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antje duvekot(Aunt-yuh Doo-va-Kott)

Antje Duvekot

My Trip To Africa!

Antje Blog #8 "My Trip to Africa"

the victoria nile at night is darker than outer space but brimming with sounds. i lie awake all night. stomach churning. heat. africa. this night the villagers burned patches of field behind their huts for cultivation. the flames, dancing on the hillsides, turned the moon blood red. men gathered around dim light bulbs in town. the dangers here are real. lions. snakes. near the equator the crescent moon lies on her back like a cheshire cat's smile. i am here now. as in a dream. here where the half moon lay bleeding above the fields when the Lord's Resistance Army roamed them murderously not long ago. little brother and little little brother. such a big road such small feet.

before i left for Uganda, i watched a documentary called "war dance" which followed a group of children from Uganda's north, where i am now, as they prepare for the big music competition in Kampala. during the war years, the LRA was notorious for taking child soldiers, abducting children as young as six years of age from their parents, forcing them at gunpoint to kill their own neighbors and kin and making them fight for the rebels. the children in the movie bare these scars of war. but in making music they find forgetting and redemption. "when i dance, i feel free" says an orphan named nancy.

her testimony makes me wonder whether there exists an inverse relationship between actual power and the spiritual empowerment available through music. do the disenfranchised experience the power of music more acutely than the autonomous who aren't forced to call on her for emotional feats of endurance? i think i've encountered this kind of inverse relationship in my own life. there once was a time when i was utterly powerless. in those days, music carried me. like atlas. like a bridge. like an arc. i might have slipped into oblivion if she hadn't said to me "I see you. let's dance while we wait". as i grew out of my situation and gained control over my circumstances, music became increasingly ornamental. a luxury. no more a need. while i am very grateful to have moved past the particulars of my youth, i sometimes miss the intense relationship i had with music then.

maybe that is why i wanted to come to africa. maybe i wanted to remember the beautiful ways in which we survive. what i found, instead, are the stunning ways in which we thrive.

enclosed by corrugated metal walls, Malayaka house is a small orphanage near the center of entebbe. we arrive in the dark. an older boy unlatches the hinge and barking dogs pour out of the compound gate. in the dark, it feels cramped and dingy (i panic a bit that we are going to be living here). on the first night, sleep evades me. but the morning sun reveals brightly painted walkways and laughing children. one out of six children in Uganda is orphaned. factors such as war, disease and poverty have ravished Ugandan society where the life expectancy is 54. for a third of Ugandans daily survival is a feat. Uganda is no place for children.

and yet….

here we are. on an unlikely safe-island of childhood. the children of Malayaka house are not up for adoption. nor are they forced out at eighteen. they celebrate their birthdays together on one day. they are one family. each child entered this world written off and discarded. yet they flourish with grace and resilience as only children can. spotted at the bottom of a pit latrine when she was an infant, Achin lost her eye in the ordeal (but was protected by infection-eating maggots). sprung from her mother's AIDS-ravished body departing the earth, Amina's smile is wider than the universe itself (i wish her mother could have known it). quiet, but neat and skillful at mural painting, little Ishimat was found on a large road darting through heavy traffic. baby Bobo came to Malayaka house burned, with broken bones. despite the neglect that marks their early lives, the orphans of Malayaka house grant and demand the love and respect every human deserves without hesitation. the older ones struggle more. they had to rely on make-shift survival tools longer before arriving at Malayaka where at last they were told "you are worthy"

and yet it takes so little…

i am struck by this. we can't become powerful until we are seen. but a seed wants to grow and it will sustain itself through many dry seasons. we discover tools of sustenance within ourselves. Hakim loves animals. Viola cares for everybody. Isabella dominates with her verbal prowess. Agaba works. Hakim and Agaba played guitar with me. both boys came to Malayaka from an abusive orphanage that forced the children to sing and dance for visitors. understandably, their relationship to music was ambivalent. but they played guitar with me. perhaps they could sense that music had been my life raft. in any case, they kept coming around. shyly at first. there is a humbleness that speaks of suffering and i recognize some of the pain of my youth in them but, more strikingly, i recognize the triumph. the tenacity. the search for something better.

defying all odds, the children of malayaka house soar. who are we not to soar with them…...

volunteers and contributors around the world make this possible. and the dedication of an individual who cared. in 2005, when vermont native robert flemming was working in uganda, he came upon a mentally ill homeless woman in labor. he brought her to a ugandan hospital. when the mother was declared unfit, he was handed a newborn baby. unable to turn away, he began malayaka house, which has since burgeoned into a home for more than 30 children and more recently a coffee business (bobo's coffee). there is so much light in the world. one must only open one's eyes.

for more info, please visit:

to see me singing with Agaba, Hakim, Sali, Isabella and to see photos of my trip: