Sweet Home Uganda
To paraphrase the great poet/philosopher Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sweet home Uganda, Where the skies are so blue; Sweet home Uganda, Lord I’m comin’ home to you.
It’s been six weeks since Jeffrey Hamelman and I returned from training the bakers in the Oruchinga refugee settlement. My eyes argue that I am in Cranston, Rhode Island USA; however, the pounding in my chest combined with the relentless alpha, beta, and gamma waves profoundly insist that I’m in Uganda. And that Uganda is in me. I’ve returned from exciting, inspirational trips to beautiful and significant places. Within weeks, if not days, the memories become fond, but detail-less, accompanied by the default refrain, “Oh yeah, it was great…” The embers of this trip rekindle my memories daily, if not hourly, infiltrating, then dominating my thoughts in work and play (as difficult as it is to differentiate baking and working or working and baking).
Reflections and Random Ruminations
Pondering Parallel Zero, Parallax Parables, and Purpose
As a baker, teacher, or mentor, I never know the measure of influence I’ve had on individual. However, I’m fully cognizant of the mark students, mentees, and colleagues leave on me. As much as I learned in Uganda, it remains difficult for me to summon, much less confront, the grist. I was told that the experience would be life changing. It was more than that. It was life reaffirming. As much as I try to reflect on coaching the remarkable team at the bakery and engaging with the generous and welcoming people of Uganda, I can only reflect on how they affected me. Unwilling to let my thoughts fade, unable to organize them, and reluctant to minimize or omit any detail, cobbling or codifying them is impractical if not impossible.
The story of any bakery is the story of its team and the community it serves. It’s not the protein, level, hydration percentage, or other nebulous markers, it’s the people that make a bakery great. We share the common denominator of using recipes, mixing, shaping, and baking in an oven. It’s the way we respect and implement ingredients as partners to create relationships with each batch of dough so we can foster relationships with each other and the community that differentiates us and gives us purpose.
Bolstered by compassion for the team and passion for the project, we shared our knowledge and experience with relaxed, but didactic precision. The direct and indirect lessons – gifts, to be truthful - we received in return were suffused with dignity, resilience, courage, and hope that out measured our teachings. Belying the metaphors, babble, and bauble, the baking lessons seem thin, flat, and one dimensional. Diametrically, we were rewarded with life lessons, friendship, and enduring love.
The infants and children at the bakery are a special delight, injecting happiness and life into the program. Thankfully, I was accepted and engaged by them as a playful peer. One in particular, Claire, parallels the bakery’s development. She was crawling the first six days we were there, much like the bakery itself. Her curiosity and fearlessness were evident as she explored everything . After a day off, we returned to find her walking, a transformation I’ve witnessed many times, but this was special. Approximately 15” tall, Claire’s story parallels the bakery’s story. Her development, growth, and tiny, uncertain steps mirror those of the budding bakery. Sensing harm or danger after crawling onto a precipice, she exercised caution, and called for help just as the fledgling bakers do when they find themselves on a baking precipice. Her tentative steps and choices will be more decisive as her awareness and decision making processes develop. She will rely on observation and experience to make advanced decisions. The bakers’ development is following an identical trajectory as they transition from relying on daily leadership and instruction to seeking advice.
Claire is beautiful, calm, inquisitive, and energetic. I will never forget watching her dance on her third day of walking. Never having seen a performance on film or in the theater, she knew to go up front so everyone could see her. She and the other children in the bakery will be as strong and remarkable as their mothers. I won’t be surprised when that time comes, and I will be happy to say, “I knew you when.”
An Update on Bogdan Krasnoperov
Thanks to those who contributed, Bogdan received US $1300. He sends his thanks to all. As the situation persists, he is spending an increasing amount of time sheltering. Unflappable and irrepressible, he continues to bake for soldiers and volunteers, and is sharing the money with them. Let us not forget that the name Bogdan means “God Given.”
The contents of his emergency backpack: A change of clothing, toothbrush, recipe book, and dried sourdough culture. St. Honoré would be proud. His family and friends are.
Until we bake again,
Through your vivid writing you took us with you in spirit but knowing that you and your team were Uganda there in the flesh was comforting to know. Humans reaching out to humans offering help and wishing nothing in return is the true spirit of Love. Good on ya' Mitch.
Amazing, thank you