“Oh, for the love of pink monkeys!”- Leslie Carrara- Rudolph as Lolly Lardpop
Julia and I got to hang out with our friend Tiff Gravel again this week before she heads back to Uganda for the third time since 2006. The first time Tiff went, she was filming the genocide that was taking place. The footage she and her crew took actually helped to facilitate the release of the decimated populace that had been imprisoned in internment camps for twenty years. When we asked her how she had been so brave, she shrugged and humbly suggested that she wasn’t brave but naïve. We believe she was just embracing her path whole heartedly. (Tiff recently thought it would be fun to photograph people sky diving so she started getting her certification. After being amongst people whose huts were being burned down and running out with them while they were being shot at, sky diving really is a lark.)
The last time Tiff was in Uganda, she came to document Nodding Syndrome, a disease that effects children with seizures. This mysterious affliction is believed to be a direct result of the genocide and the years in the camps. Tiff commented that this is a whole generation that is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This time Tiff is going to make sure the interviews she took are correctly translated into English, so she can finish her film. Instead of making an angry documentary highlighting the pain and anguish, she will focus on the people’s ability to move past it, the healing process in motion.
Tiff’s interview re: Uganda:
At 13:45 in this video you can see Betty, a music therapist working with the children in one village suffering from Nodding Syndrome. Betty lost all her friends because of their belief that she will give them the disease. “No one wants to come to my house, no one wants to eat my food, no one wants to share anything with me. With the students I feel like I have no problem, I’m just smiling. Most of the parents don’t care about these kids. They call them all sorts of names when they go home. But one day I invited over 100 people here, because if I dance and you clap for me, then I’ve made you happy. Then you must respect me. … I take every child to be my child.
What keeps me moving is that I see the children are healing. When they are dancing, the smile is just natural. They don’t force the smile. The energy they give me when I’m dancing with them, it keeps me moving.”
“Music therapy works… music heals.”
Betty works in a care center that is scheduled to be shut down in December. Part of what motivates Tiff is not only to finish her film but to somehow help keep the center open.
Tiff also told us about her time working with the Muppets and with Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, who was Abby Cadabby on Sesame Street. She helped Leslie film 52 video podcasts of “Wake Up Your Weird”, which they also presented Off Broadway. The purpose of that show was to celebrate the weird in you, to feel good about yourself and be able to not be cowed by bullying.
The work Tiff does is right in line with that. She is seriously leaving her comfort zone, risking Malaria and worse because she is not cowed by the many forces that have tried to wipe out the people of Uganda.
When Tiff talked about what they are going through, I was overwhelmed but the people are carrying on, they are strong and some, like Betty, are making sure that the children are upholding the most dignified and joyful aspect of their culture. The part that sustains and augments life.
May your weird and your warrior be woken up to embrace your path whole heartedly.
Love you, Ira