Monthly Archives: April 2012

Can I be a “solidarity-ist”?

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Recently I have entered the phase in this job that I was hoping wouldn’t come. That phase when I start thinking about what else I could be doing. About how this office isn’t serving my personal quest for enlightenment. About how awesome it would be if I had my own office… to do… something… in. And then I think, HEY! I am a free spirit who doesn’t need to conform to societal norms by having a job!

But then I remember. Oh yeah, even though I make about $170 per month, I need the money.

So instead of trying to tame my daily escape fantasies, I want to think of ways that I can take advantage of this time to bring myself closer to, well, myself. And in that, maybe I can make a real connection between who I am and what I can do to ease suffering in the world.

If I had an infinite amount of money, I would travel to all of the most sacred places on Earth to witness beauty and compassion. I would surround myself with friends from all over the world who question the world around them but also aim to understand their small contribution to humanity and laugh when they experience one of the things that connect us all.

I also realize that one of the biggest challenges for me in this state of discontent is to see the beauty and wonder in everyday life – to find perfection in the mundane, fulfillment in the routine. Another complication in this “search for solidarity” as I have called it is to remain humbled and open to the possibility that I am still naïve in even attempting to create a life around such an idea. What is the underlying meaning behind my “deeply seeded passion for the movement for global equity” that I have written countless times in applications, cover letters, and resumes? As simultaneously selfless and self-reflective beings, where is the balance? Indeed, your happiness, your freedom is undeniably tied with mine. But how can I put that into a career? What words would I use to shape that into a title? A job description?  How can I reduce my suffering while equally working hard to reduce yours?

Of course my American, material mind first jumps to the image of my future office. It is green with lots of wood furniture and windows. Definitely some cool plants. And colorful pillows on my worldy-looking couch.

From April 14, 2012:

What would I be happy to do for free for the rest of my life? Workout? Study? Yoga? Research? Study the history of Africa in a modern/relevant context? Study public health interventions? Advocate for women’s rights? Dissect things? Write poetry? Read? Event planning?

I would be most happy to be able to make my own schedule, work with the people I love and am inspired by, and think about the world and own connectedness to it. I want a career that appreciates my personal journey and that values my wellbeing. I want to work with my friends in an environment conducive to discernment and innovation.

And more recently:

In addition to these things, how can I include public health and tropical medicine, microbiology, art, history and discussion into this?

Untitled

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I have probably tried to write some version of this post 10 times. Each time I feel a little differently and each time I have wanted this post to be perfect or have spent way too much time on it. I think the main point of what I have been trying to say is that I have changed. I am not the same person that took off from LAX almost 5 months ago. Yet I feel so much more like myself.

I have been through deep lows and intense highs, but overall I have been struck by the mediocre, quiet feeling that what I used to want doesn’t apply anymore. I have had to adjust to a much smaller social circle in a place where I never really “blend in with the crowd”. But this has given me the unique opportunity to look within myself and really see myself for the first time in a while. I get to shed all of the outside influences to try to understand what I really truly want. In a sort of identity crisis, the past several months in a place I thought would give me clarity have actually left me more confused than ever. I don’t feel the same connection to what I used to want and I feel like those dreams no longer fit me. But at the same time, I feel so much more empowered and sure of myself than ever. So what if I can’t tell you what I want to be when I grow up! At least today, I am confident that I can do whatever I put my mind to. I know now that before, my ambitions were motivated by what other, very accomplished people would approve of or would think is noteworthy. But in that dog-like need to please, I was risking the most human thing I have: my free and boundless mind.

I feel like more things are possible. Travel is more possible. Love is more possible. And a diverse, fulfilling life is much more probable because I am comfortable in my ability and my obligation to make it happen for myself. I don’t have too much to say this time, but I do wonder why every child is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Why not ask, “WHO do you want to be when you grow up?” And can anyone really answer that? Of course, the only answer and the best answer should always be “Myself”.

I feel more connected to the world than ever before and I know that I always have the quiet and shining calm of my soul to return to at the end of the day.

Namaste.

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” – Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

“No creature is fully itself till it is, like the dandelion, opened in the bloom of pure relationship to the sun, the entire living cosmos.” – D.H. Lawrence

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e.e. cummings

Gulu’s Reactions to a Kony 2012 Screening in Acholi

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Last night I was able to go to the Kony 2012 screening that had been translated in Luo (Acholi) in Pece Stadium and it was definitely interesting and deserves to be shared. All day there were trucks driving around town making announcements, radio shows discussing the event, and people talking about it where ever I went. Interestingly, we had a photojournalist, in the office yesterday too. You know that picture of the Invisible Children founders holding guns with the SPLA in South Sudan? Yeah, she took that photo. She is not affiliated with Invisible Children at all, but is back in Gulu doing a follow up story on the real situation in Northern Uganda for WIRED magazine.

After work, people were already waiting for the event to start. When the time for the screening was drawing nearer, Pece Stadium was literally filling with people and the line outside was ridiculous. Everyone came: men, women, youth, children… and people traveled from far away to see the film. I was talking to a UPDF (Uganda People’s Defense Force) commander at Golden Gate Hotel before the event started and although he wasn’t going to go, he thought it would be a good event for the government so that even if people were not in Gulu or in the North during the insurgency, they would see what was happening before and be able to compare it to the peace that the government has brought today. He also thought it would make it easier for the government to get assistance from other countries because they would “know what was really happening”. Because of the reactions to the screening in Lira a few weeks ago, some people were worried that the crowd might become violent or rowdy.

Once we had finally made it into the stadium, we knew that this event was a big deal. Apparently, the screening was sponsored by NUMEC, the Nortehrn Uganda Media Club. The emcees were some announcers from Mega FM and they had gathered several local artists to perform before and after the film. Most performers chose to sing songs about ceasing fire, peace, or thanking Invisible Children for their work in the North. The event also included a pretty vulgar comedy performance that seemed to have the sole purpose of appeasing the crowd.

Finally, Jolly Okot, the country director of Invisible Children in Uganda, came to the stage to speak and introduce the film. The screen they chose to play the film on was much smaller than anyone had expected, so I’m not sure how most people there could even see what was going on. But when the film started, it was clear that it was not what people had expected.

In the beginning people were receptive and found Jason Russell’s son humorous. When it reached a point that mentioned Kony’s “expiration date” in 2012, the crowd cheered and was still very positive. That is until people began leaving within the first 10 minutes after a short montage of victims missing ears, lips, and noses was shown. As they walked past us, some were saying that “This is too painful. They shouldn’t have shown this.” But at this point, most people were sticking around to see the rest of the film. From all of the hype, debates, and criticisms that have flooded the radio waves and newspapers, people were expecting to get a chance to see Kony and his troops. They wanted to see the acts of violence, more recent footage of Kony, and maybe locations of the LRA now. It was only when images like that appeared that the crowd was silent. At all other points, people shook their heads saying this was a waste of their time.

Last night was the first time I had seen the film too, and even though I couldn’t understand the narration in Luo, I don’t think I needed to. To be honest my impression was that this is a film about America. Not about Uganda. The vast majority of the footage is of college kids and politicians in America talking about their moral imperative to “Stop Kony”. Then came the footage of Jason Russell’s family, and finally a small portion of the footage was from Invisible Children’s trips ten years ago. There was no “action” like people were expecting, unless you count a bunch of Americans jumping in the air and holding signs that they were “Changing the History of Humanity” by wearing bracelets.

The most striking thing to me about the whole event last night was its insignificance. It was literally laughable how small this film was compared to so many of the expectations people had of this worldwide phenomenon. The film has no effect whatsoever on the lives of residents in Gulu. As more people left, some women walked by us and said “Look! Even this muzungu is shocked that this is what the film is!” All of the footage of Americans was considered to be “commercials” from the real film that people thought they were going to see—the real film that had anything to do with their lives.

When Kony 2012 Part I ended, LC 5 Chairman Mapenduzi attempted to speak to the crowd, but with little avail. He tried to get everyone to clap for the work of Invisible Children, but people only laughed in between the messages for lost children and stolen shoes. When he announced that they would also be playing Kony 2012 Part II, all anyone wanted was for the musicians to come back on stage. At this point, I would say that one third of the crowd had left. And more began to stream out when Part II began to play. And while that film had more “relevant” footage, it was already too late for anyone to really pay attention to Jolly Okot’s pleads for the children to come home or to the bullet points in the “multifaceted approach” that would stop Kony.

We left immedately after the 2nd film, but I have heard that people started throwing stones on the stage and shouting at the musicians, so everyone started fighting and it turned to chaos with multiple gun shots and some rioting. The streets were apparently flooded with soldiers after that.

A million other people have already analyzed every second of this film and every dollar that Invisible Children has made or invested in their work. I like to believe that no matter how atrocious, harmful, or simply ignorant a person’s actions are, in their mind and for their goals, it makes sense and they are doing what they feel is “right”. My analysis is coming late, but my biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t do anything to actually educate the well-meaning youth it is targeting. It doesn’t ask anyone to go read a book or even do a Wikipedia search for Joseph Kony. The only options it gives to the youth of America are to donate, donate, donate (and sign a pledge to “Cover the Night”… cover it with what? Dollars? Bracelets?).

All in all, Gulu town’s reaction to the film was that it was simply a waste of their time. The most challenging part of the whole evening was trying to squeeze out of Pece Stadium with hundreds of other people trying to fit in the same small exit that we were. Gulu has not changed because of Kony 2012. People still went out after the film to celebrate Friday night. They still have to put food on the table, they still have to pay school fees for their kids, and they still have to continue to try and forget the atrocities that changed their lives. As I have said before, Kony is no longer the problem in Northern Uganda. New problems resulting from much more than a single rebel group have emerged in the years since peace returned: land conflicts, Nodding disease, unemployment, inflation, corruption, HIV/AIDS, overpopulation, alcoholism, domestic violence… The list goes on and on but that doesn’t mean that Uganda needs “our help” or that it needs “saving”. There are dozens of local NGOs that are engaged in truly innovative grassroots programs working to rebuild and to empower their communities to bounce back from whatever they may have experienced.

The most entertaining and fitting reaction that I overheard was from a man walking in the crowd back to the center of town: “That was a waste of my time. I should have just stayed home to reproduce with my wife”.

A recap of my last several months in Gulu

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OK. So I’ve been an inexcusable, no good, horrible blogger. And A LOT has happened. Today is April 9th. In my original plans, I was supposed to fly back to the US on April 5th. But clearly that didn’t and I’m still in Gulu. I’m going to attempt to recap all that has happened in the past several months as best I can. I’m literally going to be going through my pictures to try to remember all of the events and emotions that I have experienced.

December 2011:

Arrived in Entebbe. Saw Justine for the first time in 16 months. Stayed in Kampala. Visited Justine’s family. Visited the National Museum. Took a bus to Gulu. Met more of Justine’s family. Met Justine’s dogs, Celine and Snoop. Moved into grass hut. Cried when I saw it was a grass hut. Got a dress from Justine’s mom. Hid dress from Justine’s mom. Visited GWED-G. Met Pamela and the team. Got used to grass hut. Sat in grass hut while Justine went to work. Cleaned grass hut. Went to internet café. Took pictures of babies. Relatives visited. Relatives approved of me. Got tired of having food brought to grass hut. Bought lots of kitchen supplies. Justine made eggs. I made eggs. I got a job. Justine got a break from work. I quit my job. Snoop is growing. Visited Justine’s old room. Visited Gulu University. Walked around Gulu. Visited Justine’s brother. The neighbor’s duck had ducklings. Christmas Day: really missing home. Made chapatti. Surprise welcome party for me. Welcomed into the family. Stomach not used to the food. Visited more family. Allergic to cat in family’s house and sat outside all afternoon. Frustrated by everyone asking when I was going to have a baby. Frustrated by everyone asking when I was going to cook for them. Frustrated by everyone telling me to “cook and clean and fetch water for my husband”. Took a walk around home. Got to know the area. Saw a beautiful sunset. Ducklings are growing. Started Acholi lessons. Justine built a two-story chicken house. Chickens have all been eaten. Acholi lessons put aside. New Year’s Eve: missing home again. Dinner at Justine’s aunt’s house. Drank lots of wine. Everyone danced. Went to watch fireworks at Acholi Inn.

January 2012:

More wine after midnight. Got to stay home with Justine. Got worms. De-wormed. Stayed home a lot. Spent more time with Justine. Learned to cook dodo. Justine went back to work. Snoop is growing. Saw a cool spider. Frustrated with staying home. Mouse invades grass hut. Documented mouse in grass hut. Justine got malaria. Tried to cut papaya. Cut unripe papaya. Found a caterpillar in our house. Family visited from the village. Learned to eat jackfruit. Went to “Chinese” restaurant. “Chinese” restaurant only serves local food. “Chinese” restaurant served us bad meat. Went to graduation party. Gifts included goats, chickens, and brooms. Graduation speech interrupted by a techno “Barbie Girl” ringtone. Went to another graduation party. Justien and I were called “party prostitutes”. Met Justine’s old friends. Finally went to a bar in Gulu. Got a bike! Sunday’s frist day of school. Really tired of staying home.

February 2012:

Tried to drink bongo. Wanted to throw up after bongo. Documented poor air quality in the kitchen at home. Bike Day #1. Spent an hour at the bike repair shop. Saw a Papa Lai lookalike. Saw Justine’s primary school. Saw where Justine learned to play basketball. Got a new job. Started working with GWED-G. Started going to the field. Went to community dialogues on human rights. Went to a high profile meeting on land conflicts in Northern Uganda. Can’t get my feet clean. Ever. Celine has puppies! First big rain of the season. Tired of living with Justine’s family. Continued field work. Documented human rights abuses. Went to a family mediation for a man with 3 wives and 15 children. Documented a 14 year old girl with Cerebral Palsy that was raped (again) and now doesn’t want to breastfeed her HIV positive newborn. Looked for a new house. Found a new house. Second big rain of the season.

March 2012:

Sat in on a human rights volunteers training. Puppies are growing. GWED-G advocacy training. Tried to read more. Fell asleep while trying to read more. Celebrated International Women’s Day in Amuru District. Got a really big shirt. Finalized new house. Cleaned new house every day after work for a week. Packed up grass hut. Started missing grass hut. Moved to new house with Snoop. Snoop is afraid of the new house. New house has an ant problem. Got rid of ants. Settled into new house. Loving new house. Thought about going back to the US for a visit. Puppies are walking. Saw old family pictures. Documented HIV testing event in Lamogi. Decided against going to the US for a visit. Documented success stories in Lamogi. Celebrated World Water Day in Lamogi. Went to community meeting in Lamogi. Tired of going to Lamogi. Puppies are really cute. Went to a Uganda Women’s Network meeting. Learned about Gender Bills. Got paid to take notes. BIRTHWEEK: Bought Peanut butter and chocolate Oreos. Had green beans. Went to yoga. My 23rd Birthday. Went to the field with donors. Had a small party at GWED-G. Had donuts. Got a new dress. Went out to dinner. Had pasta with cheese. Had beer. Had to go to work the next day. Tried to go out. Fell asleep instead. Cancelled my return flight. Decided to stay until December. Went out to another bar the next night. Went home early to do work. Spent weekend doing work. Missing Birthweeks in Westwood.

April 2012:

Finished GWED-G’s website. Really missing my friends. Justine brought home a giant edible rat. Learned how to gut, shave, and smoke giant edible rat. Thinking about what my next step should be. Got sick from the giant rat. Didn’t go home to the US. Trying to use yoga to re-center and make friends. Working on finding my true niche in Gulu.

That pretty much takes us to present. It has been a real rollercoaster ride that has been filled with a lot of beauty and a lot of personal challenges. One interesting thing that has come out of this is that for the first time in my life, I don’t know what I want my next step to be. My dream used to be to move to Gulu, get a great job that allows me to be in the community, learn about Uganda, and be with the man I love. But I kinda did just that. I’m literally living what I had dreamt about, but now I feel like I need to start finding out what I’ll do next and what I should be working toward. As one of the most goal-oriented people you will ever meet, this is a very strange situation to be in.

I feel like I’m trying to find what I am passionate about all over again, which is what I’m working on now. So I’ll let you know what happens. But as part of my attempt to regain and retain my center, I’m going to try to write more and give myself more time to just think and reflect. And hopefully I will be posting more updates!

Quarter-Life Crisis: Commence.

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Have you ever felt like you were about to come to some fantastic realization about your life? You have been in a rut for a while, everything you had wanted and known has been challenged, and you honestly don’t remember how you got to this place. But you know you aren’t happy. Or at least as happy as you are capable of. You feel like you have lost your direction, your passion, your drive. What you thought you would do with your life no longer seems like it fits. You feel like an iceberg in the South Pacific: melting away as you float along trying to be an island. But then, after months in this rut, months of slowly melting away, you decided to take action. You are still not really any better, but you feel like something in the universe will align and you will find some clarity soon.

I have always thought that knew what I wanted. And I have always thought I knew why. But I think a lot of what I have wanted in the past has been attached to a sort of need for approval from various people and affirmation that I was doing something deemed selfless and good for the world. And I still think that that is a good thing. But I don’t think that needs to be the reason that to pursue a certain career or spiritual path. Sometimes it is necessary to really dive into your motivations to discern your true path and your true wishes for your short life.

So I’ve realized that I need to reassess. Now what? How do I do that? What in the world do I want? What is going to make me come to my most optimum state so that I can be the most receptive to the world around me? What the hell am I passionate about nowadays??

The thing I have learned the most about while in Gulu is not the language. It is not the food. It is not the area, the people, or the lack of services. (But believe me. I’ve learned a lot of these things.) Honestly it is me. I have been forced by language barriers and foreign everything to look deeply into myself. And at the same time I feel like I have lost so much of what I used to think defined “me”. But in reality we are always ourselves. We can’t escape who we are and we are always bound within the physical component of ourselves. So while I don’t know who I am, I know that I have simply changed so quickly that I have to learn about myself all over again.