Dec 9 – Conversation

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The art of conversation…before leaving for Uganda, I had a conversation with my supervisor, who spoke about how she often attempted to engage people in random conversation in Victoria, BC. She would chat with the teller at the grocery store, the person in front and behind her in line, and try to draw multiple people into the conversation. The strange part is that it took effort. It was a conscious decision on her part to converse with the people around her. She is an incredibly kind, social, warm person, and usually had positive responses from people. But for most people living in North America, we have forgotten how to engage in the act of random conversation. During our pre-departure training, we discussed how time is perceived differently for many people living on the continent of Africa – in North America, we are task oriented, driven by checklists, by accomplishing tasks, and by moving sequentially through the things that we need to do. Our effectiveness is judged according to how efficient we are. In contrast, we were told that for the majority of Africa, many people place more importance on developing and maintaining relationships with people. Conversing with people is as important as checking the next thing off your list and social ties trump going through tasks sequentially. (As a caveat, there are differences within both North America and Africa, as you move from more urban to more rural settings). Speaking to friends about living in rural settings in Uganda, or going to visit family during the holidays, they have explained that it can take a day to go greet everyone in the community and you arrive back home stuffed from being fed by all of your neighbours. If you don’t go to greet your neighbours, you will most likely be judged. Alternatively, someone told me that if you are in a rush in rural Uganda, you need to either plan your route (to avoid certain houses that you know take longer to greet), leave early, or show up late as you know that you’ll have to stop and greet every house along the way.

When I arrive at work, it takes a good half hour to fully say hello to everyone at work. The conversations with each staff member usually start the following questions:

How are you?

How is your morning?

How was the night?

How is here?

How is there?

How is your family?

How is your home?

And, depending on the answers, you ask other things. Building relationships with co-workers has been the sweetest experience, and one that I wouldn’t have done if I had gone in with a super professional, North American attitude. Small talk and random conversation is a live and well, compared to back home, where we face much more social isolation and individualistic motives. You don’t strike up a conversation with the person sitting beside you on the bus, you put your headphones on. You don’t chat with the person in line in front of you, you check your phone. My initial reaction when a random person speaks to me back home is usually mild suspicion – especially if it goes over anything more than the obligatory “how are you”. If someone you don’t know says “Hi” to you, it’s often to sell something. And, as a woman, I often avoid eye contact to also avoid engaging with slightly creepy men.

Over the past 6 months, I have made friends with servers at local cafes and restaurants, owners of market stalls, and random people around town – all of this facilitated by people generally being friendly and open to conversation here. People in Jinja are open to becoming your friend. And it’s a beautiful thing. As I write this, it’s my last full day in Uganda. I will spend lots of time today saying goodbye to the sweet people I’ve met here. I am so grateful for learning from people here how to greet people, how to show people you care, how to be open to conversation, and how to place value and importance on relationships with people around you.

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Nov 29 – See you

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One of my co-workers is taking tomorrow off – she told me, as she was leaving “see you in December!” How unbelievable! As I thought would happen, the past 3 months have flown by. Time has played its trick on me, and won. What I love about spending long periods of time in one place is not only that you get to scratch the surface a bit and learn about where you are, but you also get to establish routines and get to the point where you are just living your daily, regular life in a different place – you have the time to sit and chat with people, to explore relationships, and to become a (bit of a) ‘regular’ around town.

Most of my days start with an hour walk to work along a busy highway and cow trails. I stop for mandazi (kind of like a donut bun) from a young guy close to my home. I go to the Arise and Shine Babies Home to check in with the staff there, greet them (and the children), see how they are doing, or if there are any problems. Then I walk through a small market, pick up water, head to the Office and get some computer work done (writing policy, creating training documents, emails), and have meetings with either staff or volunteers. The staff at the office then eat a lunch of some combination of posho, rice, matooke, beans, ground nut sauce and cabbage together. We chat. At the end of the day, I usually walk the rest of the way into town to visit people or head to a cafe to work on the seemingly tireless stream of work. Go home, read, sleep, repeat.

However, while I describe my daily life and how routine it is (similar to back home when you work a steady 9am – 5pm job), I’ve been able to have some weekend adventures (that’s also the only time I seem to bring out the camera…and apparently only with my Fernie Brewing Co. shirt on – thank you Rita!). Here are some highlights from the past month:

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Awkward shot at the equator with Jaxxen on our way to Western Uganda to head into the Gorilla Highlands near the Rwandan/DRC/Ugandan border.

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Sadly sending Renate, one of AASU’s stellar volunteers off, onto her next adventure

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Uganda vs. Congo Brazzaville football match in Kampala

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Part of the herd of elephants that crossed the road right infront of us at Murchison National Park. There is currently oil exploration and drilling going on in/near the park – click here to read more.

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Chelsea, with Ollie the Elephant backpack at Murchison Falls.

October 23 – Western Privilege

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In my last blog post, I mentioned the notion of Western privilege. In 1988, Peggy McIntosh, the Associate Director of the Wellesley Centres for Women wrote a seminal article titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. I read this article in a second year course during my undergraduate course taught by an amazing professor (Dr. Cristabel Sethna) on Power, Race and Gender. Reading that article as part of that course opened my eyes to a new way of conceptualizing and recognizing the power and privilege that I, as a white person, experience in the world.

McIntosh did not use the word “invisible” lightly – to me, it is the defining feature of privilege. Often people who experience (unearned) privilege are unaware of the “social, legal and economic constructs of how race benefits white people in their daily lives”. This is not because people don’t care, but because, coming from the dominant culture/class/gender/religion/country, these privileges are unacknowledged (unaware/naturalized/unintentional). While people often don’t see the privilege they experience, they also don’t see the systems of oppression/discrimination because oppression rears its head in the form of micro-aggressions or everyday forms of sexism/racism, etc. For the dominant group, privilege is often naturalized, which means that those from the dominant group don’t see it, or they are able to gloss over it.

McIntosh lists 50 different examples of how white racial superiority is structurally enforced within American (and Western) society. Interestingly, basically every single item on the list, created in the 1980s, is still relevant today. In the list, the most poignant examples of white privilege for me are:

  • I can be pretty sure that if I talk to the ‘person in charge’, I will be facing a person of my own race (this exists also largely with male privilege – “I will be facing person of the same gender”),
  • I am never asked to speak for all of the people of my racial group, and,
  • when I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is (this also extends to male privilege – “I am shown that people of my gender made it what it is).

If your first response to these examples is anger or “that’s not true”, sit with that feeling for a moment. Try adding to the beginning “On average…”. Sometimes the response to knowing that we are perpetuating discrimination is to say “it’s not my fault”, or “I’m not a bad person”. No one is saying that. But it is important to expand the voices you listen to, to acknowledge other people’s experiences and realities, and to realize that your experience is not universal.

The list from McIntosh and her colleagues goes on and on. What it taught me was that most of the oppression/violence/trauma experienced by people remain micro moments…it’s difficult to recognize unearned privilege until you no longer experience it or until it is pointed out to you. I thought, when I started university, that I was a very open-minded and culturally sensitive person that was invested in social justice. But I was completely unaware of the unearned privilege that I experienced, based on my skin colour, and how I unknowingly contributed to systemic oppression. Systemic oppression for many is invisible until you engage in introspection and listen to different voices.

McIntosh’s list demonstrates how broader structures of oppression are experienced in small but very real, daily ways by people. These are small enough that often they go un-verbalized. Discussing them daily would be too time consuming, or too painful, especially if the response from sharing is to be told that you are too sensitive, too politically correct, no one listens, or nothing changes. However, while finding “skin tone” Band-Aids that don’t match YOUR skin tone (another example) may not be a life or death moment, collectively, these small moments have a big impact.

Privilege is not just experienced by men, or by white people. It is also experienced by societies and countries. While in Uganda, I have been contemplating the unearned privilege I have, given that I come from Canada. While intersectionality means that not everyone everywhere experiences privilege in the same way (based on ones’ gender/religion/race/socioeconomic status/sexual orientation/etc), this is a list of things that many people living in Western countries experience:

  1. I can apply for a visa and, if denied, I know it is not because of the country I come from.
  2. People from my country travel to other countries to do voluntourism.
  3. People from my country travel to other countries to do mission work, to ‘save’ people.
  4. I can easily access news about my country from abroad.
  5. I am never labelled as ‘backwards’, ‘cultural’, ‘helpless’, or ‘irrational’.
  6. I can access relatively affordable communication technology and stay in touch with family and friends around the world.
  7. My country participated in, or benefited from, colonialism.
  8. Most educational degrees received from my country are recognized by foreign institutions or are easily transferable to other countries.
  9. I can choose to learn, or not learn, about other places around the world. My choice will not have a bearing on people’s opinion of me and will not affect my opportunities.
  10. I have relatively easy access to credit and banking.
  11. I have relatively easy access to different means of transportation.
  12. I’ve never had to consistently ask family/friends/co-workers/community for money.
  13. When I travel, I don’t have to explain where I come from.
  14. No one assumes/thinks/worries that I will seek asylum/refugee status when I travel.
  15. Policies made in my country have an impact in other countries. I don’t have to worry about food and products being dumped into my country.
  16. Good quality primary and secondary education are free where I come from.
  17. Whether I use them or not, I have relatively more access to opportunities.
  18. I can move to another country and be called an expatriate, instead of an immigrant.
  19. The currency of my country is relatively strong. Moving to another country will likely make purchasing/buying things easier, not harder.

October 16 – Questions

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When I was 23, I lived in Udaipur, India for 3 months. When I was 24, I moved to Seoul, South Korea to teach English for a year. I have traveled to Nicaragua, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia. Now, having lived in Uganda for almost 4 months and nearing the end of my time here, I have been reflecting on questions I often get asked by family and friends while I am away and when I return home.

The first question that I tend to get asked is: are you safe? Is it dangerous? This question stems from a place full of love and concern for my safety, but is a question that I wouldn’t really get asked if I was living in Switzerland, or even the United States. This question drips with colonial/post-colonial/Othering stereotypes. There is an assumption that these places are dangerous and that I am ‘brave’ to go there. ‘Developing’ spaces are painted as places that are always on the brink of war, where people are overcome by emotions, where there is corruption, a lack of law and order, and are scary to visit. Yes, scary places do exist to visit. And yes, while travelling, sometimes bad things do happen (although some/many of these can be attributed to a lack of cross-cultural competence). However, the places that I have lived in and been to are no where near close to being conflict zones. When responding to these questions, it is hard to realistically delve into the legitimate risks (Uganda has a much higher traffic accident rate than Canada, so I need to be cautious on the roads; as a white Westerner who appears to be affluent, I am more likely to be pit-pocketed than a local), what is the same as back home (just like in Canada, I don’t walk around by myself at night, because, just like in Canada, there might be a couple creepy people out there), and things that are plain silly (no, there is no civil war here. Or as I experience when living in South Korea, no North Korea is not going to drop a nuclear bomb on us). Only asking this question to people who visit countries in the Global South overlooks the fact that conflict, violence, and lack of safety are things that can happen anywhere. One of my professors was robbed in Barcelona, Spain. A girl in Kingston, Ontario was attacked outside of her house for speaking out against a Men’s Rights group while I was at Queen’s. Cops shut down a street in my hometown because there was someone stabbing people on the loose. We, as a society, seem to have designated certain areas as “safe”, which, to be honest, tend to be white, Western spaces, and “unsafe” spaces tend to be ‘ethnic’, ‘tribal’, or ‘developing’. When we designate the “other” as unsafe, we are (intentionally or unintentionally) glossing over the violence that exists in our own context.It’s not to say that bad things don’t happen in these spaces, or that they don’t have challenges, or you don’t need to take precautions, but it reflects the fact that we see ourselves as exceptional, as outside the realm of violence. This is especially damaging as it can also mask how we, as Canadians, are connected with the rest of the world: a Canadian-owned gold mining company, Barrick Gold, operating in Tanzania is facing backlash after a government inquiry which found that through its use of police force, 65 people have been killed and over 270 people injured (click here to read the story). Another Canadian mining company, Nevsun Resources, is fighting a lawsuit that it has used slavery in its mining operations in Eritrea (click here to read the story). The list goes on and on of Canadian companies who are engaged in resource extraction being party to human rights abuses and environmental degradation. Violence is not insular and not exceptional. We are all implicated.

Another question I get asked is: you must feel very grateful after seeing all the poverty over there? This one has usually stumped me. The easy/simple answer: Yes. I feel lucky. It’s hard to witness poverty. The slightly more thorough answer is: I am grateful for all of the privilege that I have. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to travel. I am grateful that I have been able to go to school. I am grateful that I have the privilege of choice.

Both of these answers, however, are incomplete. The long answer takes a lot more time and isn’t one that most people expect/want to hear. Focusing on this type of gratitude implies (and creates) this weird power differential between us as ‘people who have things’ and them as ‘people who don’t have things’. Having studied voluntourism and listened to talks by people like the Kielburger brothers (celebrity-crazed, commercialized “We Days” anyone?), we are bombarded by messages about how travelling will change your life – it will make you realize all that you have (by seeing people who don’t have as many things – and yet can still smile and be happy!), make you a better person (by giving things to people/building a school), and change your values (building humility through helping people who have less than you).Travelling/voluntouring will transform you into a new/better person [insert Facebook profile picture of you with black children]!

This view of people who live differently than us is (as people to be compared against and who come up lacking) is ridiculously patronizing. It places us at the center, as the agents of change, going into a static/timeless culture to help them progress. It simplifies and reduces people. It negates the good, the positive, the instances where people over here have their s*!t figured out and know what’s up and instead focuses on what people don’t have – instead of seeing people who have a way more environmental lifestyle, we see people who lack material things. Instead of seeing a child who is playing outside with their friends, we see a kid with no shoes and dirt on their face. Instead of seeing many conflicts as vestiges of colonialism/neo-colonialism, we see them as “tribal”. We gloss over the systems of community and reciprocity where people pitch in for each other’s weddings, funerals and celebrations, where you greet people that you know and become friends with strangers (and they don’t think you’re crazy like back home), and you are physically active. We are surprised that people living in “places like this” can still smile and be happy. We get annoyed when people in developing countries express frustration at persistent inequality between countries (don’t they know we’re trying to help them?!).

People here, just like people everywhere, are just people, insofar that they’re all unique and complex. People are more than their sum parts. They are more than their poverty, their religion, their family, or their good/bad days. When we talk about the Global South/Developing world, we need to move away from paternalistic, simplistic and patronizing interpretations of people living in other areas. We need to check ourselves, and hold integrity and dignity as a core value. We don’t need Western, middle-class teenagers going to ‘Africa’ to build a school. We need those same teenagers to help level the playing field by holding corporations accountable, calling for changes to trade regulations, and holding governments accountable to fulfill their duties. We don’t need to “empower” people in other countries. We need to respect people who already know what they want to change in their own country (which often includes how Western countries need to stop patronizing/exploiting them). We need to work in solidarity and collaboration across cultures, which means taking an honest look at both the good and the bad of both the country you’re in, and the society you come from. So more than feeling grateful, I recognize the structural/Western privilege I enjoy by virtue of being born in Canada and I am lucky to meet and learn new things from wonderfully intelligent, kind people.

October 10 – Bushara Island

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At the end of September, Mimi and I went to visit 2 fellow interns, Nicole and Faye at the eco-resort they are working at on Bushara Island, which is in Lake Bunyonyi in Western Uganda. I fell in love. There are basically no words that can explain how lucky I feel to have witnessed this part of the world…so I will let pictures do it for me. All I can say is, you should go.

Click here to see more about Bushara Island Camp.

Sept 26 – Half Way

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2 Thursdays ago I took my fairly worn out flip-flops to the cobbler to get fixed. They were pretty beaten up and the toe plug kept falling out, which is not surprising considering that they have escorted me on our 5km daily journey to work + trips around town for the past 3 months. I watched in amazement as the cobbler stitched and glued my shoes back together, giving them life again. Why is this not common practice back home? Why do we throw things away when one part of something breaks instead of trying to fix them? I know some will say that in Canada it’s more expensive to fix things than to buy new again…which is sad. I waste so many resources that I could fix and keep using if I put some effort into it. This is a practice that I would like to take home with me…one of the many things that we can do to develop ourselves.

3 months of wear and tear on my flip flops, 3 months of walking, 3 months of being in Jinja. It seems hard to believe. 2 weeks ago marked our mid-way point, which for me marks a shift in time. Travelling plays tricks on time – with a definite amount of time somewhere, there seems to always be either an abundance or scarcity of it. At first you are lost, then you’re adjusting, making friends, figuring work out, and then, before you know it, you’re coming home! The adjustment time seems to go oh….soo…slowly… while the end of your trip seems to meld multiple weeks down into days. It’s the same as what I experienced with summer holidays as a kid. Even when it felt like there was plenty of holiday time when school let out, by half way through in August I would lament that summer was almost over. I have yet to figure out how to deal with this flip in time when travelling and I’m curious to know if other people experience this too!

Sept 6 – Being Lost

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“You are lost.”

The first time I heard this phrase directed at myself, I was confused. I was walking down the road and had come across a friend whom I had not seen in about a week.  I thought “What do you mean? I’m not lost. I’m on the street outside the office.” I am not particularly inclined to directions (my partner can attest to this). It takes awhile for me to get my bearings and feel like I know where I am…and I FINALLY did! I knew where I was, the name of the street I was on, what direction I had come from (South-east) and what direction I was heading in afterwards. For a split second, I was overwhelmed with doubt about my abilities and I thought ‘oh no, maybe I AM lost!’ (I quickly talked myself out of that thought) and then I was just confused. “Pardon”, I asked?

“It has been many days I have not seen you.”

OHHH! Well, that makes more sense. It had been a while. Maybe a week. He meant that I had been figuratively lost to him. At first, I chuckled to myself about how funny that sounded and the barriers that exist between people speaking the same language, but speaking it differently (I have also come across problems with people understanding my ‘o’s – I pronounce them differently than people here and have had a hard time communicating about ‘bottles’ and ‘potties’…which is a problem when working around children).  As I thought about it more, the phrase grew on me…you are lost. Was I lost? In a way, yes. Travelling and living abroad is partially an act of being lost. Being lost is an apt description of how I’ve felt for most of the past 2 months – at first I felt like a complete fish out of water. I was lost to my routine back in Canada, my family and friends, my food, my coffee, my ability to speak quickly and unclearly and still be understood (my mother and father would strongly contest this point)…in essence the multitude of things in my surroundings that makes me, well, me. I am lost to most of my old reference points. However, and this is the truly great thing about exploring new spaces, is that slowly slowly (mpola mpola), you learn, grow, and create new reference points. You come with your own background and stories, but you also make new connections between things that seem otherwise unconnected. I am taking on new behaviours (I now say “you are lost”), new language skills, new friendships and try new things.

This past weekend, a bunch of us gathered to play basketball on the court of a local highschool – I have not played basketball since…maybe Gr. 9? In Canada, my reference point to organized sports is a bunch of well-coordinated people running circles around me. As a person with two left feet (and two right hands, for that matter),  “playing for fun” in these contexts often didn’t really feel fun. With them, though, I created a new reference point for sports – that they can actually, truly be played just for fun and it’s OK if you kinda stink at it. There was no concern about fouls or penalties (I don’t even know if those are basketball things – clearly, I didn’t learn anything). It was just for FUN. For the sake of laughing. If I am currently lost, or stay lost, it seems like a pretty sweet place to be.

August 23 – Discomfort

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During our pre-departure training, we were told to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This brings to mind trying to sleep with chickens crowing right outside your window, letting your intestines adjust to new food, taking cold showers, or being smushed into the back of a taxi van. Before departing, these physical discomforts were more apparent, more easily imagined, and more readily explained. They are also easier to overcome.

What I am finding difficult is the internal discomfort that comes from constantly coming face to face with the fact that I am privileged beyond belief. In Canada, I come from, and still residing in, a predominantly white/middle-class/bourgeois area. My heritage matches Canada’s dominant culture and I look like most of the people I live around. My privilege in my home context is normalized, engrained, and almost feels invisible. That is to say, I am not regularly confronted by my privilege. However, my privilege is exemplified in the very act I am now participating in: a white, English-speaking, educated, cis-woman who is taking a 6 month leave to participate in an internship. The fact that I sit here today writing this blog, and spend hours tinkering over wording, reflecting on my privilege, and thinking about how I feel uncomfortable being here is just part of my privilege.

Acknowledging and reflecting on discomfort and worry can be unnerving, but can also be a source of strength. Since coming to Uganda, I have felt insecure and unsure of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it –  and I think this is a good thing. I have been conditioned to have confidence in myself, to believe that what I say and think matters, that my ideas are good, that I am smart, that I can make a difference and that there is a solution to most problems. I have also been conditioned to judge others, to seek out approval, to believe that my culture’s way is the right way of doing things, and to ignore/undervalue things I don’t understand. However, I am aware that my  presence (and the presence of other people like me) can be a continuation of the colonial Othering process. How and why is it that some volunteers/interns feel that they know what’s best for the organization or what needs to change when they have just arrived? Why, after so much education and critique of the development system, do I still feel the desire to partake in development work? What personal reward do I get, and what stereotypes and discourses does that reward derive from? What do I hope to achieve, and why does it need to be achieved in THIS space? The reflective process of asking questions and breaking down assumptions/values that we have are especially important when we’re working in a cross-cultural setting. And the answers are important with regard to staying humble and acknowledging that I don’t have the all of the answers and I don’t have to.

Being here is also a reminder of all the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and challenges that our current world economic order creates. I’m not talking about poverty being shocking (if it was about shock, I would focus on East Hastings in downtown Vancouver). It’s about dealing with the fact that the world is so systematically unfair and unjust when it doesn’t need to be. For all of the rhetoric that capitalism makes it possible for people to improve their situations, that the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ and that all we need is a ‘go-get-it’ attitude, living in other places reminds me that the world is still deeply divided along economic lines and I (we, in Canada) benefit from these divisions. The hypocrisy of the ‘development’ project is overwhelming when I am brought face-to-face with wonderful, warm, intelligent people who have very different struggles in life because of where they happen to have been born. The structures of power – which are helped and held up by all of us – the privileged/weak, the political/apathetic, the naive/informed, the patriarchal/progressive – resist changes and movement. ‘Development’ can be used as a way of appeasing and compensating for ongoing brutality, and as a way of glossing over structural barriers to equality. Real, long-term, transformative change, that accounts and compensates for decades and centuries of oppression/violence/colonialism seems impossible.

Mechanisms of power and subjugation play through us. To challenge this, we need to reflect and deconstruct the stories we tell and judgments we make. My discomfort and amazement at seeing people’s resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, at their patience with the mundane, at their perseverance with very real struggles is the cost of coming where I come from, doing what I do, and having the unwarranted privilege I have. My frustration and rage at the injustices of the world are real. It would be easy and feel good to hand out money and soccer balls, but I know that this would be to make me feel less guilty for what I have, and be proof that “while I was in Uganda, I helped – and I can measure it.” The more difficult thing is to sit with my discomfort. To sit back, observe and realize that my privilege doesn’t extend into the right to judge. To stop, reflect, and channel my frustration into something else.

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.