First full day features views, mosque, wedding
Some students visited the mosque in Kampala, where they (and their cameras) were welcome. (Victor Grossling | The Media School)

Some students visited the mosque in Kampala, where they (and their cameras) were welcome. (Victor Grossling | The Media School)

Sunday, May 21, my first full day in Uganda.

Sunday, as in many places in the world, is a day of rest in Kampala.  Even the ATM machine refused to dispense shillings.

The day was a spiritual one: Our small group visited three places of worship, beginning with the Church of Uganda followed by a mosque and an Anglican church.  In this excerpt, I will be sharing my experience at the mosque.

The Gaddafi Mosque (named for the former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who provided most of the funding) is the second largest mosque in Africa, second only to the Hassan II Mosque in Morocco.

Before stepping inside, the women of our group were escorted to a small tent outside, told to cover their heads with hijabs and their legs with long skirts.  Necks, ankles and hair disappeared, replaced with surprised but smiling faces.

Everyone climbed the steps to the entrance of the grand worship chamber, leaving our shoes at the door and seating ourselves in small circle on the Arabian carpet lining the floor.  Pillars towered above us, pushing the domed ceilings into the sky.  Muslims scattered through the room prayed and talked quietly.

A wedding party assembled outside the mosque. (Victor Grossling | The Media School)

A wedding party assembled outside the mosque. (Victor Grossling | The Media School)

Our footsteps and shutter clicks drew glances but were not obtrusive.  The massive structure can hold 35,000 worshippers at a time, but on this day hosted fewer than a hundred.

Distant drums and chanting were heard in the background.  There was a wedding today.

We exited to the minaret overlooking all of Kampala and learned from our guide about each of the seven hills of the city.  Old Kampala, where the mosque sits, was the original epicenter of British Colonial rule in Uganda: All roads lead from it to the seven hills and various districts.  The view was breathtaking.

Returning to the ground, we walked right into the middle of the wedding.  A Mercedes Benz E class adorned with streamers and balloons awaited the newlyweds, bridesmaids and groomsmen posed and danced, and a group of drummers thumbed a steady rhythm to which the whole group moved.  Never have I seen such a seen a more beautiful ceremony.  Everyone was eager to talk to us and ask us questions about ourselves.

Students, wedding party and guests soon were snapping photos and friending one another on Facebook. (Victor Grossling | The Media School)

Students, wedding party and guests soon were snapping photos and friending one another on Facebook. (Victor Grossling | The Media School)

Everyone was dressed beautifully: the women wore bright dresses, the men smart suits.  No one was wearing shoes, and the mutual respect for the sacred grounds of the mosque was certainly nothing to laugh at.  A group of complete strangers were more than welcoming to our cameras and wanted to take pictures with us.  Friendships formed like wild fires, and FaceBook information was exchanged.  Every handshake lasted at least 10 seconds.

I’ve never felt so well received anywhere in my life, and my experience at this religious center is one that I won’t soon forget.  My confidence in navigating this country and knowing the people here has grown immensely today.  I look forward from today to long handshakes drums and dancing.