Tuesday 10am Bacali drives me to meet Bernard and his colleague Walter. Thankfully today we only have to drive for about 40 minutes, not 90. That, and a night of rest, had me feeling excited and groovy in anticipation of today’s Peace Pals workshop.
When we arrived at the school, we walked to meet the Head Teacher and as we got close to the building, there was a single whistle. Students all over the yard stopped and kneeled down. It was instantaneous and absolute. Every student in the yard, about 4 or 500 stopped in their tracks and kneeled down. I stopped in awe and watched. There was total respect and poised control by each student waiting for the next signal. And then, after about 3 seconds, two quick sounds of the whistle, and everyone went running for class.
I was filled with a joyful amazement. From a quiet and calmed stillness to a chaotic frenzy in split seconds…. I knew this was going to be a fun day.
The Head Teacher greeted us with open arms, asked us how many students we wanted to work with and quickly directed us to the tree at the corner of the building to set up. We had initially discussed working with 100 students, and then found out that there we going to be more like 120. I smiled and agreed such a number would be fine.
Once we had gathered and began, it felt to me like there was a lot more than 120 students sitting before me. We did a nice long meditation while seated and talked at length about what it means to create peace in our lives.
And then I asked the group to stand and create a large circle. It became even clearer when we stood up to form a circle, having made circles with 80 – 100 several times, that there were more, but would have to wait until we were finished to get an accurate count.
This circle was one of the most powerful experiences of all the Peace Pals workshops I have led. The group was large and the energy was high. The students were warm and playful, fun and engaged. As I showed them postcards from the U.S. students I asked them to consider the different slogans: “Walk Peace” “Talk Peace” “Think Peace” and “unity”.
There were a couple of things that happened during this workshop that stood out.
The first was something I had experienced before, but hadn’t put my finger so precisely on, was the fact that these students very rarely make eye contact with an elder. There is a submissive, subordinate behavior that represents their way of showing respect. As we talked, one student spoke of “greeting another” as a way of showing peace. And so naturally, I stuck out my hand for a shake. He responded and we held a grip for a moment. I was waiting for him to look me in the eyes and he wouldn’t. So, like many Ugandans do, I continued to hold the shake. He tried to pull away, and I held lightly, until finally, his discomfort was clear and I let go.
But what I felt and what I found was my ticket into talking about the power of eye contact and what it really means to “see” another person.
By looking someone in the eye, you acknowledge them. You see them. You share that moment of soul connection. Hearts open with eyes exposing the vulnerability of that deep inner you. You allow someone to see “in” and in doing so, show them that you too are a human being, full of love. This is a powerful practice and it proceeded to walk around the circle making eye contact with as many of the students as I could.
I expanded on the topic by sharing these thoughts: In war and in violence, there is only blindness. There is no sight. There is no love. There is a visionlessness of destruction and despair where fear blocks sight and anger enables one to act in an in-humane way.
So the only way, is to SEE each other and acknowledge that ability to open our eyes to look and be, simply be with and therefore accept each other for exactly who we are, as we see another before our eyes, without story, judgment, or evaluation. This is a powerful act of peace.