Riding on top of a van with the wind in our hair and the bugs in our teeth on an expedition of epic (by that I mean fairly small) proportions was just what the doctor ordered. We have been discussing some pretty heavy topics as of late, and it was nice to get out and see some more of the natural beauty of Uganda. We were not fortunate enough to see lions, but we saw our fair share of elephants and giraffes. It was amazing to be reminded of the joy this nation has to offer. There is such immense beauty in these hills, and we need to remember that this place is more than the death it has been party to. Post minivan safari, we rode a boat down the Nile to see the legendary Murchison Falls, and I was taken aback at how huge and beautiful they were. It was a welcome respite from the weight of the daily study of a decades-long civil war. When we returned, it was straight back to lectures. . .ah, such is the world. We experience 2 or 3 lectures per day, each by a different person from a different perspective.
In all of its beauty which runs as deep and as pure as the sugar cane it grows, however, Uganda cannot hide some ugly things about its history and its culture even today. One of those ugly blemishes on the face of Uganda is the constant power struggle in the government and non-governmental political groups. The history of power sharing in Uganda has been a bloody one, and the fact that there have been not just one but several governmental overthrows says something about the condition of tribal interactions in this nation. Of course before colonization the tribes fought amongst themselves and were fully independent of one another, all thriving under regimes of their own tribal Kings and clan elders. When the British came in and divided up the nations according to resource availability in the late 1800’s, it seemed that they drew lines haphazardly according to which oil reservoirs after which they were lusting. Oh, you silly Brits! It turns out that this was really a quite brilliant scheme…if you want to conquer thousands of people and create borders so that you can divide up tribes into separate nations and pit them against each other, then put the split tribes which coexist within each nation at odds according to whom you educate and with whom you do business or form a military. Imagine that all of southwestern Minnesota is one region which several different ethnic groups (you won’t have to work too hard to imagine this) and that one day a government official from Wisconsin comes and lays county borders. Then, said official takes a trip around Murray County and decides that all of the Catholics in the northern half look “war-like,” assign them jobs in the military or police, and deprive them of education. The Lutherans in the southern half are afforded the ability to be educated, given perennial crops to grow, and are thrust into the infrastructure as business people who are even internationally respected. How would you imagine the Catholics and Lutherans would feel about their positions in life? Exactly. Thank you, Britain. You have given the world David Beckham’s right foot, the Austin Powers movies, tea time (for which I shall remain ever-resentful) and the ability to find conflict in places where there was none before. The conflict which thrives today is a result of divisions formed at that particular flashpoint – a point to which the people of Uganda may never return.
Another ugliness is the treatment of women and girls within every tribal context. Women in rural America may be just as surprised as I was to find my sister (of equal age and education to me) dropping to her knees to wash my hands before a meal. You, my friend, may also be surprised to hear something out of your host father’s mouth to the effect of, “All women who are in politics are opportunistic. They don’t know enough to change anything, and all they want is for men to look at them on the T.V! Do you really honestly think that a woman could have an idea that would make a difference? They are jokes!” Ouch. My sister Evelyn shines the shoes of my brothers and father without shining her own. She makes every meal in the dark among the roaches, and won’t even borrow my headlamp for fear of inconveniencing me, and this role of hers is one which is simply expected in my house. She is not going to University, she has no cell phone, and no friends who she spends time with. To my understanding, Evelyn has it pretty easy, and home is not the only place where women do not live free. Only 47 out of every 100 girls who enter P1 (first grade) will last until P7 (seventh grade). The odds of a young girl becoming pregnant exponentially increase for every year she ages. Girls here are married quite young much of the time, and before a girl reaches 25 she may not even be her husband’s only wife (Uganda is a place where polygamy is not only practiced but is encouraged sometimes as a sign of more wealth). This link will take you to a site which is aware of this problem and is using the educate and invest approach to the issue. http://girleffect.org/ I can’t help but think about what this country, continent, world would look like if women were educated, allowed to excel, given a value beyond their childbearing and homemaking capabilities, and perhaps even considered in matters of peace building and community development. In a nation so desperate for peace, it could only help to consider the ideas of the other half of the population. I apologize in advance for this impending soapbox moment: My dream is for these ethnic groups to realize that their self-definition as dependent on their cultural practices will not be compromised by allowing women to live as fully-endowed human beings. See these women as the people they are, treat them with respect and personhood, and pick their brains. There are brilliant ideas and WOMEN just waiting for someone to invest in them.