This morning, it felt like the sun didn’t rise. Big heavy clouds and wind whipped the banana trees around outside of our house. Mimi and I kept looking out the window, looking at each other, and tried to guess when the storm would start. 20 minutes before we had to start walking to get to work on time, the rain began. From what we’ve experienced so far, storms blow over quickly, so we gave ourselves an extra 10 minutes to see if the rain would slow down, which thankfully, it did. As it drizzled outside, I put my rain cover on my backpack, Mimi put on her sweater, and we headed out. Within 3 minutes, Mimi’s flip-flop had broken apart in the thick, clay-like red dirt mud path that we were walking along. Laughing, we returned home and Mimi changed footwear into something more sturdy (Crocks). There were fewer people on the road today, but there were still students out walking to school, men bicycling to town, and bodabodas weaving through traffic. The mud quickly created a thick, cast-like mould on the bottom of my sandals and I actually felt like I was wearing platform shoes.
Before coming to Uganda, I was living in Victoria, BC, which is on the “wet coast” of Canada. I biked to and from work (without fenders on my trusty old road bike) and would often arrive to work looking more like I had just gotten out of the shower than a young professional. When it was raining heavily, I would often ask, plead, bribe or negotiate a ride to work with my boyfriend. If he was really unable to, I would choose to take the bus to work. Biking to and from work was an environmentally-conscious undertaking, a way to save money, and a means of building physical activity into my office job. I always had the option of other means of transportation at my disposal.
Before leaving home this morning, there was such a temptation to take a matatu (taxi van) into town and extract myself from the unpleasantness of walking in the rain for an hour, getting wet, and feeling uncomfortable. It would have been relatively easy to do so. We could have justified it for safety (we might slip and fall, right?), or because there were fewer people on the street, and it seemed that people were either finding other means of transportation, or were waiting it out at home. Couldn’t we just do what they were doing? What’s the point in solidarity if it seems like you’re the only one doing it?
Solidarity isn’t always visible. For me, walking everywhere for the week and not using other transportation is not really about walking. It’s actually really nice to stretch my legs and walk, and it is lovely to walk home with my coworkers, spend time with them and getting to know them better. The Global Solidarity Challenge is more about the fact that for some, there is no choice. There is no means to choose the most comfortable (or even more importantly – the most safe) way to get somewhere. Economic inequality means that, possibly, in certain situations you must look at the opportunity cost of taking transportation. It might mean that by taking a motorcycle today when it is drizzly, you can’t take one tomorrow when your child is sick and you need to go to the clinic; taking transportation every day might mean that you can’t buy food towards the end of the month, or afford school fees for your children. For some, accessing transportation is about lack of choice and, for women and children especially, means putting yourself at greater risk – sometimes, you must walk in the dark, in a storm, or by yourself. I acknowledge the privilege I have in my ability to choose/ask for/pay for/access the type of transportation that I want/need. I acknowledge those who do not have the ability to choose and are forced into unsafe or precarious situations.
To learn more about VIDEA’s Global Solidarity Challenge, visit their page.
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