THE BLOG

My Trip to Kampala

02/28/2011 08:22 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It was Sinclair Lewis who wrote "travel is so broadening." One way that travel broadens us is to challenge our prejudices. All I knew about Uganda was that on July 4, 1976, a group of Israeli commandos rescued passengers who had been hijacked at the airport in Entebbe and that Idi Amin had been the country's dictator.

So I arrived at Entebbe airport, after a seemingly endless journey from Lagos, Nigeria (traveling east and west in Africa, I learned the hard way, is far more difficult than traveling north and south), with some trepidation.

I was surprised, therefore, that when I told the official who stamped my passport why I was coming to Kampala, he smiled broadly and thanked me for coming to teach in his country. Already I started to question my prior beliefs.

And the Hotel Serena is one of the loveliest I have ever encountered: great service, beautiful flowers and trees and lots of wonderful food. My prejudices quickly receded.
My class was held in a room of the National Theatre, a beehive of activity desperately in need of renovation. The room was stuffed to the gills with more than 80 arts managers and artists but had no air conditioning and little ventilation. Having gotten to the hotel just before 5 am, I was concerned I would fall asleep, let alone the students!

And my fears were not allayed quickly. The group was very quiet and simply stared at me. I open almost every session I teach asking the group why they find work in the arts difficult. This almost always relaxes the students, introduces some vital topics of discussion, and allows the participants to release their demons and frustrations so that they can concentrate on the material I am presenting.

I usually can gauge how a session will go by the amount of interaction in this first section of a class. When lots of people express the challenges they face it always means a good class is developing. In Kampala, unfortunately, I could only get two or three people to contribute. I knew I would be in for a challenging day.

In fact, it was only after the class that it became apparent that the students were not bored or hostile; they were simply focused and concentrating. For many of them, a class held in English was a challenge. For most, I was introducing new concepts that required deep thought. Virtually none of them had ever been in an arts management class before.

After the session, organized by one of my Summer Fellows, we had a reception at which everyone relaxed and let loose. One student called the session "revolutionizing" and almost all came up to me to tell me how much they had learned and how this new way of thinking about arts management was so helpful.

I received numerous emails asking that we return to teach again. Uganda turned out to be one of the friendlier, happier places I have taught in my career.