No day goes by for me without thinking of Uganda! I haven’t been back since I left in May 2013 to return to the good ol’ USA. I have fond memories of the joyous time I had, when I took a two years hiatus from “The Home of the Brave,” carrying with me Child of Mine. Truly, Joie de vivre! I made new friends, new adventures, new discoveries, and new lessons learned.
I realized then, that I was born a “Hasher,” something I never caught up on, living my childhood in Uganda! I traveled to the most remote corners of Uganda, as a ‘donor,’ a tourist, a runner, and a community trainer and mobilizer. Plus, a “DIY Expert,” bringing back those golden days of “Bulungi Bwansi” and “Gwanga Muje,” before the NRM government and international [in]humanitarians messed up the country with “brown envelopes/handouts culture”.
Nowadays, Ugandans wait for Mzungu — white people— to come from Europe, North America, Japan or South America [Yes, in Uganda even South Americans and Japanese are “white”] to run their common sense errands. Like, plucking their jiggers, building pit latrines for them, teach them how to rear chickens or raise their kids, even if the “trusted white saviors” have never seen jiggers or a pit latrine, themselves, do not have or have never raised children or chickens! Did I say, there are white people teaching Ugandans, “The importance of hand washing after using the toilet” or “the Right to Play”? Yes, somebody, sadly ‘retired’ common sense, among a large section of Ugandans.
Still, I had an amazing experience re-living Uganda. I re-learned some ’truths’ I had taken for granted, growing up in Uganda. Since returning to my “Wild West,” I have not been able to re-live My Uganda, except bits and pieces of recaptured memories, here and there, meeting Uganda connections, or hanging out with Uganda-like social circles. Very limited!
Of course I am not romanticizing My Uganda, whichwas not without challenges and frustrations: the hustle and bustle of Kampala City can get to you, the disfunction of the public service, the excessive abuse of power by the arms of government — especially the Executive – the President’s State House, under the Executive Branch, and the police —under the Judiciary.
The President and the Police literally hold the entire country and its citizenry at ransom. The President allocates himself unfettered powers to spend the tax payers money at will. Not on provision of public and social services, but to reward political patronage, and bribe anyone who dares to oppose his “long hand” dipping in the National Treasury – including the Legislature. The Police, commanded by a military general, works not for the maintenance of national law and order, but to safeguard the interests of the President. Instead, the Uganda Police Force is embroiled in abrogating the expectations in a multi-party dispensation, and the constitutionally stipulated mandate!
Perhaps that explains why I no longer habitually keep myself abreast with news from Uganda via the national dailies. Decades ago, after changing my habitual residence from Uganda, I regularly read the national dailies online to catch up on news about Uganda. I participated in national debates, by submitting electronic letters to the Editor, or posting commentary on online news. Not anymore; too much sad news in the papers! One can sponge up so much pain and agony in their lives!
No wonder, a quick “Google” or “Bing” search about Uganda is flooded with negativity: anti-homosexuality; police brutality against opposition politicians, opposition sympathizers and civil society activists. This news travels as far as Nigeria, from where a friend recently sent me a news piece on Uganda – about the controversial “undressing of a woman under police arrest, on the streets of Kampala City,” in broad daylight!
Then and now, Uganda is positively broadcast internationally: among CNN top 16 tourist destination; the World Linguistic Agency best English-speaking country in Africa; the Lancet Global health Journal top five health diets, and many more.
For the most part, I source most of my news about Uganda via social media – Facebook, twitter, blogs, and via personal friends who keep me posted on exciting happenings in-country. Of course, I am spreading My Uganda, in my global orbit, whenever I have a chance — via cyber communication, within Child of Mine’s social circles, personal encounters and
As I close off the year, take a look at what captivated My Uganda 2015
- Wakaliwood, the brainchild of Isaac Nabwana, a self-taught film director, and owner of Ramon Film Productions, located in Wakaliga [from which it derives its name], one of the rough-tough slums of Kampala City. I learned about Nabwana, dubbed “Quentin Tarantino” when he was featured on a BBC World Service Radio, and later on CNN Inside Africa, for using locally improvised equipment, material and skills in his movies. While Ramon Film Productions is not an official member of UgaWood, its products and the ingenuity of its founder are a force to reckon with, that put the shine on Uganda, and definitely caught my fancy!
Uganda Freestyle Kayaking team came to me via my Facebook feed, as participants in the 2015 ICF World Freestyle Kayak Championships in Ottawa, Canada in September. After numerous failed attempts, the Canadian Visa Consular ran out of excuses for denying them visas, and allowed them travel to the country. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of their British Manager and a supportive community in Canada, through fundraising and numerous visa letter petitions to the Canadian Visa Consular in Nairobi. They had great reception in Canada from the local Ottawa community. Hopefully, next time, the organizers will reach out to Ugandans in Ottawa.
Queen of Katwe, starring the instantaneously world magnetic Lupita Nyong’o, is a biographical drama movie produced by Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala), about the real life of Phiona Mutesi, Uganda girl from Katwe slums in Kampala City, a Chess prodigy, who becomes an international Chess Master candidate after performing at the World Chess Olympiad. It is a real-life story about rags to world fame, that could inspire any girl growing up in the hard-knock slums anywhere!
Kampala Fashion Week, is growing like a storm, year after year, with amazing fashion designers, new models, new creativity and just a new, juicy, illuminating fashion, defining Kampala, and bringing joie de vivre and creativity that I know about my peoples. I was awed by pretty much all the runway fashion, particularly Jose Hendo’s collection “Resonance,” a revival of barkcloth an original Ugandan clothing material from the inner bark of a Mutuba tree (Ficus natalensis), worn before western-designs infiltrated the country, and destroyed the local garment industry. Add to that, the photo genius of Giulio Molfese, top fashion photographer in the country with a golden eye to bring camera pictures to life.
GirlGeekKampala made international news, as a hub for Ugandan women passionate about establishing their footprint “Geeking-Out” in a male dominated info-tech industry. The host incubator is Outbox, Kampala’s “Silicon Valley,” thanks to partial funding from Google. Also check out AfriGal Tech, a team of four Ugandan women software engineers building Mdex, a SickleCells app, and Hive Colab, the first collaborative Tech Hub in Uganda.
Yoza, the equivalent of Uber for Dirty Laundry, falls in the same league with tech-ingenuity coming out of Uganda. Yoza [“Wash” in English], is a locally developed app to find laundry services providers around Kampala, from the comfort of your home. Now one can nurse a longer hangover on Saturday, without the worry of laundry!
The Gay Community, deserves a special ululation here, for its continued unapologetic mainstreaming of its presence, in a society still highly bigoted toward gays. Uganda society generally views homosexuality as an immoral, abnormality, and a threat to “children” and “the ‘normative’ institution of heterosexual marriage”. But the landmark court ruling in 2014, which overturn the Anti-Homosexual Act (AHA), 2013, boosted the gay community with renewed confidence.
Highlights of the Uganda LGBTI community is the annual Gay Pride, and this year, the first SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) Gala and Equality Awards held in December to recognize its supporters and allies. Thanks to its indefatigable and unabashed LGBTIs, like Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera [who in my opinion was more deserving of the Glamor Woman of the Year Award than Caitlyn Jenner], an internationally recognized Ugandan gay, feminist and founder of the first gay NGO, Freedom and Roam Uganda. Kasha has bolded stated that while LGBTIs were until very recently a total taboos in Uganda, she never had to come out, because she was never in the closet. She has always lived openly gay, even in high school, where she got expelled from numerous schools, for her attraction and intimate fraternity with the same sex. Kasha was one of the petitioners for repeal of AHA, 2013.
@ImSoUGANDA a revolutionary twitter account invented by Ugandans, on a mission to positively branding of their country. Using #Ondaba, Ugandans share their “SoUgandan Moment,” while on adventure or tourism in-country. T-shirts with #ondaba are often worn by Ugandans traveling abroad, and pictures shared.
#UgandaInSpain, is closely related to #Ondaba, an effort by a small group of Ugandan, perhaps inspired to reverse the backlash against #SpainIsNotUganda, a hashtag from the pronouncements of Spanish Prime Minister demeaning their country. This group of Uganda tourism, sports and media personalities, took Uganda to Spain in 2015, to promote “sports tourism,” made connections with Spanish politicians, and world renown Spanish Soccer League players, and successfully lured them and their supporters to add Uganda to their tourist destinations in 2015 and beyond. #SoUganda!
Uganda wins CECAFA 2015, on Saturday, December 5 when Uganda Cranes, the national soccer team, beat Rwanda 1-0, taking home their 14th Confederation of East and Central African Football Association— title. An exhilarating moment, especially after that heartbreaking failed attempt to quality for the 2014 Confederation of African Football Cup last year, after losing to 2-0 to Guinea.
Running and Physical Fitness continue to blossom in-country, with more people taking seriously healthier lifestyles, safety-first approach or social exercising. Fundraising and fun running has caught on following the success of MTN Marathon Kampala, with a growing number of annual marathon/half-marathon/10K or 5K runs, in Kampala such as Hope Ward Run to raise money for the International Hospital Kampala, the Rotary Cancer Run to raise money for the Cancer Ward at Nsambya Hospital, and the Kids of Africa Run, toward support for a Swiss African Children’s Village. Running and fitness clubs are growing, notably Kampala Hash House Harriers, an internationally inspired Drinking Club with Running Problems, whose laid-back, no membership style, non-social stratification attracts any Kampala. Don’t be fooled, because these Drinkers run are also serious international marathoners. Fitclique Africa is the first ever women-only gym in Uganda, founded by Mildred Apenyo, a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow Gym; Fitness 4 Life-Uganda, a gym that that offers military-style group workouts and drills in Kampala, amazingly sliming waistlines and ‘magically’ disappearing potbellies of many among Kampala’s drinking and eating spendthrifts. Triathlons and Duathlons are also catching up, as well as biking, mountain climbing, adventure parks and many more!
Pope Francis visited Uganda in November 2015, shortly after his US trip, exciting into ‘penitence’ even the bitterest enemies into lovers! His presence in country, miraculously induced a handshake between arch political rivals President Museveni, and his stingy rival Kizza Besigye! Turns out, “It was Politics, STUPID!” But the biggest accolades went to the Ugandan public, notably Media CEO and public personality, Robert Kabushenga, who led a successful fundraising drive toward support for the renovation of Uganda Martyrs Shrines in Namugongo, where the Pope was schedule to visit and conduct mass. In true Ugandan spirit of “Bulungi Bwansi,” the drive attracted Ugandans of different religions, in-country and in the Diaspora, and raised a total of UGX1.3billion [USD 384,618], through sale of rosaries, those sacrilegious Catholic prayer beads, and a Charity Walk.
- Etofali Lya Buganda, which preceded Kabushenga’s Pope Fundraiser, started as an initiative to raise money for the completion of Bulange Plaza. Building on its success, popularity and public commitment among in-country and the Uganda Diaspora, Etofali extended its mandate to include other projects of Buganda Kingdom continued on various building projects of Buganda government. It caused lot of excitement, pride and prestige for Buganda!
Makerere University improved its international prestige and rankings, ascending 22 places from 891st in 2014, to 869th position, according to the Center for World University Rankings 2015, based on the quality of education and training of students, prestige of faculty and quality of research. Talking about Makerere University, I wouldn’t be doing myself justice, if I did not give a shout-out to my favorite academic and best scholarly mentor of all time, Makerere University Professor J. Oloka-Onyango, who was finally rightly honored to deliver his inaugural [ironically close to his retirement] lecture. No doubt, he has served the world renown institution with the highest prestige, dedication and distinguished honor and integrity!
And if you just wanna catch up with all things inspirational, mind boggling, challenging, or gossipy about Uganda, I recommend “scare-a-hero,” a blog by Simon Kaheru, a self-described “Professional Communicator”. Simon is an indefatigable activist for all things, deeds, thoughts, products, taught, learned Ugandan. He is a PR machine, an entrepreneur, and employer, and an innovator. He is a much sought-after “go-to-person,” and brains behind a lot of Uganda branding breakthroughs, including #UgandaInSpain, #Ondaba, #IamSoUganda. He’s truly #SoUganda No! I am not getting paid for this PR plug; I wish 😃
Ok, I will it at this. Feel free to add to the list….and let’s see what 2016 brings in My Uganda……hopefully ….really hopefully geographical proximity!
Dr. Jeremiah Gibbs, a white married christian male shared his “coming of age with racism in America”, when he wrote, The Day That I Started to Understand Racism, inspired by his experience as an adoptive/foster parent (with his wife) of a black child.
“Our first weekend together we were on our way to a birthday party and had to stop to get a last minute addition to our gift. We had to stop at a store that was in a town not far from our own. That town had a long and well-known history of racism. So as we got out of the car to walk into the store, I began to run scenarios through my head. What might I do if someone in this store makes a racist remark to this boy that has been given to my care? Should I just ignore it as if the comments don’t matter? Surely I cannot let that be OK for my new son. Should I confront the racist jerk and tell them how ludicrous their comments are? I couldn’t imagine what I might say. Would I just respond with violence and stand up against injustice? That didn’t seem like a Christian response and no one likes to go to jail.(March 18, 2014, http://jeremiahgibbs.com/2014/03/18/the-day-that-i-started-to-understand-racism/. Accessed May 13, 2014)”
I can perfectly related to all these questions, even though I am neither white nor a parent of a white or multi-racial (white and black) child. I am a black woman of continental African origin, living in suburban America. I am a mother of an African American child of lighter skin color than myself, that he has sometimes thought of himself as white. Well, he is five-years old, and recently returned to America from living abroad where racism or race was not a fronted identity or discussion. He is just a lovely baby, an American baby, and since I have lived in America for most of my adult life, I consider myself an American.To my friends and family back in my country of origin I am an America, though not the same with my American friends here. In a way, this is a good and a bad: good because it gives me “a pass” with white friends (“You are not like those black people,” I have been told more than once). A bad because it allows me that uncomfortable pass, which I ride with, because I do not want to “disturb the status quo”. Partly, this is why I can relate to Dr. Gibbs’ story, most especially when I am running outdoors, and when I go around looking for work.
Let me tell you why running in my neighborhood revokes feelings of fear, anger and insecurity in me, similar to Dr. Gibbs’ experience. I love running and jogging in my neighborhood, through the trees and waters. I barely see anyone running in my neighborhood. Perhaps they do, but not at the time I go out at 8:30am, when many are either out for work or are on their way, during the week, or sleeping in over the weekend. My neighborhood has plenty of older retirees, who got tired of the back and forth vacation travel up here, and decided to settle for good. The neighborhood is within a ski mountainous zone, attracting plenty of winter sports and vacation in the mountains. There are, as well, middle-age couples who got tired of the bustle and hustle of city life in New York and New Jersey, and settled here with family. Many commute everyday to work in New York City and New Jersey. That group is for the most part open-minded to folks from all walks of life; in typical NYC experience. Then there are the “original settlers” or long-term residents, some who still have the confederate flag on their big trucks. That group scares me.
Generally, I run around my neighborhood with no incident of disrespect or attack on me. I run mostly along the roads/streets but without pedestrian walk/run platforms, most motorists politely move over to allow me running space. Sometimes, I get a High-5 or honk, and sometimes I catch a smile. Most often I do not make eye contact, in respect of the “societal taboo” against staring at people, but as well due to my inner “insecurities” of running in a predominantly white neighborhood. I fear offending anyone, if I am caught looking at her/him. True, I get the rude pushovers. I have been honked at rudely, literally ran off the tarmac, given a finger, and near spat at by a drive-by male in a passenger seat. I have also been intentionally hit with leftover foods. Please believe it! One Winter Sunday, while running back home on my last leg, a car slowed down while approaching me with two middle-aged white folks. They threw leftover foods out of their window targeted at me, and drove off. Fortunately, it missed me by a thread, but I did not survive a bruised ego. I cried running my last leg home, and I wished that I had recorded the registration plate, said something or chased the vehicle to the stoplight and told them off. Since my instinct is not to fight, especially when dealing with a people of ‘higher’ societal privilege, I let it burn. Still, it haunts me, and I cry again sometimes when I remember that incident. I ask myself similar questions like Dr. Gibbs, how can I let such evil acts flyby? But I did.
But there is another very vocal resident of in my neighborhood that repeatedly outwardly disapproves of my presence in the neighborhood – “Holy dogs”. That fact that white people’s dog generally hate and bark at black people is hidden in plain view. That these dogs generally do not like black males or look-a-like males is also an established truth, especially if you are walking or running in their neighborhood. And if like me, you have low cropped hair, typical of a male, I wonder if that is an additional disadvantage. It is so humiliating when dogs – small, large, old or puppies bark at me through their house windows, fences or chase after me from their yards when I am running on the main street, not on their property. I have been bitten by dogs, so I do not take “my dog is sweat, nice to us and our cats and eats from our plates” crap. I also believe that dogs are trained and socialized to respond differently to different people. Most white people’s dogs are socialized [intentionally or not] to respond to black people harshly. From experience running in my neighborhood, I have witnessed a white person walk past a home in front of me without the dog(s) barking at her. When I came in sight, they started barking. There is a house by the road, where dogs chase after me from their yard, even after seeing me run past multiple times. Another time while running through the neighborhood, a dog charged me and barked at me repeatedly, while its owner sat on the front porch merely calling it back. I stopped running but the dog would not bulge. Each time I tried to move, it charged toward me. I begged the neighbor for what seemed like five minutes to come restrain his dog, until he felt ‘kind’ enough to get up and call his dog back home, by throwing a bone or play toy at it.
Once again, I asked myself why I did not notify the police? I guess my hesitation to involve the po po comes from my internalized understanding of racism in America, and fear that racism could prevent the police from responding to me. Even as an educated woman from an elite US university, sentiments about the unfair US criminal justice cannot simply fed away. So, I keep on running, hoping my neighborhood and the dogs would get used to my face and body, and accept that I am not gonna stop running unless they knock me over or eat me up. But for now, I keep on the main streets, and wear bright neon colors, to avoid giving anyone an excuse to run me over because, “they did not see me; I was too dark”. As much as I would love trail running, I keep away to avoid stirring anyone from shooting me for “trespassing” in their backyard. It is a privilege white folks can risk, well, unless you are a German exchange student at a high school in suburban Montana (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/father-german-exchange-student-killed-montana-homeowner-slams-u-s-gun-culture-article-1.1775600).
Similar thoughts came to me once, while trail-running with a team in a predominantly white neighborhood or Marietta, Georgia. We run through woods and streams, and in people’s backyards, without anybody shooting or shouting at us or calling the police on us. Well, I was running with a predominantly white group, and the only one of two black folks. A week later, while running in South West Atlanta, I did not feel brave enough to trail-run by myself, ironically in a predominantly black neighborhood. Why? Randomized surveys done on street racism have showed that blacks are as much likely as whites to profile black people. In a staged “bike theft” in a public park, part of ABC TV series, “What Would You DO?”, results showed that when it was a young white male cutting a bike chain off a stand, people looked on, asked questions and expressed shock when he told them the bike did not belong to him. All except one (out of 100) continued on without confronting him or calling the police. Even more revealing, when the “staged bike thief” was a white female, as passerby’s offered her immediate help to free the bike from the chain. Only one woman protested to her husband helping free the bike, and another called the police after she had left the scene. However, when it was a young black male wearing identical clothes as the white male, passerby’s immediately (white and black people) confronted him, congregated, confiscated his tools or immediately called the police. When asked to account for their actions, both blacks and white people pointed to their biases against “personal appearance”. Black people said “first impression matters”…..and…”they thought the white guy worked in the park.” White people generally said they were looking out for private property, some even claimed race did not matter. So, there you have it!
Sometimes I worry about running into a serial killer or kidnapper along my route, especially while running new, quiet and isolated neighborhoods. I guess it comes from watching too many “Forensic Evidence”, “Unresolved Mysteries”, “20-20” and “48 hours” TV shows. Pretty much all of the crimes featured happened in suburbs similar to where I live. I have heard from moms at my son’s bus stop that they are plenty of drug users in the neighborhoods, and some have been busted in the police. Then I worry whether, being a black person, anybody driving or walking by would care if they saw a guy forcing me into his car? On my recent Saturday long distance run, while trying to discover a new running route in the neighborhood. I got onto a new street with a few houses. From a distance, I saw three white males and a white woman standing by the road and “burning something”; there was smoke likely from a fire. My heart skipped, but I was scared of showing my fears by turning back. I worried they could chase after me, so I proceeded on. I guess they sensed my fears and said, “hello”, when I got close to them.
Perhaps I am too paranoid, but that goes to show how institutionalized racism is experienced differently by black folks. I always wonder whether a white person would have to skip a beat at such an encounter! The feeling of “I do not belong here” is so real to me everyday in this neighborhood, even when I am inside my home. I hate it when sometimes I say hello to person across walking or running in my neighborhood, and they do not respond.
Similar experience and sentiments with finding work in this neighborhood. I took a break from online application and decided to walk-into several professional establishments in the neighborhood. As the black people in the “bike theft case” said, first impressions matter. Pretty much every place here is staffed with white folks. Like I say, “You know the place is white, if McDonald is predominantly staffed with white people.” Welcome to my neighborhood! Although, I did not look for work at McDonalds. I went to Doctors’ Offices, Departmental Stores, Restaurants, Grocery Stores, education institutions, and several small businesses. At most places, I was asked to apply online, or bring a resume – including restaurants! I know times are tough, and jobs are not coming by easily. However, when you do not see anyone who looks like you in most workplaces, including the front desk, it is hard not feeling unwelcome. Still, I did all as requested, with follow-up call back and walk in, but no rewards yet.
I bet some of you are wondering, why I am still living in this neighborhood, if it is that traumatizing to me? In the words of Dr. Jeremy Gibbs…
“This isn’t the only thing that we learned from raising our son (that we gladly adopted last year). We also have learned that parents that want the most for their children are often faced with a dilemma (even when they have the means to make educational choice) about whether they will give their kids a school environment that is supportive of their identity. Or shall we choose a school where lots of children look like him and he can learn about being black in America? Usually the schools with large African-American populations are struggling and under-resourced. Do I use the means that are within my reach to send him to a school with opportunity that will ensure that he has very few friends that look like him? Is that somehow better? The thing that I’m learning here is that racial minorities have to ask questions that majority populations get the privilege of ignoring. I still don’t know all the questions that I need to be asking.”
It’s been a while, since I sat down to write something thoughtful. Forget about the daily email traffic, and posts on social media. WordPress is where I share my self-inspired “non-chatty” thoughts.
This past weekend I returned to Boston, after four years away. The last time I was in Boston, December 2009 was to visit my BFF Phina (R.I.P), and bid her farewell. My then 17 months-old son and I were moving to Cape Town, South Africa. Little did we know that would be the last time we would see Phina in person.