Lucy and I made our first venture into town yesterday. We took a “special taxi”- this is what they are called- to the Imperial Hotel in downtown Kampala. Entebbe road, the main route to the city was crowded and upheld the developing country image seen so frequently in my classes. A deep red clay dirt road played host to a myriad of vehicles; “special taxis”, regular taxis, boda bodas (i.e. death defying and person packing motorcycles), bicyclists, and pedestrians. We are a long way away from home, as pedestrians certainly do not have the ‘right of way’, in fact, I will be surprised if we both walk out of this experience untouched by a car bumper or boda boda tire…
As we were driving into town, we were confronted with more images of poverty. Burning trash, street-side markets, people waiting in the shade of shanty-like dwellings… I have been struggling with an internal conversation going on… I feel so privileged and fortunate to have the history and situation I do; coming from America, and having the liberty to choose my future. I am caught looking outside my window as we drive into town, or through my sunglasses at people who are barely surviving. Even the place we are staying these first days… it costs more money than most in this area will ever make in their lifetime- but for us, it was an affordable transition into African living. We have a chef that cooks us amazing (but salty!) meals at our request. Eating such nutritious and hearty meals, knowing there are people starving literally right outside the gate is troubling. But what do I do? Do I go offer them food? Is that the right solution? What about this culture of dependency that I would be upholding? But does it matter on this micro scale, or does it matter more on this small of a scale?
As Lucy and I got into town, we found a map, and after some wrong turns eventually made it to the Hotel we will be living in the duration of our trip. It’s a great location, and is even a neighbor to a little juice bar. Oh my god! I ordered a mango/ orange juice. It was pressed fresh and was SO amazing! I have never tasted better fruit than I have here in Uganda so far. The mango was outstanding, and tasted like it was just picked at its peak. This will definitely be a frequent stop, and is well worth the 4,000 shillings (roughly $2).
As Lucy was enjoying her strawberry milkshake, and me, my juice, a little boy (could not have been more than 3 or 4) slowly entered the juice café and approached us with his hands in front of his chest, palms up. He was begging. We assumed that his parent, or guardian had walked by and seen two “mwangas”, or white people drinking luxury drinks and clearly had cash to spare- so he sent this child in to beg for money. We did not give him money. We said sorry, and hoped he understood what this word meant, but he reached out and touched Lucy. It was sad, yes, but what is more troublesome is that this situation even exists. Money would only perpetuate and fuel a culture of begging and reliance upon traveling foreigners to ‘spare some change’. The café owner saw what was going on, and approached the young boy. After reaching for his arm, the little boy began to cry (without tears) and hunch back towards the door. The owner, not wanting to scare him, let him go, but said something in Luganda, the local language, and the boy perked up, lifted his head, and cocked his eyes in curiosity. We saw the owner reach for two small dragon fruits and offer it to the boy. Food, rather than shillings. A waitress, seeing that the boy did not want to take this gift from the owner, a man, gave them to the boy. The little one left.
After a bit more walking around the city, and some photo sessions to capture the scene, we made it back to the hotel area to take a taxi home. For those of you reading this, you’ll understand that this was probably not the wisest move- to take a taxi out of Kampala on a Friday night at 6pm. Hello TRAFFIC! It was actually not too bad once you got out of the main center, but as white people, we were ridiculously overcharged (by about $10), and proceeded to tip him, not knowing that tipping is something optional and only done with exceptional service or familiarity with a person. Oh well- live and learn.
We made it back alive, and enjoyed a home cooked Ugandan dinner- veggie stew, white rice, and a cucumber/tomato/onion/vinagrette salad.
Today, Saturday, was a lazy day. Still getting used to the time difference, I got up on the earlier side and plugged in some French Rosetta Stone (thanks again Mer!). After breakfast, we could not ignore the amazing internet connection luck we were having, so we took advantage of some time online- just like ol’ times:) The Lodge certainly caters to its guests… we had a Nile Special beer and chilled until lunch was ready. After a rather heavy afternoon lunch, I took a nap and got up (wait for it…) just in time for dinner:) I need to start moving, all the salt and starches are beginning to catch up with me.
We called Otto, our main contact in Acholi quarters, and made arrangements to meet him tomorrow at “midday” (noon) so we can finally meet the members of the co-operative at their monthly meeting. Wow, people! I am going to meet our Acholi partners! Finally! I cannot even begin to express how excited I am… all this time I have waited, and worked for them in the US- telling their story, selling their beads, and promoting the movement of socially proactive business. To have it come full circle like this is phenomenal. I have seen their pictures, seen them in James’ amazing videos, and have read their stories, but to put life and a reality to all of that- just incredible. Stay tuned for reactions from this experience soon…
We had dinner tonight with a man named Alan, Kenyan by birth, South African by residency now, with a hint of English schooling in his talk. What an amazing man! He is a lawyer who is in Uganda on business. There is a conference being held near Lake Victoria hosting significant leaders and decision makers to reevaluate the International Criminal Courts definitions of terms. He said today they explored the term “aggression” and all it does- and does not- entail. It is wonderful to be meeting amazing people like this- Africans who are educated and passionate about a better future for this continent. One free of corruption, poverty, war, and suffering. As our conversation illustrated, there are so many problems in the world today- especially in countries in Africa. But the theme of our talk was more so about solutions and preventative measures to be taken to reduce reliance upon treatment and bandaging problems. We talked about progressive and effective grassroots efforts, and respect for state’s sovereignty and legitimacy, while recognizing that sometimes human rights violations are larger than a country and demand international assistance and intervention. Alan is exploring this- the balance of building state capacity, with the intention of that state one day being able to handle legal and societal issues itself, but in the meantime needing international justice groups to intervene- like the ICC.
I introduced him to Invisible Children and Interactive Radio for Justice, and he was very interested. He said that a former child soldier came to speak at the conference- to tell of his experience while fighting for the LRA rebel force here in Uganda. After seeing his mother, sisters, and father killed in front of him, he was kidnapped, at 9 years old, to kill or be killed essentially, to perpetuate the longest running war in African history- which is still going on today in northern Uganda, Congo, and spreading to southern Sudan. He escaped when an ICRC woman befriended him on a mission, and is now telling his story to convince suits and those on top to see the faces, and hear the stories involved in the conflict. Child soldiers is an area I am greatly interested in, and I encourage everyone to check out Invisible Children’s website and films and projects, and to educate yourself to educate others.
These posts are turning into rather long accounts of my days here so far. I hope you are still enjoying what you are reading. Everyone here is very friendly, and helpful, and I am SO excited about meeting the women on Sunday. It is surreal, and I am not quite sure how I will react… To see Biola face to face, and to know that Mama Esther is a real person… wow. And then to have the honor of working with them every day for the next two months- how lucky am I?
I encourage you to subscribe to this blog, if you are enjoying what you are reading. I am editing films, and will attempt to post weekly vlogs (video blogs). Lucy will hopefull get some pics up soon, and I will direct you to her site.
Take care everyone:)