MONTHS ago, in response to an article I had written about books, a side-conversation began on email in which I was introduced to one Richard Sobol, about launching a book he had written on Uganda.
He already has four books about Uganda – ‘One More Elephant‘, ‘Breakfast In The Rainforest‘, ‘Abayudaya‘ and the one in question last year, ‘Delicious Peace‘.
The tone of the conversation seemed to suggest that the books were not already available or even known in Uganda even though they were about this beautiful country and its fantastic people.
I prodded a few people in our tourism sector but there was no interest whatsoever in his recent book even though books as a medium of communication are taken quite seriously in the ‘developed’ world, so much so that editors painstakingly comb through manuscripts to erase marketing-poised mentions of brands and other items that could benefit too much.
‘Breakfast In The Rainforest‘ (2010), for instance, is available on Amazon Online at US$7.99 (Ushs28,000) and piques the interest of most readers in the mountain gorilla. In fact, a couple of online reviews end with people saying they wanted to visit after reading it – even though it is classified as a children’s book.
By the way, Sobol is a photographer-writer, so his books are very visual.
‘Breakfast In The Rainforest‘ even carried an afterward by the actor Leonardo Di Caprio, to prove how popular Sobol’s work can be; and his other collaborations have been endorsed by the architect Frank Gehry, Robert F Kennedy Jr., and carried by publications like Time, The New York Times, Paris Match, Audubon, and National Geographic.
So I looked more keenly into his recent book, the one my contact, Author and Librarian Cathy Kreutter, was suggesting be promoted in Uganda.
‘Delicious Peace‘ led me straight to Namanyonyi, in Mbale, where the book is set, and I wasn’t reading it – I started at a YouTube video documentary about it that featured a 48-year old peace-loving coffee farmer in Mbale called J.J. Keki.
He is also a musician, he said, over a video shot of himself singing with his village mates playing some simple instruments behind him. He wore a skull cap that I thought was a katalabusi but got distracted at that point in the video because suddenly I was watching the September 11 plane attack on the World Trade Centre!
Then this J.J. Keki, Mbale farmer-musician, told us he was in the United States and right at the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 when the planes struck! He wanted to tour the place but it was hit and he had to flee the subway while watching the second building fall. Covered in dust, he fled along with thousands of others.
“That is when we learned that there were terrorists and these terrorists were connected with religion. When I flashed back to Uganda I said we should begin something. We have coffee, so maybe we make a co-op of Muslims, Christians, and my religion, I’m Jewish, and then we can teach the world how to work together,” he says.
Enter Peace (Mirembe) Kawomera Grower’s Society – the focus of ‘Delicious Peace’, a film about peace, harmony and coffee.
I was flabbergasted.
The rest of the story is gripping – not like the television dramas we hear about at award ceremonies, but if you respect peace, innovation, hard work and the triumphs that seemingly simple people achieve where complicated, rich, highly educated, urban-dwelling people many times fail to be useful, then you must watch that video, read the book, and read about Mirembe Kawomera.
I found that Mirembe Kawomera has been so successful as a coffee growers cooperative that they became certified as Fair Trade coffee suppliers into the United States – though not without challenges, as you will discover.
“Village guitar groups and women’s choirs sing to stress the transformative impact of Fair Trade prices and to encourage their neighbours to join the coffee cooperative. Accompanied with xylophone, drums and other traditional instruments, these farmers sing of the benefits of interfaith cooperation and, through music, teach new cooperative members how to produce great coffee,” says an album description.
And more: “J. J. Keki, the founder of the cooperative, says: ‘Use whatever you have to create peace! If you have music, use your music to create peace. For us, we have coffee. We are using coffee to bring peace to the world.”
And they are doing it in Lugweri, Luganda, Lugisu and some English.
Is he on the list of national medal recipients? I haven’t heard his name yet. Is he on the list for a Nobel Peace Prize, in this world where the whole President of the United States can see no way of bringing people with divergent religious beliefs together? Not that I have been told or can find on the internet. Is he or is the cooperative even on a list of special exporters maintained by the Uganda Exports Promotion Board and Uganda Coffee Development Authority? Ask them – their email addresses and phone numbers are online, and so are the names of most of their officials.
On what list are J.J. Keki and the people of Mirembe Kawomera (Delicious Peace)? My list of good Ugandans doing simple things to make this country look and sound good.
I respect them highly for that, and thank them for giving me another brand of coffee to try and buy rather than any imported brand with a name that means nothing as important to me, personally, or all of us, nationally, as Mirembe Kawomera (Delicious Peace).