[Introducing the wonderful Robin Munroe as my guest blogger…]
To my American sensibilities Ugandans are too formal and regimented at every public speaking opportunity. Whenever two or more are gathered for a common purpose there will be an agenda that includes at least these items:
• Official welcome by the Person-In-Charge (president, principal, head teacher, ring master, you get the idea)
• Opening prayer
• Opening remarks by the Speaker, including extension of appreciation to everyone and anyone remotely connected to the event, and concluding with the phrase “and all protocols observed”
• Reading of the last meeting’s minutes by the Secretary
• Remarks/corrections of the last meeting’s minutes
• Follow-up of Old business
• New business
• Closing remarks by the Speaker, including extension of appreciation to everyone and anyone within earshot
• Closing prayer
• Let’s eat! (in order to assure attendance most meetings conclude with refreshment)
Robert’s Rules of Order are strictly followed – at least I think they’re strictly followed, I’ve never actually read them. But woe be the attendee who attempts to approve or reject an idea that isn’t officially on the table.
On those dreaded occasions when I am called to speak I tend to forget the obligatory appreciation formality and just jump right in there with a general greeting to the group. I’ve wised up in the past few addresses and begin by stating that most Americans are somehow shy when it comes to public speaking and are certainly less formal than Ugandans. Then I thank the audience for its indulgence with my not observing all the protocols because I don’t know them. As far as I know I haven’t shocked or offended anyone.
This past weekend was the Official Launch of my school’s Health Promoters Club. The members of the club are students who want to be involved in community public health and education, primarily malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention. The planning for the launch has been going on for weeks. As one of two staff patrons I was asked to suggest and invite a special guest of honor. My dear friend, Taylor, accepted the invitation to the delight of the Health Promoters Club. In her speech she honored, encouraged, and challenged the club members to realize Uganda’s destiny for great advances in public health and education.
The club members decorated one of our large classrooms and arranged it to accommodate the launch. I am always humbled by the great pleasure the students derive from the simplest of materials. Colorful bed linens make attractive bunting and curtains. The room abounds with fresh flowers whose beauty disguises the utilitarian buckets that serve as vases. Decorative ribbon that once graced Christmas or birthday gifts is displayed, along with the ubiquitous, shockingly vibrant artificial flowers at the Guest Table. Off to the side is the PA system and student operators who troubleshoot the microphones and act as deejays.
Most Ugandans vie for any opportunity to perform publicly, and the Health Promoters are no exception. In addition to the typical agenda items (all protocols observed), the launch had entertainment interspersed with the many speeches. The crowd favorite is students lip-syncing, called “miming,” to pop music. The performer holds a microphone to make the performance more realistic and acts out the lyrics. After about a half dozen they tend to get redundant but, again, the students procure so much joy from such a small thing, and that makes it bearable, if not enjoyable.
There were several dramas performed as well. Much of the dialog was in Luganda so I’m only guessing at what the titles might be, but they could have been called: “Daddy, All the Best Families Have Pit Latrines,” “Use a Handkerchief for Heaven’s Sake,” and “Hiding a Positive HIV Status Can Be Fatal.”
The work this club is doing is inspiring and truly impressive. It’s an honor and privilege to be included in the celebration.