a multi-level structure made out of pallet racks (the same materials used for shelving at Costco), covered with tarps. There are a few hammocks and bean bag chairs inside, but the furnishings are fairly sparse for now. The design of the structure actually reminds me a bit of the Dead Fish Tower in Siem Reap (minus the Thai food, dumbwaiters, and Apsara dancers). Since we arrived, Jaaga has hosted a game night and a couple of film screenings; the organizers have plans for gallery exhibitions and much more.

Because we spend much of our time next door, and Freeman often shares our office space, we have been able to watch some of the ongoing development at Jaaga as it unfolds. Currently Freeman is hard at work acquiring solar panels so that Jaaga can survive completely off the grid. He’s also talking about getting a pedal generator, which I would be extremely excited about so that I can start getting in some mid-day cardio workouts.

I need to get over there with my camera sometime soon.