Ukiah? What's in Ukiah? (my first thoughts…)
What is in Ukiah, as it turns out, is an amazing Buddhist center (City of Ten Thousand Buddhas) including a K-12 day and boarding school, some university students, monks, nuns, organic farm, meditation center and restaurant. One of their high school students has been raising money for Children of Uganda, through Rotary club and other sources. So we decided to make a trip up to see them… one of the best decisions ever made!
We were enthusiastically greeted by a gaggle of uniformed high school girls, and soon introduced to a Ugandan Buddhist Monk who took the COU children on a lecture-tour of the center. He brought them into the Buddha hall and oriented them to the meanings of various statues and paintings, drawing comparisons to Christ very frequently, and with a casualness that surprised our children. They were also surprised to find out that some people were Christian Buddhists. One girl remarked - "in Uganda I could never go into a place like this, it would be seen as totally wrong. But here I can visit and learn about it with no problem." The children participated in meditation as well. We hope all of them have learned something about religious tolerance and even about respectful interfaith dialogue!
After lunch we set up for the performance, but soon we were invited to sit down in front row seats while THEY performed for US. We saw several different dances including the Lion dance and Dragon dance, and Taiwanese drumming as well. The audience of about 500 packed into the room, stood by the walls, sat on the floor, and made a lot of very appreciative noise. At some points it sounded more like a basketball game than a dance performance from the way they whooped and whistled. Children of Uganda performed after the intermission and I couldn't imagine a more supportive audience. At the end the COU kids were each given gift baskets, hand-written cards from kindergarteners (with greetings in Luganda!), and roses. By the time we loaded our things back onto the bus they'd laden us down with boxes of snacks, blankets, jackets, sweaters, and I don't even know what else. Their students came onto our bus for a final goodbye and I do believe I saw some tears as they exchanged hugs.
We're headed home now to our homestay families, most of whom have lamented how little time they get to spend with their guests. We've reconfigured the schedule to allow them another meal together on Thursday and a free day with no commitments but recreation on Saturday. This morning we left at 7 AM, no one's favorite time, but my host family's twin 10-year-olds stumbled sleepy-headed out to the breakfast table so they could get some extra time with their guests.
On Children of Uganda's 2006 tour we went to big professional theaters and stayed in hotels. I will admit that a theater *might* make us twice as much money as a school, and that when you stay in hotels you are subject to no one's lateness but your own. But in my personal opinion, that money couldn't possibly be worth as much as the bedheaded good-mornings and tearful good-byes.
Pictures and video to come soon!