April 23, 2012 § 2 Comments
In New York – a sex columnist told us in February – you can be whoever the hell you want.
My first Saturday in the city, a friend met me on Sixth Avenue and 23rd. I had missed her – “you’re here!” She wrapped her arms around me: turquoise jewelry, upper bicep tattoos, warmth. I felt the rush of familiarity – the relief of seeing a person you know in a place you don’t.
We spent the afternoon looking for orchids, sipping iced coffee and running into people she knew on the street. A quick exchange got me invited to have dinner with her in someone’s Soho apartment on Monday night.
“I don’t know if you’re interested, but…”
In your first New York week, you’re always interested. A chance to belong, to mingle, to mix and to find your niche is an opportunity you’re desperately grasping for. When it lands, you snatch it, hoping to land another with it, and another, and finally, a corner bar, a friend’s apartment, a coffee shop or a happy hour that belongs to you.
It’s that feeling of belonging you’re looking for. It doesn’t matter how many other desperate seekers are there huddled around you – on that bar stool, clutching that particular drink or carrying on that particular conversation – the city is yours.
It happens in unlikely places – a Starbucks bathroom where you can breathe, an awning to stand under and check your iTrans app to get your bearings – a bar you didn’t know existed, an orchid man you recognize from two days before.
My friend had found such a place in the Rabbit Club, a dark, cement encased alley way down a tall staircase I laughed at, imagining myself half buzzed and falling down in stilettos some unsuspecting Friday night.
Just when I was envisioning myself being picked up by sympathetic strangers, she announced that it was closed until 6, and we moved on to find somewhere else to sit and enjoy the early evening until it opened.
We ended up at Sullivan Bistro, where the bathroom is dark, and covered in the names and photos of cities across the world, with a big “New York” glowing red and black like an apocalypse above them. We grabbed a table to the left of the bar, where the sun hit our feet, and a set of french doors opened to a patio with suited men speaking a language I didn’t recognize, drinking beer bottles wrapped in labels I’ve never seen.
I was deep in a people watching seance when she said something I had been feeling about the international development community, but hadn’t put my finger on.
“Negative energy” was the phrase she used. She was saying that she appreciated the insight that international experts were offering on the difference between good and bad aid, but that she was tired of the negative energy that came with it.
She’s the kind of friend that catches you as you begin to fall. And, I was – falling, that is. I was falling into the negativity, and she was giving me a hand back up to see that I started out working internationally because I wanted the experience for myself.
I wanted to be a woman who was well traveled. I wanted to be a woman who had formed opinions out of experience. What I had never planned on being was a woman who got there by criticizing others.
I told her I knew what she was saying. But what I meant was that I felt what she was saying. I had been feeling weighed down – carried away, even – by this tremendous current. It comes in all shapes and sizes – a witty tweet, a sarcastic snark of a comment, a blog that explains why Toms has a horrible aid model, or why #KONY2012 is a failure of a campaign when it comes to actually helping.
I know these corrections are necessary. It appears that at least once every two hours someone needs to remind the general public that Africa isn’t a country. And, sometimes I feel like I’m repeating Andrew Harding like some kind of mantra this Spring: ”the awareness of American college students is NOT a necessary condition for conflict resolution in Africa.”
But, regardless of the need for correction – I can’t help but feel that it’s the need for correction that’s begun to carry us away. As Kate Otto so eloquently put it over coffee this afternoon, “Too much negativity is not a way to really get much of anywhere.” She moved her hand up a figurative ladder and then plunged it back down on the table between us.
“No one gains long term success from being constantly critical.”
The Rabbit Club was open for business by drink 3, on Saturday, and in the dark, near a bar that felt familiar to her, with a 9×12 paper covered in German and Belgian brews, my friend told me about how New York can change a person, if she lets it.
“You know, you fight for everything here. And, bit by bit, you find yourself becoming harder. You’re so damn tired of being pushed. You’re so damn tired of being shoved. You’re so damn tired of someone taking your space, your area. That, finally, it’s like – ‘look! This is my damn spot. Don’t mess with my spot.’”
I nodded, halfway into a heff I’d ordered by pointing, because I couldn’t pronounce it.
“Bit by bit, it hardens you, if you let it,” she continued. “I keep coming back to that need to re-soften, to re-find your center, to take the edge off – have another beer so the way they push you on the subway ride doesn’t grate on you so much. Find a girlfriend to talk to where you can really talk, instead of just talking shop. Find a place you can let your hair down, and feel at home. Find a way not to just become another hard, jaded person who’s let it all get inside you and change who you are in ways you didn’t want it to.”
The phrase about becoming a jaded person caught me. I thought of the way Haiti feels the first time you get off the tarmac by yourself – the way you fight, especially at 18, for a place in place that doesn’t belong to you, the longing for a quiet moment – somewhere – where you belong, and feel that you’ve carved a niche for yourself: on the ground, on twitter, in the online community. I thought of the first time I’d been to an event in Nakasangola where volunteers and missionaries had been present – the way they looked at me from across the room but never came to speak to me. I thought of the way I cried myself to sleep at night on my first volunteer trip alone.
I thought of all the ways I’d failed that month, and how much I changed in the months following.
Kate and I talked about the organic learning process a person goes through while traveling – your first trip, in long skirts and thick tank tops, the way even the shitty catsup feels exotic – until you realize it’s just that: shitty catsup. Laughing with her, I thought about my journey over the past four years – the bad aid mistakes I’ve made, the volunteer positions I was proud of that I equate with the mistakes of those organizations, now. I thought about the way that they have made me who I am, and driven me to do what I do.
Like any field, international development rides on experience, the mistake by mistake process of building on ones own journey grabbing the bull by the horns and figuring out where you belong in a place where you didn’t belong before.
On Saturday night – my second night in New York – I made myself a promise. I’d work to find the positive in the development community.
Beyond that, I’d assume that everyone around me was just as tired of being pushed and shoved as a girl on the subway that’s been fighting her way through a city that doesn’t know her from Adam.
I’d try and keep an awareness of the tendency to let myself become anther jaded individual.
I’d work to re-soften, when it came to my work.
More than that, I’d work to be gracious.
A woman getting on the PATH yesterday swiped her card wrong four times. I went around her, bored with her mistake, rushing to catch my train to 9th – one train, at least, that feels familiar to me.
Holding the metal bar above my head on the way into the city, I remembered my first subway ride – how many times I’d swiped my card wrong in Washington DC on my way to the first day of an internship where I was first introduced to global water issues in Kenya, and felt my love of writing and international work intersect.
I thought about how I never would have continued on this path if someone had been breathing down my neck for the next 8 months, telling me that my first pieces on clean water weren’t savvy enough.
When Kate and I wrapped up our conversation this afternoon she pointed out that the truly effective people – the ones touching the most around them, are the people who don’t have time for negativity.
They’re too busy doing their own work – and, with it – finding the lessons in their own mistakes.
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Today, I’d like to introduce a dear friend of mine – Mike Handy. His work behind the scenes, coupled with the vision of Antonio Esteban, design from Shannon and Gina, and a few stress induced americanos on my end, have been the drive behind any success my company has had – and I am incredibly grateful.
We brought Mike on as our VP of Business Management at Nakate this month. He will be helping Nakate to reach our full potential as a company.
A little about him: Mike is a die-hard Chicago Blackhawks fan who judges any and every restaurant we go to by its BBQ chicken pizza. Through his background in business development, and community management in social media and data analysis, Mike plans to help Nakate change lives, change the world and maybe even change the way business is done.
Mike has been working alongside me since the beginning, dealing with my questions, my doubts, the company’s developments, and everything in between. So, when I asked him provide some of his insight on why we do things the way that we do, here at Nakate, I wasn’t at all surprised when my heart gave a little figurative fist pump to everything he said.
Below are four of the core values he provided me with to share with you, this week.
We believe that profit is a mechanism for generosity. Profit is a tool. Most use profit for greed, their own gain, but that doesn’t need to be so. We believe profit makes generosity sustainable.
We believe that the creation of goods other people value does something for the producer of the product. We view our Ugandan artisans as talented artists. Artists take pride in their art. And, to know they are adding value in the global economy changes the way they view the world. By selling product, we empower them.
We believe in adding value. Making and selling a product means we, in the States, have to respond to the market. We are able to engage with the world and we have to add value. As an organization we could get a big donor, and not think about this anymore. If we were to do that the requirement of our organization to produce sustained value would disappear. It also goes without saying we would be accountable to that person or organization.
We believe generating sustainable income is far better than a quick fix. We are empowering women, and that is intentional. Women with businesses change the local political environment for the better, and we are also helping them start their own businesses in other areas by working with us.
I like Jimmy Choos, and I Hate Cheap Beer. Otherwise Known as The Reasons Why #Kony2012 is Being Criticized.
March 7, 2012 § 13 Comments
A month or so ago, I posted a blog about a mistake I made in my work in Uganda. It was @tmsruge who caught me. I have a tremendous amount of respect for his opinion and so, when he came down on me, I listened – and I learned.
He is in a kind of twitter “trifecta council” made up of himself, @DAWNInc founder & exec director @Semhar and @InnovateAfrica – a woman whose views on philanthropy, diaspora, social justice and gender continue to challenge and educate me on almost a daily basis. I recommend following all three of them, and keeping up on their work.
In my friendships in Uganda, I have learned something huge about myself. Namely, I will always be an outsider. I will always be 1/2 of a transnational business. I will always be a white woman. I will always be different. And, as much as we tried to combine our cultures, we often come to an impasse – we are called to different realities and, with it, different lives.
Let’s be real.
I like Jimmy Choos, and I hate cheap beer.
Oh, oh! And I’ll take the $8.00 chalice of Three Philosophers please. Oh, and that’s a chalice, not a glass. Right?
(PS – I don’t currently own Jimmy Choos. And, I just paid my phone bill, so I’m not drinking any expensive beer this week, don’t worry).
People criticize me for spending any kind of money while working in “aid.” But, here’s the reality I’ve had to learn about myself. I’m an American woman who partners with Ugandan artisans for the purpose of making money for both of us. And, we’re running a business, not a charity project. They benefit. I benefit. And, I don’t think any other kind of model is realistic.
However, I struggled with my identity in regards to Uganda for a long time. I began with feeling like I could never spend any money on myself, even selling my own things to pay bills and giving up a lot of my hopes and dreams in order to work in Africa.
Let’s be clear.
I chose to do that. No one in Uganda asked me to.
And, along the way, I realized that it just wasn’t sustainable. Beyond that, it wasn’t respectful.
I was not that way because I truly valued the powerful women I work with in Uganda. I did that because I was confused about my identity as a white girl working in central Uganda. I felt critical of myself for liking expensive things, handling things like a white girl would and for feeling the irresistible urge to kiss my porcelain toilet back in CA on more than one occasion.
I tried to change myself so that I would fit in better, tried to make my white a little less obvious. But, that’s not really very possible, and I have never been more aware of it than a certain day when I plopped myself down with a Nile Brew and a wireless orange connection at the airport. I’m not timid, so I sat in the middle of a group of men to watch the soccer game blaring from a small tv descending from a florescently lit airport ceiling.
I felt real cool with my Nile brew and soccer knowledge, until I realized everyone had stopped watching the game, and started staring at me instead.
I returned home from that trip, in particular, with a deep need to re-define my role in Uganda. I had been criticized for the way I handled several situations like a Mzungu (white), and I felt angry – angry at Ugandan culture, angry at American culture – angry with myself, angry with the people criticizing me.
I spent about three months really delving into the heart of the issue, and it came back to identity, for me.
My mom helped. Over coffee, I poured out the tale of my African failures, ending with, “you know, I really handled things like a white girl, and I’ve got to stop DOING THAT!”
She stared at me. “You are a white girl,” she said. “Of course you handle things that way.”
You wouldn’t think I needed to be reminded of that, but I did. I needed to remember that I’m white, that I was born in America and that the fact of the matter is that I run a transnational business in Uganda. So, here’s how that works – I have Ugandans that run my company in Uganda, and I run it here. Hence, the need for two cultures, two colors – two perspectives, two different people groups.
In my acceptance of myself, I was able to realize that, in a lot of ways, I had been incredibly prideful. I had come into Uganda with the belief that I had better solutions for issues on the ground, that the weight of saving a village was on my shoulders and that knew better how to handle emergency situations, village conflicts and the establishment of organized business in a country I’ve been traveling to for three years.
Imagine if my Ugandan partner walked into a shop on Melrose and whispered, before entering – “Don’t worry Shan, I’ve got this one covered, you just watch and learn while I take on LA.”
So, I’ve begun to learn that I have a lot to learn. And, within that paradigm, I’ve been able to embrace my place as a white girl, apologize for my shortcomings, ask for help and advice and begin to better understand a place that my Ugandan friends are just as anxious to help me understand as I am to help them understand my culture.
I’ve learned to be quiet more often, and to assume, walking into situation, that I there are cultural factors I’m ignorant of, and will be brought up to speed about later.
Here’s some full disclosure. Just this week, I had to work through a myriad of emails regarding management on the ground, and how best to run it from a Ugandan perspective. I went to bed exhausted, humbled and yet feeling more comfortable than ever in my new shoes as a white girl partnering with a fantastic group of educated, powerful Ugandan leaders and artisans.
While Invisible Children has done great work educating “the rest of us” about a conflict in Africa, you could perhaps say they have failed to take their place in African culture as a group of whites seeking to partner with powerful, educated Ugandans, rather than spreading the idealism that Ugandans need a young American Dad with a pre-schooler to save their sorry asses.
Then again, I’m an American woman.
These people are just three of hundreds of activists, journalists and experts in Uganda that are speaking about their views in Invisible Children’s campaign that shows co-founder Jason as someone taking on the bad guys in Uganda, and saving the day in the pearl of Africa.
Turns out, Uganda’s been working to save itself for a long time now.
December 31, 2011 § 2 Comments
I went to my brother’s wedding last night. I love his bride. I love him. And, I sat bawling like only a sister does in the front row in between my mom and B. God. Just look at him. Look at her. Look at how he’s laughing like he did when we were kids, and how she knows him like a woman who says she loves him fully should. When they were introduced for the first time, he gave the dorky smile he used to on Halloween – his favorite holiday. Suddenly, he was six, a pirate and I was four, and a tiger.
I had to laugh. I had to cry. He’s made so much of himself.
At the reception, a friend asked me if anything was new. They checked my hand for a ring when they said it, and afterward asked what I do for a living. I told them I work to distribute goods from a group of women in Uganda.
People are often unsure what to do with that. I’m often unsure to do with that.
They smiled and said, “oh, nice.” I smiled and wished there was alcohol being served.
I thought about that moment in the shower this morning. Martha Beck says, “every woman needs a cornfield. No matter what’s happening in your life, find yourself a cornfield and hide there whenever you need to.”
The shower’s mine. I sat on the floor with a cup of coffee and let the water hit my face. I stayed in for way too long, and I thought about this year. I thought about PTSD. I thought about alcohol. I thought about the times I thought I would have a ring on my finger, and the relief that came from realizing what I had escaped from. I thought about foolish decisions. They were okay in my cornfield. I took a sip of coffee, felt the warm water – let the corn field get bigger, the fan get louder.
I looked at my fingers like my friend had. And, I thought about the hands of the women I work with in Uganda. I thought about what we’re doing together, about the richness of my life. I guess I should have told her that I’m not bitter. I’m not lost. I’m not wallowing, or hurt, or “left.” I’m just different. And, I would hope, a little more hungry for a wider spectrum of things than I used to be.
I guess I could have told my old friend about my year – I could have brought up nights talking about the helicopters coming into fields in Afghanistan, near death experiences. I could have told them all kinds of stories that near swallowed me in 2011 – stories that aren’t mine. I could have told her about Max dying, and about how Afghanistan even took over that week – chasing around the half of my heart that wasn’t present, that was hiding in a corner when it was time for the funeral, that couldn’t handle the pressure of death in a family – especially the death of a child.
I could have told them about Portland, and the months I spent there – Afghanistan came there with me, but so did Africa. I could have told them about the collage I made, when I decided to let out the pressure inside me on an old atlas my father gave me. There’s the shape of a woman over Africa, and the shape of a man over Afghanistan.
I thought the continents were coming together.
I guess I could have told them that too.
I guess I could have smiled in my red alligator heels and purple dress and said that I almost got lost in another person’s story, but I didn’t. I could have told them that I found a strength in me I didn’t know I had, but I didn’t think of that till this morning, hot water rinsing the conditioner out of my hair, body tired from dancing with cousins and brothers and old friends. I guess what I could have said was, “I almost got lost in another person’s story. But I got yanked out, kicked out, sent out – and, I found myself when everyone must have thought I was just about to lose it.”
I guess that’s what I’d tell someone, looking back on this year. I found myself. Then, I’d say that I found myself because of dozens of stories that aren’t mine, but have begun to define me.
I would say that, this year, I lost myself and found myself in stories. I lost myself there, somewhere between Kandahar and Camp Leatherneck. But, in Kakooge, in Wobulenzi, in Kampala – I found myself. I found myself in the stories of women that reminded me of myself.
I could tell someone that those stories made me new.
Here’s 50 of my favorites from this year:
- Patrick Kabugo was able to quit a teaching job that took him over an hour to reach by motorcycle, and forced him to stay away from his wife and children for 5+ nights a week. His wife began to bring in a salary equal to his and, in exchange, he was able to quit his second job as a teacher, and begin working exclusively to help out in the area of the country he is most passionate about: his own village, Kakooge.
- Patrick and Agnes made a statement of religious peace in the community through hiring women of all religious backgrounds to work for the Nakate Project.
- The mayor of Kakooge noticed Nakate’s work in his village, called it “extremely good” and said it was something he had hoped would begin to happen for his people.
- Grave Kavuna, a pastress in Kakooge, was able to send all 10 of her children to school through her own salary.
- Florence stopped defining herself as the poorest woman in the village.
- Grace, an uneducated woman, was able to send all 10 of her children to school to be educated.
- For the first time in her life, Grace was able to take her children to the hospital whenever they fall sick.
- Over 40 women received salaries throughout the year.
- Grace made a statement in the church that she runs – men don’t believe that women should have their own money but she preaches from the pulpit that, through Nakate, she has her own bank account.
- Nakato stopped believing that a bank account is only for rich women, and opened her own.
- Nakato was able to pay for her own medical bills, and bring herself back to health after falling really sick for a period of time because of her HIV status.
- Margaret Namayego paid off a Habitat for Humanity house loan.
- Margaret bought two cows and a pig.
- Grace Nsambu bought a bicycle, a cow and grew her small roadside shop.
- Grace became an equal breadwinner for her family.
- Harriet opened a bank account, bought a pig and started a breakfast and lunch roadside stand.
- Harriet’s granddaughter Anet saw her grandmother purchase a pig through Nakate, and began to work with us herself, in the hopes that she could save enough money to open her own restaurant. When her grandmother saw her initiative, she gave her some of her own Nakate salary to get her started on her business while she’s waiting for her’s.
- Dorothy Nambooze paid for all her grandchildren to go to school.
- Justine stopped digging a hole in her back yard and stuffing money in it. Instead, she opened a bank account.
- Justine feels “settled” inside and stopped worrying incessantly – for the first time in her life.
- At 50, Florence received her first paycheck.
- Florence was able to begin buying animals to supplement her income with Nakate, and started successfully taking care of her 10 grandchildren.
- Kisakye bought bricks to buy herself a permanent house.
- Kisakye felt empowered to take care of her children herself, instead of depending on a husband she says was a drunkard.
- Caroline began a charcoal business shipping charcoal to Kampala on trucks that come through Kakooge on their way to town on the Kampala to Gulu highway.
- Caroline identified land she wants to buy in Kakooge, and plans to buy it as soon as she saves enough of her salary.
- Caroline was able to pay for her sick mother’s health care.
- Margaret Nakibuka bought iron sheets for roofing her home.
- Scovia, a Rwandan first generation Ugandan, paid off her loan on a house in Kakooge.
- Scovia started a business selling milk at the local market.
- Jane turned her mud hut into a cement house.
- Jane was able to afford taking care of her sick mother.
- Nakato was able to get herself out of bed and on her feet through continuing to work with Nakate while sick with HIV, and paying for her own hospital bills.
- Betty was able to afford rent, and school fees for her children.
- Florence Nakacwa bought herself a piglet.
- After Juliet Nabukenya’s husband left her for another woman, she was able to send all of her children back to school with her own salary.
- Lydia went from sitting at home without work to do, or digging for a small salary in other people’s fields, to having a job that paid for her pay her bills, and save some money.
- After being deserted by the Muslim community and her family, Saudah bought poultry for herself through her salary and says she eats whenever and however she wants to, now.
- Margaret Nakamya finished building her house, and bought a bicycle, pigs and a cow.
- Margaret stopped sitting at home crying thinking she’d die from AIDS and leave her children. Instead, she said she has hope.
- Over 120 children were able to attend a private, well run school founded by Align Ministries in Kakooge through their mothers paying their salaries.
- Nakate became the most reliable source of income in Kakooge.
- Together with her job as a teacher, Rebecca was able to single handedly provide for her four children, two of her siblings and her mother.
- Fatuma agreed to leave her work as a prostitute and begin making jewelry instead.
- Jane Katushabe opened a bank account, and began saving money to buy a permanent house, instead of renting.
- At least five women in Kakooge hired people to dig roots for them, instead of digging themselves.
- 8-year-old Maurine was able to provide for her own school fees, and help provide for her grandmother to feed herself and her older siblings.
- Health care was paid for for in over 20 people’s families through their own salaries, rather than outside funding.
- Saudah bought herself a brand new outfit for the first time in her life.
August 9, 2011 § 1 Comment
A jewelry designer I work with had her things stolen in LA this week. We met yesterday, and she impressed on me how good it has been for her to be forced to start over. “I really am stronger for it,” she said. “It’s made me conjure up inner strength. It’s made me focus on my core. I lost everything! My camera, my laptop, all my business info. But, really, I’ve come to a place of acceptance – and there is strength there.”
Between her, and a TIME article I read on Mark Zuckerburg, I’ve been caught up on the idea of “eliminating desire.”
Lev Grossman writes,
One of the interests Zuckerberg lists on his Facebook page is “Eliminating Desire.” “I just want to focus on what we’re doing,” Zuckerberg says. “When I put it in my profile, that’s what I was focused on. I think it’s probably Buddhist? To me it’s just — I don’t know, I think it would be very easy to get distracted and get caught up in short-term things or material things that don’t matter. The phrase is actually ‘Eliminating desire for all that doesn’t really matter.’ ” (Read the rest of the article).
My bank account is low, and I’m not sure how moving is going to work. I’m waiting on a lot of things. I’m hoping on a lot of things. But then, I read things like my friend Gina’s reason for donating to our Tipping Bucket Campaign this morning, I meet with people like this jewelry designer, and I come back to eliminating desire for the things that don’t really matter – the extra clothing, the cup of coffee out instead of the cup of coffee at home, the Odwalla smoothie I could pick up instead of putting fresh fruit in my blender, the highlights I don’t really need for my hair – the night out for sushi with Jeremy that just isn’t our budget anymore.
Gina wrote, “I gave because I have cupboards full of food and a closet full of clothes.”
That’s the key to eliminating desire, I think. It’s saying that, “what I have is enough.” It’s making do. It’s not looking beyond present need.
I have a lot. I get to move to my new favorite city, with all my favorite things. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I moved home to run the Nakate Project. But it really is starting to take off, and I couldn’t be more excited. I get to pack boxes full of clothes. I am moving in with Margaret and her family, who have graciously offered me a way cheaper room than I could find ANYWHERE else until I can afford to move elsewhere. I know I will never go hungry. I know I can afford rent.
In the midst of moving, I’ve been intensely aware that Nakate could suffer if I am not careful. I don’t want to cut down what I give because I haven’t effectively eliminated my own desire. I’ve thought about this a lot as I began to pack and think through expenses incurred this month. I’m scrounging for my bills. My (other) job doesn’t start till September. How am I going to do this? How am I going to send more back than usual, when I have less to work with than usual? I’ve been focusing, a lot, on how to do that.
My desire to send more back than usual was sparked by a recent email from a friend reporting back on our progress in Kakooge:
Kagooge was a swamp the first day I visited. A day and a half of rain left the village floating in mud.
Everyone seemed covered in it and no one was smiling. Pastor Agnes described the entire town as a
sick drunk little village and my experience there easily confirmed what she said. I saw a two year old
girl who was the size of a six month old and still unable to walk. I saw old women bed ridden in tiny
huts, malnourished children wandering half naked, women struggling to survive, and the men drinking.
Mostly, I saw despair and hopelessness. But then I got to meet Margret and Saudah. Margret helps to
train the women who are new in the Nakate project. The joy and energy expressed in her face is such
a contrast with the people around her. With the money she has earned from the necklaces, she has
started a business selling shoes and bought a calf and pig. Saudah is only twenty-five and was one of
the last Nakate women I met. She lives alone because her Muslim family has abandoned her because of
her new faith in Christianity. The right side of her abdomen is swollen because h liver is enlarged and she is having
trouble with her heart. The Nakate beads are the means by which she supports herself. I don’t know
how to describe the difference in the faces of the Nakate women and other women in the village. The
Nakate women are still struggling to survive in the harshest of circumstances, but their faces reflect the
hope that is changing their lives.
I am aware, as I pack that I have so much more than the women I am partnering with. To be a woman, halfway across the world, getting emails asking for clothing, for quick delivery on this month’s payment because women are waiting to pay their children’s school fees – to get to be a part of this global crisis in some small way – is astounding. I just couldn’t handle my move putting a lid on progress. These women have desire for things they need. All other desires have been eliminated for them.
Enter Tipping Bucket. We are trying to raise $2,000 in funds for women in Uganda in just 4 days and 12 hours (now 3 days and 16 hours). Tipping bucket is a crowd funding platform we applied to get into months ago. Tipping Bucket is based on the idea that even a very small donation can help to make a large difference.
Tipping bucket is the reason I was lying awake at 4:50 am this morning, thinking about today – and the funding platform we need to reach. The way the site works, you either make your goal, or everyone gets their money back. Right now, 3 days, 15 hours and 22 minutes left to make $1409.
We are sending $40 to 40 women with families in Kakooge, a larger number and price tag than we have in previous months. We are sending the remainder to the woman who oversees our program on the ground (also Ugandan), and those who are helping to pack up and ship out our new order.
I believe in this week. I believe that when this many people get together to give back to women in need, things happen. Things change. The world starts changing.
Together, as we eliminate desire, I believe we can give to those who truly need.
I believe that kind of living is what binds us all together.
Donate your dollar here.
April 6, 2011 § 4 Comments
I’m not here to bash church, by any means. But, in high school, I had a youth pastor who couldn’t have been more wrong. Not about everything – just about one thing, really. He was wrong about social media.
I remember a particular sermon where he taught about the woes of things like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. He called them self centered. And, sitting small and indignant in the audience, I thought he was going overboard. Years later, I realized that it really was less about what hell-fire and brimstone have to do with Mark Zuckerberg, and more about a common misconception about social media. My youth pastor was under the common misconception that social media (or media in any form) is about you.
He had no idea that, in reality, a successful social media campaign is about everyone else. It’s about what you’re doing for others, that makes them want to keep coming back. Enter my inspiration for this week, and an entire Nakate overhaul. It all started with this quote:
“Too many of us approach social networks as a way to promote ourselves and our work. If that’s all you are doing, it quickly turns people off. One important practice to develop is to promote others. Find people whose work and deeds you admire and promote the hell out of them — it will make them more successful and increase the desire of people to connect with you” (thank you, Harvard Business Review).
It continued with a conversation, this morning, with Mike Handy. We talked about a more focused strategy, and he encouraged me to develop something we’d already started. He said we should really focus on where women were taking Nakate. What events were they taking our necklaces to? How were they wearing them? That, in and of itself, felt underdeveloped – so I kept digging.
As I searched for a more focused strategy, I thought of Title Nine, a women’s magazine I love to look through simply because I love reading about their models (and I LOVE their clothes – especially for Uganda). Title Nine uses real women as models: moms, teachers, women who travel – women who love to read. The one thing all of them have in common is their love for the outdoors.
That’s when it clicked for me that Nakate needed to focus entirely on women. Not just in Uganda, but here, as well. We needed to focus on how women were making a difference for Africa, and how they could do it with us.
I came up with the idea of taking a piece of Africa with you. I felt like that’s what I did when I returned from Uganda last summer (read about it here), and it’s been on my mind for a long time, I just didn’t know how to say it. It all finally came together with this little phrase:
We brought a piece of Africa home with us. Now, we want to give it to you. Where will you take Africa with you today?
View our new mission statement here. I couldn’t be more pleased.
February 17, 2011 § 2 Comments
The peace corps turned 50 in January, and the Align Ministries founders and I caught a January 14th special on 20/20 about the organization. Except, rather than singing the organization’s praises, the episode covered several sex scandals (not to mention a murder) that the corps has, supposedly, sought to cover up.
I was struck by a few things as we were watching the special, and it sparked a long conversation between the three of us. Firstly, I was struck by the need for education on sexual assault. Second, I was struck by the cultural ignorance of the women working for the corps. I don’t know all the full stories, but I do know that you don’t sleep on an open veranda in an African village. I know that from walking on the streets in Africa. I know that from how the men talk. I know it from how they call to me. I know that from the narrowing in Morris’ eyes when they say things he won’t repeat to me.
More than that, I know that from experience. On the last night of my first trip to Uganda, I left my Ray-bans at a home down the street. A friend and I put on sweatshirts and (in shorts and flip flops) ran back down the street to get them. I remember feeling afraid – not the kind of fear you get in your bed at night when you know, deep down, that it’s just the dark, and you really are safe. This was a new kind of fear – a fear that felt instilled by a cosmic force in the universe to tell me when I was being stupid – and I was. When we got to my friend’s, she scolded both of us – two blonde, nineteen year old American girls who ran bare legged down the streets of Jinja for a sixty dollar pair of shades.
“It wouldn’t have been worth it,” she said. “And things do happen here.”
Less than a week later, two of my roommates were attacked on the street outside the orphanage I had been working at. One was saved wielding the laundry basket she was carrying, another ran for help. Less than six months later, two of the staff I worked under were attacked in their home by four men, one of them using the girls’ own meat cleaver against a closed door, while screaming, “give me money!”
I slept in the same house the night I heard that story, thankful that my fear was only in my head, because a guard had been posted outside the house, and bars had been set on the windows.
I thought about the 20/20 episode and my friends’ experiences in Africa again, this week, when Lara Logan’s story brought the frequency of sexual assault against female journalists (and, with it, the frequency of sexual assault against female activists in general) to the surface.
HuffPo reporter Judith Matloff writes that women have remained silent because,
At a time of shrinking foreign budgets, no one wants to be pulled off the job because they are seen as a liability.
As one woman who had been molested by an Indian crowd explained: “I didn’t want to viewed as weaker than the guys.”
She writes further that,
The newsroom myopia is such that very few safety training courses offered to conflict reporters include specific precautions for women. Participants learn about evading kidnappers and the speed of a bullet, but not how to ward off a rapist. And yet, today, women fill the ranks of top foreign positions, and rape can be a death sentence if the attacker has AIDS.
Likewise, the lengthy security manual issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists, arguably the world’s preeminent safety advocacy group, lacks tips on sexual assault. It includes advice on protecting the wallet, and learning local languages. But where are the mentions of alarms for hotel doorknobs?
I am struck by the truth to this – the ignorance of my run down the street, the shock of an exchange student who told me the story of an early morning walk to school in Kampala, when she was knocked to the ground on a road she walked daily, and asked if she wanted the man on top of her to f**k her. She screamed “NO!” repeatedly, and gave him everything he asked for. I was struck by her comment that she was thankful for the spandex shorts she was wearing – quite possibly, they were part of what saved her.
Matloff suggests the following tips for protecting yourself as a woman because, let’s face it, we simply are different. Not weaker: different. I have often been told in Uganda that there is a particular strength in being there as a woman. But I know that I am different. With my emotional strength comes a kind of physical weakness:
Female correspondents need to be forewarned about steps to ward off rapists. To name a few: defecate on yourself, keep a deodorant can by the bed (to spray into an assailant’s eyes), don’t get drunk with sources, ensure you’re not followed to your room, push furniture against the door, always work alongside a man in crowds. Some more – wear a whistle but never a ponytail.
In my own travels, I have found that the key to safety (in my work, such as it is) is trustworthy locals. On my first trip to Haiti, my housemates Junior (24) and Jimmy (26) would grab my hands and hold them whenever we went into a crowded area in public. They’d cup my palm in theirs and pull it through the crook of their elbow so I was held close. Later, I was struck by the need for awareness, even with them, when Junior raised his hand to smack me across the face during an argument (he put it back down when I quietly told him I’d make him lose his job). I’ve heard stories of women that trusted local men with credit cards, rooms and personal belongings. A South African guide during a white water trip said to me once that, “You should never drink with the men here. I see it all the time – the girls doing philanthropy work that come to party. The men here aren’t the same. They’ll take advantage of you, and after that, they’ll take your things from you. If you’re going to party, party with other aid workers.”
In Uganda, I’m keep safe in the following ways:
- Even if I wanted to, the family I live with never lets me walk anywhere alone (and neither should you).
- I never am allowed to walk at the very back of a group.
- I pay the fare for one of my adopted Ugandan “brothers” to go with me when I travel somewhere.
- If I need to do work on my own, Morris travels with me and stands close by to make sure that I am kept safe. All I need to do is nod, and he comes to ask if I’m ok.
- I don’t talk to the men in the village without Morris speaking to them first and telling them who I am, and what I need. After that, he stands close behind me.
- I’ve ventured into the “red light district” in several villages, as well as into the bar scene (for what it’s worth) in several different places – but always with locals who know their way around well, and who talk and joke with the people around me while I take pictures, or talk. If someone becomes too excited or angry, they are apologized to – and we move on as a group.
- In Jinja, I am typically on my own more often, but I’ve learned from the women there that there are reputable drivers you can trust (we have three names). I only use those drivers.
- If I am moving on my own, I travel roads that I know well, and I only travel them during the day. At night, I drive places with local friends.
- When I travel through the UAE overnight, I go directly to my hotel room, and I don’t leave until I’m leaving for my flight the next day. I only stay in places like the Emirates hotel – where I am transported with several other international visitors.
Watch the full 20/20 episode below. As Matloff writes, “editors should not refrain from dispatching women into combat for fear of sexual assault. Instead, they should prepare staff to make informed decisions and cope in case the unthinkable occurs.”
At the risk of sounding weak, I’ll admit that I texted Codi this morning, and I thanked him for coming to Uganda with me.