Bill: Welcome back to the AskDrBill podcast, which as you know, we’re having a special two-episode Hey, Let’s Ask Nate podcast. The first episode we talked about the first part of his journey with Samite and Musicians for World Harmony into Africa — Uganda, Kenya, all the way up to your visit to Hope for Humans. If you haven’t heard that podcast yet, you’re totally missing a great thing. Listen to that and then you can pick up the story right here with Nate.
Nate: Hope for Humans was extremely inspiring to see, as we mentioned, the incredible transformation that these kids go through. When they’re suffering from nodding disease, they’re taken in, they’re given the anti-seizure medication and given love, music, and music therapy. When we were there, we were traveling with Karen Wacks, who’s a Music Therapy professor at Berklee College of Music. And she was bringing lots of the scientifically tested methods where the woman who is there, Akidi Bedi [SP], she is going from her instinct and she has been actually working with Karen on and off over the years. And as I mentioned, we were doing internet work with her for a while. So she’s been exposed to these techniques a little bit but furthering her exploration of this and doing experiments. So we were doing these kind of handing out shakers to all the kids and having them sit in a circle and do, “Shake, shake, pass,” “Shake, shake,” and they pass it to the next person and receive one and pass it at the same time.
It actually turned out to be too complicated for them. In fact, when you watch some video of us trying to practice it before showing to them, it was too complicated for us. But it’s trial and error, you know. Now that we know better, we do a better…
So we left Hope for Humans, and after Hope for Humans, we visited a Health Alliance in Leda [SP] which is the place we were communicating with last year and the year before. But this is a new place and this was a surprise, a big surprise. We didn’t know what they were doing really. We got there and the leader of their group gave us a half-hour briefing on what they’re doing. These people are all volunteers, there’s policewomen, policemen, firefighters, nurses, people that don’t have other jobs, various walks of life… a lot of them don’t have a whole lot. Some of them are a little more well off. But they’re all volunteers and they do home visits and they focus on older people and people with disabilities of various sorts. They will travel half a day by foot, by bicycle. One of the things they need is they need transportation to get to people’s homes. They arrive in the home, they pray first — it’s a Christian organization — then they sing and then, once that’s kind of built up a little bit of congeniality, then they start asking questions about what they need. A lot of it is pain management, so they have certain pain medications… I’m not sure how it works with prescriptions and doctors and legality but they help people get pain under control. And I think a lot of the time some of that happens before they take any medication. Incredible group of people.
They knew we were gonna be coming to visit them, so they brought a few of their patients, I guess you could say people they care for, to the headquarters to meet with us.
Bill: Oh great.
Nate: So there was this amazing 80-year-old woman that sang a song for us that she had written and the refrain was, “Thank you very much,” and all the other words were in her local language. So for me it was, “[Ti-ti-ti-li-li], thank you very much, [ti-ti-ti-li-li-li], thank you very much.” It was really touching. And an older gentleman who plays the kalimba, which is Samite’s first instrument. Well, maybe his second instruments but his go-to. And he told us his story about how his wife left him and he was devastated and he ended up deciding to marry his kalimba.
Bill: So did he play it for you?
Nate: Yeah, he played it for us and we were so impressed and Samite said, “Do you ever think that the songs that you play on your kalimba will bring another woman?” And he said, that’s when he told us, he’s married to his kalimba.
Bill: So no issues there.
Nate: Yeah, so that was incredible. They did a little performance for us. There was one guy who was you know rubbing fire on his skin and they were sitting on beds of nails and lots of dancing and the whole village, kind of people passing by would all stop, and it ended up being a pretty large party actually before we left there. So definitely a great organization that we’re absolutely gonna be partnering with in the coming months and years.
Bill: Good. So part of what you were doing was identifying and looking at people you wanna continue the relationship with?
Bill: I mean there’s no substitute in this case for going there, meeting the people, looking at the work they’re doing, evaluating organizations, some are good, some are not good, you know, seeing the strength of the organization.
Nate: Exactly. It’s not that we have a whole lot of money to give. We’re really there to look at how we can partner in terms of doing music therapy and providing music, coming back and also just training for their music therapists. So that was a prime candidate that they were very very passionate there, very passionate. So after that, we headed south, back to Kampala, and the next organization we visited was a primary school, Brain Tree primary school, just outside of Kampala. Brain Tree is a day school and a boarding school. Samite has visited them a number of times in the past and they welcomed him with the most gracious welcome. He’s kind of a hero there and several places that we went after that actually. This was the most beautiful thing for me. After seeing the suffering way out in the bush… I didn’t even mention when we were in Hope for Humans we went out way into the bush.
Nate: And there was a child who had been taken back from the Center for Humans by her mom, who apparently thought that the child would do better at home and it’s complicated, I’ll say, I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to create any trouble for anyone but we just went and delivered some medicine and some food to her. After seeing that and the children with nodding syndrome and just also just, traveling through the north, you see a lot of poverty. Coming to Brain Tree, these kids were loved, they were well cared for and they were bright, shining souls. Their eyes all just glowed and they had beautiful clean uniforms on. And they all assembled when we got there and the headmaster greeted them and they all responded in unison. It was like a song every time they all sang and they had this clapping thing that they did, which actually we do that here too but they had a much more complicated little rhythm that they did.
Bill: They excelled.
Nate: They were very excellent. And there’s a video posted on my Facebook page, I think I made it public. So if you just search for “Nate Silas Richardson,” you can see it. And one particular post I wrote, “We could not have expected a better audience, they were…we performed for them, they performed for us, but when we were performing, you know, Samite would say, “Let’s clap,” and they were instantly clapping and then all the different things he would lead them through, they were like so on point.
Bill: That’s the Brain Tree School?
Nate: That’s the Brain Tree School. They treated us to a great meal as well. Simple meal, I forget the names of the foods but it was just very simple starches and beans and I think a little bit of beef. So from there, we returned to Kampala. We returned the guitar because our instruments finally arrived on like the fifth day or something like that. We returned the guitar to Hope North. We actually were in a rush because we had spent so long at the Health Alliance of Leda. On our way back, we kind had to get through because Kampala is traffic jam central, you can spend two hours on the periphery to get into downtown. And we had someplace to be so we had a guy meet us on a Boda-boda motorcycle on the main road. He drove from Hope North, and as we got out, we had to shuffle a few things around and had to make sure the right things were in the guitar. And I got accosted by a drunk street man who just was looking for handouts and he kind of like jumped right up to me and held out his hands and lifted up his shirt to show me how hungry he was. I was like, “I don’t know. Do I give him money?” and the driver said, “No, no,” and you know, “You’re just encouraging bad behavior,” and the guy wouldn’t leave me alone and eventually the driver actually pulled out a cable which he keeps in the car for just this type of thing and he started pounding it against his hand, like threatening the guy with it and he went right away at that point.
Bill: So were you with Samite at that time?
Nate: He was in the car.
Bill: So what did that, I mean, you could have…without the cable maybe but you could have a similar scenario in the United States, I mean, sometimes aggressive panhandling. Most people have run into that one place or another. This seemed different to you?
Nate: Well, it was different because I wasn’t used to the context. If I had been in New York, I probably would have been more assertive but because I never wanna offend anyone, of course, you know. Culturally sensitive to the point of overly sensitive.
Bill: Like, what is the meaning, you know, what’s the proper behavior here? And I bring this up, Nate, because one of the threads here is that, when a person in the United States just simply gets a diagnosis of dementia, a similar thing can happen where here’s this person, they’ve got a diagnosis of dementia and now people don’t know how to relate to them. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do.
Nate: They don’t wanna say the wrong thing.
Bill: They don’t wanna say the wrong thing, they don’t wanna talk about it, they don’t wanna not talk about it. They don’t wanna embarrass the person, they don’t wanna be embarrassed. And all of a sudden, a very simple thing like talking to somebody actually becomes really complicated. And what I heard in your story is that the cues, what the cues are in the context, are so important and that led you to have this experience. And then on the other hand, you could judge it however you wish, but the driver saw this as a very clear…it was simple and clear to the driver.
Bill: There was no…he wasn’t like, “Jeez, I don’t know what to do.”
Nate: And I felt like at that point that was the closest I’d gotten to being actually in Africa. I definitely felt like for the most part throughout the trip I was protected.
Bill: Right. You’re in somewhat of a little bubble.
Nate: I was in a bubble, for sure. And there were definitely places where it was safe to come out of the bubble and I did and it was pretty…my heart rate got going on a number of occasions, even just pulling over for gas or to use the bathroom. There’s like a long walk down to this latrine. There’s flies like crazy in there. I didn’t even open the door at one place and I just opted to hold it because, as I approached the door to open it, I could just hear the buzzing and I was just like, “I don’t even wanna go in there.” But yeah, just you know, you can’t…it was very eye-opening to feel like I’m the guy that everyone notices. I was the minority and I was the elephant in the room maybe. I don’t know if that’s really the right usage of that term but I couldn’t go anywhere without being like…everyone noticed me.
Bill: Yeah, you couldn’t, and this is something that we all…many people take for granted, not all, is being in a situation where you’re just blending in and you can be anonymous, you know what I mean? So that you were not, whether you were in the bubble or out of the bubble, you couldn’t really be anonymous?
Nate: No anonymity whatsoever, yeah.
Bill: You were the object of interest.
Nate: Right, and everyone assumes, and probably rightly so, white person in that part of Uganda, they get there because they have the means to get there and they generally will assume that you have money to give. And it’s an obvious conclusion to draw.
Bill: Yeah, that’s a long trip.
Nate: Yeah, and you’re out of your element and “it’s a jungle in there”. I don’t know how to say it, it was very intimidating in a lot of places and part of it is the fact that I didn’t just jump in a lot. I would have if Samite had said, you know, “Okay, here we go. Run down to the corner store and get…” you know. I did get out of the bubble on a number of occasions, as I mentioned. I mean, at one point when we were in Leda, we actually went to the salon and got our heads and beards trimmed. The guy was watching the women’s high jump in the Olympics and he kept like reacting to the TV as he’s got the straight razor on my neck.
Nate: That was a little…
Bill: “World record!”
Nate: Yeah, it was a little scary for a couple minutes. Anyway…
Bill: Well, you know we’re talking…and all I’m doing is just drawing lines, they’re not always accurate, but lines between the feeling some people have when, like for example, if I were to say to someone, “Come on with me. We’re gonna go visit people living with dementia.” In America, we call it a “secured unit,” and you know, you walk and the door closes behind you and all these people living with fairly advanced dementia. And for people who don’t really know, they would feel in some ways like you do, like, “Where do I stand? Where do I put my hands? Who do I talk to? Who do I not talk to? I don’t wanna create a problem. I don’t wanna be rude. I don’t know what to do.” And I will tell you, for my part, you know, Nate, on a similar thing. Remember the first time in my training, when I was in medical school but entering into and being part of a psychiatric unit in a hospital. And again, entering into the space and all of a sudden all those social things that I was so used to even on the hospital ward side, you know, “Yeah, yeah, we get it.” But in the psychiatric unit, I didn’t know how it went, how it all supposed to go. And I just wanna relate that to your experience of being in the bubble, venturing out of the bubble, questioning what’s right, what’s wrong, and the universality of it, I guess.
Nate: Yeah, it’s not something everyone experiences but it expands your worldview when you experience this. And I was, I think, mostly just, again, following cues. Samite was basically in charge and many times I said, “Oh, well, we could walk from the hotel down to get our hair cut, you know?” and he said, “No, no, no.” And you know, I would say, like, “These motorcycles that are everywhere.” Like, “One of these places we are, can we ask if we can go take a quick ride?” and he said, “Maybe,” but it was never.
Bill: Yeah, maybe not. So you were in Kampala and then…
Nate: We visited Brain Tree, which was amazing, totally amazing and it was, I think I started to say before, just the opposite in terms…it was not the opposite. It was just so good for me to see the range. Up until that point, I was like starting to feel like, “Oh my God, there’s so much suffering. That’s all there is.” And then that day…
Bill: Bright, warming faces.
Nate: It was amazing. So, more of the same. Following Brain Tree, we visited Shangilia. There was a very decrepit…maybe that’s not the right word. I picture Trenchtown, Jamaica. It was…just the road was not even a road and it was very narrow and it was only one road and it was probably two miles of just shack, shack, shack, shack, you know, just like tin roof, mud everywhere, trash everywhere. Squalor. Is that a word?
Bill: Yes, squalor is a word.
Nate: And that was very much like, you know, the driver and Samite and that cameramen we were traveling with from there. Not that particular spot. You know, African…they were like keep the windows up, keep the doors locked. And we’re bottoming out going through this road and we’re just in a sedan and we kind of got the feeling…like they kept saying if we hit one of these kids by accident, it’s like one of them runs in, we’ll be dead and they will just attack the car. I personally felt like I just was, as with the whole trip, I just kind of was like, “I’m ready for whatever was open. My heart was open. I wasn’t really scared but I almost…maybe they were trying to scare me but it would have been very scary for a lot of people, I think.
But this school, they’ve had investments from, there’s a family in Germany that I think paid to have the school built, or at least the new part of the school, unbelievably gorgeous campus. And I should mention it was a round building and you’re interested in architecture, I know. This was just a full-on round building with entryways in the four directions. A large stage on one side, dorms upstairs, boys on this side, girls on this side, gate in the middle. And classrooms downstairs underneath the dorms and a huge organic farm where they grow mostly all of the food that they eat. A skate park. Somebody had donated a whole bunch of skateboards and they built a skate park, a nice one with a grandstand.
Bill: Oh my.
Nate: Yeah not kidding. They really were living a good life, those kids. A lot of the kids come from the neighborhood.
Bill: The strip.
Nate: Yeah, the strip, a lot of them bored but I think, yeah, there’s probably a lot of them that go back and forth but it’s the most beautiful heartwarming thing, to see these kids come from such a destitute lifestyle. In the school, they have acrobat trainer, they have two music teachers, they have a whole slew of band instruments that Samite had donated, Wynton Marsalis actually donated them through Samite.
Nate: And again, we arrived there and they were like “Samite,” you know, they love him, not just because of the band instruments but just from previous visits. And they did a whole long show for us. They were doing unicycling and juggling and making pyramids and singing and, you know, the band we did. Everywhere we went, we would do a little mini performance for them as well. So just another heartwarming experience of people doing good in the world, you know, angels really, dedicating their lives to making life better for children. Amazing. We snuck in a little radio…a TV appearance actually. We did urban TV in Kampala. We were on the morning show there. Really gracious host, really intelligent host, actually semi-famous for being on Big Brother Africa. He was like the big star from Big Brother Africa. Now he’s into journalism and broadcast.
Nate: We played a couple songs and chatted about our mission and everything we’re doing and that was really nice. The really beautiful woman who was on the show after us that they were waiting in the wings for us to be done with the studio and she was very elated. Every song we finished, she would just cheer loudly and the cameraman after we finished, when we were off the air, he came up and he said, “Music is the best, you can feel it, you can feel it.” He was so inspired.
Bill: Nice! Really nice.
Nate: Yeah. It was fun. So then we were done in Kampala. I think we also visited a fan of Samite’s who had been trying to reach out via Facebook and social media for a long time. Samite didn’t connect with them but…I think the last night we were in Kampala, we went out to his house and he cooked a meal for us and we listened to his CD and he’s very inspired by Samite’s work. You could hear the influence but he also works in West African music too. He plays kora and actually best part of that night was that I got to play the kora. He brought his kora out in and he allowed me to play a few things. And of course, he recognized all the pieces that I play and that was fun.
Bill: And then hopped on the jet for Nairobi?
Nate: Yeah, then we headed to Nairobi and we were welcomed in by Samite’s stepson John who has a beautiful house that he rents in the nice area, and again, Nairobi has very wealthy neighborhoods and not so much. So John has a wall around his property and a gatekeeper, gardener essentially, it’s his gardener that is in charge of letting people in and out through the gate. But it’s, you know, it’s like an 8-foot, 10-foot wall with barbed wire over it and everything, and that was common all through. Anyplace where there’s development, that was pretty much standard.
Nate: But from then on, we stayed at John’s house. And so, in Nairobi, we went out to visit The Nest. That was a very interesting experience because we had a contact name Moses at The Nest and somehow somewhere there were some lines crossed and we drove out, our driver got the directions several days before. We were almost there, having a hard time finding it. We called the guy and he said, “Oh, no, no. We’re in Nairobi, right inside Nairobi.” You know, “Come back. We’re hoping you’ll be here soon,” and we had just driven an hour out. So we pulled over and we’re just like processing, “What’s going on here?” It turns out there was a different Moses somehow in the contact list and this guy just got a random call from us and he hears, “Oh, we’re trying to find your school,” and he ran a school, and he’s like, “Oh yeah, come soon.” And he even called back later after we figured out what had happened and we were on site at The Nest. We got another call from him like, “Are you coming soon?” It was kind of funny.
Bill: Oh! Multiple schools run by guys named Moses.
Nate: I was like, “Send us another Moses.” So The Nest was also incredibly sweet, much smaller. And in fact, I think Samite felt like it was really a pinnacle for us. The way they sang along with us, we recruited a couple of the kids to play drums with us that day. They had little homemade drums but they just had the spirit. And so actually I recruited the kid, like “come on up here!”, I’m sure you know. And they sang so beautifully and there’s so much energy. This wasn’t as well-funded of a place. It was a smaller place, fewer kids, fewer volunteers. A little more hectic but the energy was way over the top. And I believe that was the last of our work. After that we had a day or so before we left. John threw a party. We had a really nice time, met some really great folks, people doing great, amazing things. John’s neighbor is doing this great business where he’s merging all sorts of financial transactions into an app. He says Africa is way ahead in terms of mobile technologies because they’ve never really had a lot of wired lines. So they got involved in mobile really early. So he’s got an app where it does all your transactions all in one space and he’s doing really well for himself. But you know, we were up until I think 5 or 6 that morning. He was actually DJing. And he kept us going on, the next thing we knew, it started to get late and we’re like, whoa, I thought it was like 1 AM.
Bill: Dancing all night.
Nate: Yeah. We did a little day trip out before flying. We had a night flight coming home and we did a day trip up into the Ngong Hills, heard a lot about some of the tribalism that goes on out there on one side of the Rift Valley. Kikuyu zone, where we were driving through and, as we were going way way way way up this long hill, the car we were in overheated, so we had to stop and get out and let it cool down. But on the way in, as we were driving through, the woman who we were traveling with was telling us about how you don’t move in there, like even if you’re just a neighboring tribe, it’s like very insular. You can pass through, it’s not a big deal, but if you bought a house there or settled there, you just get robbed. You get robbed and robbed and robbed until you decide to leave, and if you’re lucky you’ll leave kind of thing. Kind of crazy, you know? I don’t mean to put forth stereotypes.
Bill: Well, I would say people could easily say, in the history of the United States, we have a rich selection of insular areas where the wrong type of person moves in and bad things happen. So I would rank that as a human phenomenon.
Nate: Yeah, good point.
Bill: And you’re right in the middle of it.
Nate: So anyway up on the hill there, the car overheats. We’re sitting there, admiring the gorgeous beauty of the surroundings, and some local kids came up and wanted to sell us their crafts that presumably their parents made because these kids were like five and seven, you know, that range. At first we didn’t buy…again, I was just following cues. As the car cooled down, we actually had a cooler with a bunch of ice in it and we drained it out into the radiator, so that helped. They ran, these kids ran down this mountain as we were driving down it and kept pace with us the whole way. And about halfway down, Jackie who was in the front seat, she’s speaking the local language, and you know, I could tell they were negotiating a price, you know, and eventually she said, “Stop, stop, stop.” And so they stopped and she bought a beautiful blue beaded basket and we drove on and the kids were psyched, you know, and they kept chasing us and offering us different things and Samite said, “Ooh, that looks nice. Here, pull over.” And so we bought another one and then, as we got to the bottom and they were right with us, they ran up to their parents and they were like, “Look, we got some money!” You know, it was really fun. And that was pretty much the last bit of the journey, you know. And then, of course, the long journey home. It’s always easier getting home, felt like it was a lot shorter. There wasn’t a giant one-day delay at the beginning of it.
We only lost a few of our craft trinkets and actually ironically you wrap all of the luggage in plastic so that the various handlers can’t pillage. Well, that’s something that I was thinking, “Oh, you know, you’ve got to watch out,” because in Africa it’s much less regulation and, well, we made it all the way…
Bill: You got pillaged.
Nate: We got pillaged by the United States Transportation Safety Administration. And I think they just skim, they don’t take the expensive things. They skim off the top and kick a couple little trinkets so that you don’t bother reporting it because it’s like, oh, they took the…what did I lose? I lost like 22 pencils that I bought that I was going to bring to the classroom, you know, on the first day of school. Anyway, somebody out there is enjoying them.
Bill: Somebody in the United States is enjoying them.
Nate: Yeah. Well, that’s my story.
Bill: Well, you know, that’s a great story. And this is important and, you know, why did we do two podcasts on this? Because this is really important and a big part, as far as I’m concerned, of ChangingAging is leveraging the work we’re doing here in the United States to kind of raise the flag for a new vision of aging and using some of the resources to support Samite and you, your work, in bringing music to children in Africa. Because we think it’s all connected. So I know that not everybody who listens to the podcast can have an opportunity to see us live. But you should definitely check out MusiciansforWorldHarmony.org. And it’s a great place and you can make any kind of contribution you want or none. But support the work. You just heard a pretty cool two-episode description by Nate of some of the work being done. And I have to agree with the cameramen in Kampala that, hey, this music thing, it’s wild, it’s wonderful. And knowing that the very same wonderful musicians who are on stage with us as we tour the country with the Age of Disruption Tour are also on stage at The Nest elementary school in Nairobi, and really that makes me proud and happy.
So, that’s it, a trip to Africa and back home, and I’m making sure that Nate is getting lots of rest and fluids and sleep because pretty soon he’s going to be hopping on the bus with us and we’re going to be heading out on the road, back to our mission of changing aging and disrupting aging and creating a better world for people of all ages. So I just want to say, this really excites me, this connection between Musicians for World Harmony and the Disrupt Aging movement. And we’re excited to have been part of helping Nate and Samite go do this wonderful work. So next podcast coming up. We’ll give you a report on the first swing of the fall season. All right. See you down the road.
Nate: See you down the road.