July 26 – GSC Update

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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.

Any donations are greatly appreciated. To donate, click here.

July 20 – Global Solidarity Challenge

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From July 23 – 28, I will be participating in VIDEA’s Global Solidarity Challenge, an annual fundraiser that aims to challenge participants to highlight how the inability to realize human rights impacts individuals. For my challenge this year, I am not going to use any transportation other than walking.Since arriving in Uganda, I have observed how the ability to access seemingly simple things like different modes of transportation, exemplifies unjust and unequal income levels, and is also a fault line that divides those who can more easily access and realize a variety of rights.

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My walk from home (Mpumudde) to Arise and Shine (Jinja)

I have been inspired by VIDEA’s integrity and commitment to social justice and human rights. Over the past years, we have seen a global reduction in aid spending, a hesitancy to fund rights-based work, and an end to long-term/sustainable funding. Now, organizations compete to secure short-term project funding. Working in solidarity with organizations in the Global South to hold duty-bearers accountable for upholding rights is of paramount importance to create long-term sustainable change and yet funding for programming on human-rights, gender and environmental is scarce. In order to work in solidarity with organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, over a long period of time, and on topics that aren’t “sexy”,  VIDEA needs help from individual donors to continue their work.

If you are interested in following what I will be doing, check in next week for updates as I focus on the role that human movement plays in human rights. In the meantime, I am swallowing my embarrassment and asking for you to donate anything you can. To donate, click here to go to my Challenge page.

July 4 – Complexity

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I just erased what I had written. Apparently blogging this is more difficult than I thought it was going to be! I had written bullet points summarizing the history of Uganda and Jinja. There is much to be said, written about, and discussed. I could write about how Uganda has been a site of religious contestation between Muslims, Catholic and Protestant missionaries. I could discuss how the British colonised Uganda, using indirect rule to ensure that their commercial interests were well-served. I could spend time writing about the different kingdoms that existed in the region and their cultural and political structures. I could speak about the lingering impacts of the British annexing several different ethnic groups and kingdoms into one country, with no consideration of cultural/linguistic/political differences.

While helpful to ground contemporary realities within historical context, whatever I wrote, however, seemed inadequate and broad. It seemed to fail to capture anything beyond the basics. I didn’t know where to start, where to end, and how to move beyond scratching the surface. And so, instead, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the complexity and dynamism of social and global relations and affirm my desire to seek out and bear witness to the people and places that are less well known to me.

Upon telling people that I was going to Uganda, the most common response was to confirm that that was where Idi Amin, the infamous dictator, had ruled. Usually, that was the extent of people’s knowledge about Uganda. And it makes sense. In Canada, Uganda is not a country that we hear about on the news regularly or have learnt about in school. It is a place that is seemingly far away, disconnected, different, and dangerous.

When we think about things that are seemingly far away and incomparable to our own lives, however, it can be easy to fall on generalizations and stereotype. Even if done unintentionally, we draw on the few images we have seen (in this case the poor ‘Africa’ from World Vision commercials and LiveAid, the sweeping landscapes and wildlife of Planet Earth documentaries, and the odd World News story of conflict), to help make sense of things. With our collective lack of exposure, Uganda can quickly become just another place in Africa, and, very quickly, Africa – the second largest continent with 54 countries – can become a homogenous place full of wild, spectacular animals, a place devoid of human settlement, and a ‘country’ that has fallen victim to civil strife, poverty, famine, corruption and disease. And the more that these common themes are repeated and reinforced, the more they appear to be real tropes.

It is not that these stories we know of “Africa” are wrong (although some have been), but that they are incomplete, simplified, singular, and often devoid of broader context and interrelations.  These pervasive but limiting depictions of ‘Africa’ do no justice to the diversity that is present here.

People here are just like people back home, in so far as they are all different. This evening, while waiting for my rolex (a omelette wrapped in a chapati) and adding air time to my phone, I met a Pastor, a born-again Christian, who was convinced that I needed to be saved and accept Jesus as my saviour. He wanted to come to Canada to preach the Gospel. The woman I bought the rolex from was not enthused by his diatribe and described the Pastor as crazy. This morning I was stared at by a toddler (my presence almost made her cry) and was followed by other children who laughed at me. This afternoon I was greeted by a gramma, and ignored by many others. I have never shaken so many hands, or been asked so consistently how my day is going.  Each of these people that I meet have a different life story and have experienced the history of Uganda differently. I can’t summarize the history of Uganda because whatever I say, I will be leaving other parts out. My desire is not to summarize, pathologize, theorize or explain, but rather to acknowledge my privilege, my role within the global economic structure, and observe and hear the multiple, heterogeneous and complex stories of individuals.