July 4 – Complexity

Uncategorized

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.

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June 24 – Picture Review

Internship, IYIP, Jinja, Uganda, Uncategorized

June 18th – Beginning

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Sometimes, the most difficult thing is just to begin. To throw yourself off the edge and into the unknown can be terrifying. There can be fear and anxiety of what will happen, stress about whether you can handle the challenges, the desire to succeed (and fear of failure), and mourning what you are leaving behind. The apprehension can cause inertia, leaving you feeling like you are stuck in the limbo land between staying and going, thinking and doing. To begin can be overwhelming. But it can also be exhilarating. There is freedom in beginnings. There is excitement in the possibility of creating something new, of challenging yourself, of learning, and of broadening your own horizons.

I have been thinking about beginnings a lot recently. Why? Because this past Monday  I moved half way around the world. I have left my family, my partner, my secure job with colleagues that I love, and my confidence and comfort in my surroundings to pursue my passion for social justice, interest in cross-cultural experience, and goal of working in international development. For the next 6 months, I will be living in Jinja, Uganda, working as a staff and volunteer coordinator/manager at Arise and Shine, Uganda (see the Arise and Shine page above for more information). I am here as an IYIP intern through VIDEA (check out their website here), a human-rights focused international development organization based in Victoria, BC.

I am also beginning my time in the blog-o-sphere. The written word for a wide audience doesn’t feel very natural to me – I am apprehensive of my ability to accurately and effectively portray what I am experiencing. And so, to combat these fears, I am setting myself some expectations for this blog:

  • What I write in this blog is about my experiences and mine alone. I can only speak to what I have experienced, and any generalizations I make are most likely inaccurate or wrong. I am writing within a context where I am outsider who is fumbling my way through cultural differences and interpreting my experiences through my own prejudices, expectations and perspectives. At best, I will have a superficial take on what it’s ‘like in Uganda’.
  • This blog is a space for me to reflect on my experiences, but also to try to connect what I am experiencing to broader socio-economic-and political structures that exist and that shape the everyday lived experiences of people. It’s about sharing information, dispelling myths, and about examining the ways that people around the world are interconnected.

With these few words, I am jumping in with both feet. Eek! The hardest part may be getting started, but you won’t grow if you don’t start…hopefully you will continue to check in to see what I’m up to!