Getting to Kyakataama is quite a journey. We flew to Entebbe International Airport and then drove for over five hours to this remote village in the west of Uganda – in the middle of the rainy season. We later learnt that the rain is a blessing as it washes away the dust that the mighty Rwenzori mountains hide behind during the dry season. The distant ‘mountains of the moon’ are like a fairy tale being realised, a mystery still but one that does not only live in our heads. Forests, small villages connected by red-soiled gravel roads and many lakes make it clear why Uganda has been called ‘the pearl of Africa’.
My friends Rayka and Jonas were nomads, artists and explorers. They believed that truthfulness lies behind every new exchange and artistic collaboration. As life-long learners, they always believed in the power of diversity to enable genuine engagement and honest artistic expression – in their work as an artist (Jonas Gerberding) and dramatist (Rayka Kobiella), as curators, and as hosts of a creative space. In 2018, they arrived in Kyakataama, in search of a place where people are kind and welcoming. It quickly became their home and they have generously shared it with like-minded people since. Our fragile world needs more storytellers and dreamers rather than more successful people. The dedication of these two kind-hearted dreamers – in the best sense – engages culture and ecology in pursuit of a sustainable and creative lifestyle that conserves and connects in a world that is keen to separate and conquer. They named their initiative ‘Toonda’, which means ‘to create’ in Swahili.
Toonda is a magical place that is liberating and open. Entering the space is like stepping into a wonderland. Their plot is abundant in natural resources, which they use as building materials. This allows for ecological sustainability while using local handcraft and workers. Their wooden treehouse hides behind big trees. Sitting on the terrace, I enjoy a fantastic view of a lake; I cannot think of any place that is more open to new ideas, to allow my inner voices to whisper again. While establishing this serene place as an alternative to the social void, Jonas contracted malaria and died in August 2019. Despite her grief, Rayka is keen to fulfil their joint dream and continues to build their home and a residency for international art exchange. She joins me on the terrace and we drink some gin and tonic. This place is spiritual and transcends our physical being, giving Rayka hope and strength to continue in spite of her sadness.
Partnerships are the backbone of Toonda. Ugandan curator Robinah Nansubuga offers her expertise and network to connect artists from the African continent with guests from all parts of the world to meet, create, and collaborate. The Sylt Foundation’s community arts project ‘Diverse People Remember’ partners with Toonda in many fields. This time around, the project connects the students of the Santa Rita Gaga High School in Rwihamba with students in other parts of the world through their family stories. This school is a far cry from our partner schools in Johannesburg. It is such a tremendous gift to connect young people from such different worlds together.