Our days and nights at Entusi retreat center on Lake Bunyoni feel most like a dream. The WIFI was not working, so I fell behind on my blogging, but maybe that just made it more full and more absorbing. Lake Bunyonyi nestles in a bowl of verdant mountains, a string of islands poking heads up like a family of turtles. For us, it was a retreat from the chaotic bustle of Kampala and the recovering war zones of the North. Even more, it offered its own set of riches–gauzy veils of mist that soften the sunlight, villages perched on ridge lines, fishermen and charcoal sellers paddling across the water in dugout canoes, delicious cool water for swimming, a graceful pair of crested cranes landing on a tree top. And, what a treasure to be with the people of Entusi. They built the physical structures of Entusi, but even more, they are building an institution that supports the surrounding communities and creates viable livelihoods.
When we arrived, they offered a warm welcome matched that of any five star safari lodge, but with a crucial differences. The Entusi staff are not brought in to work from all over the country, waiting weeks to visit their families back home and to speak their native tongues. They are picked up by boat each morning from villages across the lake and returned each night. They are not scolded for getting to know the guests or talking about how they like their jobs, but are encouraged to share their histories, their homes,tall tales and ideas about what Entusi should become. With soaring unemployment among young people in Uganda, any job is cherished, but working at Entusi is much more than this.
Raymond told a few of us about it over lunch at a resort where he used to work. The other resort was owned by a wealthy Ugandan who took all the profits–when the boss came around everyone tried to stay out of sight and step oh so lightly to not get in any trouble. The pay is better at Entusi without the constant worry of keeping your job. And there is the matter of community– “When we started building Entusi, it took a while to get used to being asked for our input at every step of the project. Now we know our ideas are valued.”
On our last night we shared in a feast with the Entusi staff and their families, the women’s association, neighbors from around lake, and other community leaders. It started out a little formal with speeches and thank you’s, but soon we were enjoying roasted goat and a delicious meal prepared by Chef. There was even some local porridge, a fermented drink from cooked grain, Nile Specials, and wine. When eating was done, the DJ took over and the real party began. As the music started, the four coolest looking teenage guys in the crowd walked out on the dance floor and started to dance with each other. I have never been at a dance party where people were less concerned with how they looked or who they danced with. Everyone danced with everyone– from Manager Regan to the UCCS crew to the women’s association to Donboro the boatman to the Sabimana family to Martina and Gilana–in the warm embrace of the African sky.