Question: What do you get when you take a few dozen people who live just a bit north of the equator, and drop them off in Minnesota in the middle of January – and a January of record cold to boot?
Answer: We’re about to find out.
That may sound like the premise for a new reality show or the latest fish-out-of-water movie or sitcom, but it’s not. It’s what is going to happen tomorrow when around 20 members of the Uganda-based Kika Troupe visit the Twin Cities for several weeks of performances.
The word “kika” (pronounced CHEE kah) means “clan,” and couldn’t be a more appropriate name for the Kika Troupe. Although Uganda is a relatively small country – about the size of Arizona – it has numerous tribes and clans, each with its own language, customs, and culture. Kaddu Yusuf, the founder and leader of the Kika Troupe, traveled around the country gathering young students who represented each of the major tribes, and brought them together to form Kika. He has housed and fed them, educated them, trained them, and turned them into a lively and loving family of drummers, dancers, and singers who can rock the stadium.
I know this firsthand, because I attended a performance of the Kika Troupe when I was in Uganda this past July. While we were there, we discovered that Kaddu Yusuf’s mother and my friend Tabitha – who was born and raised in Uganda and is the inspiration and partner for all of my work and activities there –were inseparable childhood friends. Since Kaddu’s mother passed away a few years ago, he now has a new mother in Tabitha.
One of the things I love about Kaddu Yusuf is how much he cares about people. Few of the members of the Kika Troupe were already dancers or musicians when he met them. Most were orphans and vulnerable young boys and girls with low self-esteem and not much of a future. But you would never know that to look at them now, with their bright smiles, their energy and confidence, and the enormous talent and joy they display throughout their performance.
The show they are going to perform here in Minnesota over the next few weeks is appropriately titled, “The Journey.” And it is indeed a journey – in more ways than distance – for them to be here. The story of how and why their first U.S. trip is to Minnesota in January is a little too long to go into here, but has to do with the fact that most of their shows will be with and for students at dance and performance studios and schools. This is the timing that worked out best for that, but our hope is to generate enough interest and attention for the Kika Troupe so that they’ll be able to come back again later in the year for more performances. Not just in the Twin Cities but in venues around the country. And in weather that will be a little more agreeable for people who live in a country that’s crossed by the equator.
I’m excited about the Kika Troupe coming to Minnesota for many reasons. One is that every time I’ve been to Uganda, I’ve wished that I could bring some of the sights, sounds, and experiences back home with me. I’ve tried to do that in my writing and in speeches I’ve given, but that’s nothing compared with experiencing it firsthand.
Not only that, but I loved getting to know the people of Uganda – and experiencing their way of life – during my three trips there. And now I get to take part in the same thing, but from the other direction, welcoming a group from Uganda to Minnesota where they can experience life in my home country.
I’m pretty sure that their joyful singing, their colorful costumes, and their animated dance moves will be more than enough to cut through the snow and ice, and thaw even the harshest of weather. And when their performances are over and the Kika Troupe returns to Uganda, I hope that they’ll take with them many warm memories of the people they met and the experiences they had while they were here in Minnesota. Even in January.
To get a taste of the Kika Troupe and to “meet” Kaddu Yusuf online, visit their website at www.kikauganda.org. To get a list of their performances here that are open to the public, send me an email at email@example.com.
The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on January 16, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014
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