April 27, 2013 § 1 Comment
Most of the women we work with at Nakate are mothers, if not grandmothers.
We tell the story of their lives alongside our own.
In 2010, we launched out of Kakooge with Agnes Kabugo, a mother of three, and around 30 grandmothers and mothers making handmade pieces to test out in an American market.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the mothers in my life – not only my own, but these women I work with, and that stand with me at Nakate.
This mother’s day, I choose to honor the women that first stood with me.
The Kakooge Collection – a Journey Back to our Roots, is my way of taking you back to the stories that Nakate began with.
Designer Amira Mednick has partnered with me to create a line that re-purposes beads from my first ever buying trip to Uganda. Together with South American knotting techniques and sterling silver, 14k gold or brass, these beads celebrate Nakate’s Kuzua, or beginning, in Uganda.
We invite you to celebrate your own mother through returning to our roots with us – to travel back to the place where it all began, here at Nakate. Honor her through purchasing a piece supporting the kind women that make not only our businesses, but our very lives, the beautiful journeys we experience them to be.
Where Will She Take Africa?
February 18, 2013 § 2 Comments
I was 10 minutes to late for my part time job when I asked U, a half Nigerian manager of something I wasn’t sure about in the entertainment industry, if my hair looked greasy.
He cocked his head and said, “don’t your people like that look?”
I stopped. He didn’t notice my “go die” face, so I spoke my incredulity to be clear – “MY people?”
He nodded. “Don’t get shitty Charlotte.”
He’d called me ”Charlotte” when I picked up the night before. Like he forgot who he was talking to. I’d ignored it.
I’d been Charlotte for 14 hours after that.
“Don’t act like race doesn’t exist here,” he said. “Your people. White. Black. My people. Your people. It’s ok, I still like you even though you’re white.
U was last up in a round of tour de round the world dating I started with a Ugandan tour guide and continued into with a Pakistani journalist and a half Japanese executive who liked to call me by my middle name. We talked about cultural issues and intercultural issues and women’s issues. We talked about white, blue collared men. And, we talked about my story as a white woman twenty something who wanted to set up a story in East Africa.
We took to a proverbial boxing ring over dinner and facets of my business – the Pakistani writer let me know flirtaciously, subtly – not subtly enough – to quit my bitching, since I was a white, California girl who never experienced the things he’d seen women endure in Dubai. The exec turned my business model on its head, over champagne. U laughed at my choice to take a salary in year one.
“Damn girl, just admit it was a mistake.”
Over and over and over again we came back to skin – silently, out loud, over drinks, after reading Jezebel articles and in the middle of the night – back to the reminder that I’m white when you strip me down, and I’ve only got things to talk about because 1. I’m a pro choice feminist in a country brimming with adamant male pro lifers 2. I’d been kicked out of a bar for kissing a girl and 3. I worked in an area of East Africa highly populated by sexist men. I’m not a Ugandan designer, and so my story is a half breed – stuck somewhere between roots in the Yuba river, trunk shows at my favorite East Village wine bar and a Ugandan village where I learned the art of shaving my legs in a bucket shower, and peed in a bucket when they bar the hut door closed at night.
We had things to talk about because the melting pot has been my salvation – the breaking out of a tightly closed background, and the speaking out of every part of what I want to do with my life. Just like all of them.
We had things to talk about because I have learned, over and over, that this story became way more fucking nuanced when I left a nonprofit position where Ugandan women thanked me for “loving them and being there,” and moved into a business where I threw in my risk and unknown together with a group of women I respect the shit out of, and we started the story of our shared experience of Uganda.
Social media week is taking over New York City, and I’m playing my part. But what I really want to know about is Social Media Week Lagos. That’s where my head’s at – the location that’s got me buzzing. In New York, we’re talking about social solutions to the things happening in places like Nigeria, but I’m glued to gchat because it’s happening right in front of us, without us – in spite of us, and alongside us, in partnership with us, if we let it. I’m listening to these African designers telling the story of their sourcing issues, the artisans they’re working with, the quality issues and control issues and cultural nuances. I’m tweeting, and I’m taking furious notes, and then I’m circling and putting Loza Maléombho phrases in caps when she says she wishes that nonprofits would stop selling African goods for fundraisers that aren’t supporting sustainable growth.
That’s where I started, you know – selling African goods for fundraisers I’m still not sure were supporting sustainable growth.
I remember the first time I doubted my direction.
My mouth was stuffed full of a chille rellano that Lehigh new media professor Jeremy Littau had offered to buy me for lunch, and I was checking my watch to make sure I made it back for an afternoon chapel meeting at the evangelical university I was attending.
Jeremy didn’t say a lot. He said enough.
“You don’t know it yet, but you’ve got it,” he said. I had too much chille rellano in my mouth to do anything but raise my eyebrow. I gulped down a beer we both knew I wasn’t supposed to be having, at my conservative evangelical school. We both knew I didn’t care anymore.
I’d recently returned from Uganda and I was pissed. I was pissed at how my university was sending students to Uganda for “life changing experiences” on the ground without any kind of plan for sustainable growth for the folks that were turning them into do-good fanatics. I was pissed about AIDS. I was pissed about ideology – the kind that shared sad stories, and the kind that sent a person like me to collect them. “How has ____ helped you?” that’s Christian-eze for turning wretches into hallelujah singers, with a nonprofit thrown in where Jesus used to fit.
“You know how to get your people to feel bad for us and write a check.” That was the line I couldn’t shake. And, I had written about being bothered, about being caught in an in between place selling sympathy on the marketplace and expecting to sleep well at night.
I was scared that I was wrong. I was scared I was supposed to clean it up – to write in clean, white lines about poverty, and about solutions to poverty. That was it. That’s what they were telling me.
But, that’s not what Jeremy was saying. He was telling me to write out the doubt and the feeling in the dark where I was fighting hard between a traditional aid model, and the ideas about my experience in Uganda. And it was Jeremy who told me to pursue the kind of raw, fucked up feeling kind of writing I was getting barely any hits on in the blogosphere. I was struggling with the way the evangelical church was dealing with Africa. I was struggling with my own experience writing on AIDS. I was struggling with how to pull it all together. And, he told me to write that. That that, in itself, was a story.
What did it feel like? What was the struggle? He told me it was the next wave of new journalism – the beginning of something that was just starting, but would have everything to do with social enterprise. Feeling your way in the dark could feel like one big fuck up, but it sure as hell was a better story than the white horsed white savior complex. Everybody outside the evangelical church was about to get real tired of that, and Jeremy told me to keep hitting hard at something else until it started to make sense.
“It’s making sense from here,” he said. “You just can’t feel it from where you’re sitting yet. Keep doing it until it comes together. It will be rough. That’s ok.”
It took me three years to realize he was talking about building a brand out of my experience of social enterprise in Uganda, before I’d even started a social enterprise. Something about having your hand in something and writing about it being offensive in the past, but did we think that psychedelics were the only experiential drug? Write the experience, Jeremy told me. Life is the drug. Experience is the drug. Not knowing, and doing it anyways – that’s the Gen Y drug, in New York City. Write about the experience of being wrong, about the experience of what you did after that, and after that – and what you learned along the way. And, then write about how you turned a profit. That’s what we’re doing now.
Hunter Thompson had Playboy, cocaine and a Cadillac and I was about to use a business model and a severe bout of disaster induced depression and a blog I wasn’t sure anyone but Jeremy was going to read. But I started anyways.
Sitting with Jeremy, I remembered the first time I’d dialed out to a contact in Kenya – pressing two on the special international line we had on a headset at UPI on an empty desk three rows down from mine. A year later, I remembered the first time I wrote about a man I’d sat with under a banana tree. And, two years after that, I remembered writing about discovering that the way I’d told his story had been a load of shit – I hadn’t captured the real story at all. I’d reduced his story – hadn’t set it on its axis. Human stories are like diamonds. Facets. Angles. All kinds of places for light to come through, unless you box them in.
Poverty, on its own, always boxes a story in.
I had to step out of the box – to start over completely with listening. And there was Adiat Disu and Lisa Folawiyo and Loza Maleombho ready to talk about how to do it – doing it – if I would just sit and pay attention.
That’s when people started paying attention to my story – when I broke all the rules I’d learned about selling the story of a poor African women so people would buy a product – when I admitted that I didn’t like much of anything I’d done so far, and how I walked out of it, often one defensive and misguided step at a time.
I admitted that I didn’t have neat categories or tidy faith for my experience, and that I was pissed off.
Jeremy had told me they would listen when I was authentic. And, they did. That’s when people started caring about my work.
It started when I gave up on the security of telling the story of the impoverished African woman for the purchase of their goods, and started telling writing about how she and I had come up with a design that a stylist in Los Angeles was able to market as an accessories line fitting into a high end Italian shoe boutique’s aesthetic. That was a story. That was a story she and I were living out together, and it was my job to tell it. It became my job to tell it. But, not just that. It became my job to write it with all the mistakes in there – all the life stories in there, all the imperfect moments that she and I lived out together while we got there. And, the feeling that we deserved to be where we were, more than anyone had ever deserved it before.
People wanted to know that side of the story – not the part where she and I rode in, beaming, and handed a new life to her children.
They wanted to know about the time I fucked up a whole line of new jewelry, wasted 5k, and figured out a way to start over. And that woman with the five children she was feeding on two bucks a day? She still believed in me. She still worked with me. She was the hero, then. And, that was a story.
I guess I had just thought life was supposed to be much tidier than that.
But that’s not what U said, when I talked about my life – when I bitched that I was on a tighter budget than I wanted to be, and cried because I’d only gotten one new account that morning, and fuck all this trying when it all goes so slow and I’m so bad at it sometimes.
“I’m crazy,” I told him on a bar stool in my ripped up faux leather pants. “It feels like a mess sometimes.”
“Course its messy,” he said.
He stuck his finger in the hole in my knee.
Then he told me he respected me.
I thought of Jeremy, sitting there – and the way he’d told me people would read the authenticity, and they would find strength in it, even when I didn’t.
Part of giving up on the story of the impoverished African woman had been buying into the truth that my story could stand on its own – that people would want to partner with a girl fighting for partnership in a place she had traveled fallen in love with at nineteen.
I didn’t have to tug on their heartstrings with AIDS and school sponsorships to get them to buy in. I could be real. I didn’t have to fix it. I could just play my part.
And, I could do it because I wanted to.
An old friend of Hunter’s took me to Pepolino for my birthday, and explained that the next wave of writing and building together is all in the doing – something Hunter showed us with Cocaine, and we’d have to live out in enterprise.
“Thompson didn’t say shit, he did shit. He didn’t talk about being smart. He acted it out. All actions. Not a lot of talk.”
He pulled out his napkin and wrote in the air with his hand. “He’d have turned this napkin into a check to prove he fucking could. But he wouldn’t have told you how much he knew about the legalities of the American financial system.”
I thought about Hunter writing on the napkin when I began to refuse to do interviews on the aids medication our artisans were buying, and I started focusing on African fashion weeks across the continent, the colors that inspire my team.
I stopped tweeting about poverty, and started tweeting about the way Abel Tesfaye sings sex like a smooth, smooth dance, and Warsan Shire writes about men in a way that makes me want to turn on the bath, and tell my body sorry, over and over again, for the things I’d made it do that it hadn’t wanted just yet. Because that’s Africa, for me. That’s Africa in and around and inside me.
I don’t report so much on the women that I work with anymore – not the gruesome parts of the stories – the sickness and the death and the Luwero war stories belong to them. Instead, I write about the way we celebrate the things their cultural customs and rhythms and colors have taught me. I write about the way a white California girl, stuck in a “my people, your people” world, has learned about my body and my heart and my head from a place that no one in my family has traveled to before.
I’ve learned that writing about a woman’s battle with AIDS isn’t my job anymore. It has facets, and it has its angles – but not the way I was telling it. Not when I took it from her. Not when she wasn’t the one speaking it out.
I’ve learned I can write about how the old woman who assists my manager and I battled to find commonality the week I needed orders rushed, and she called for a week of mourning for her son. I can write about the way I fell for my Ugandan guide like a lovesick teenager, hot and worried on a sticky night in a clinic. He was sick and seizing on the floor. And, we learned, in a series of battles with village leaders, that he wasn’t coming to the US for an education without a fight.
I’ve learned that I could never have read about the simultaneous using of a white girl’s pockets and anger at her entrance into a personal relationship in a book. I’ve learned that I would never have been told the first was the fault of american missionaries if I hadn’t seen it myself. But I did. I lived it out the night I broke out in hives and my bank account went negative and the internet wouldn’t connect.
I’ve learned I can write about the lights in the marketplace, and the little girl that laughed with me telling the story of a lion and a monkey in the dark the night that a boy climbed to steal electricity and the lights went out after he was shocked to death. I can write about what I’ve seen and experienced – the triumph, the story telling, the chasing of chickens in the morning and the smell of coffee strong and brewing before meetings with artisans at the local school.
I can write about all the things I didn’t know the day I gave out clothing, instead of being willing to disappoint a group of women by not bringing gifts to prove that a white girl was there because she believed they were worth doing business with, instead of handing out clothes to.
And, I could and I can write about what I learned about myself, all those days, and the days following – the reminder that race exists, and I find it in my heart and my bed and my job and my life – that my roots run deep in my mother’s place in Northern California, and her mother’s before her.
I can write about growing up near the American river confluence where we jumped off rocks screaming every summer of my childhood, and my cousin’s ashes were scattered when he died the Spring my family’s hearts turned cold on a rainy night in Roseville. And, I can write about the way Kakooge and Wobulenzi taught me to believe in myself, to take off from the place I started from, to begin a life in New York City and kicked me out the door and into homes and lives and beds of people that came from places nothing like me.
I’ve learned that my story has angles like a diamond. They have given me a life to run around in, like a person set free from the girl who lived like, “the jerk at the intersection who doesn’t know East from West.“
I’ve learned I have a hell of a lot to choose from, telling my story building a business in Africa – so much so that sometimes I’m not sure where to begin.
But I know one thing for sure.
I will never again tell the story of the impoverished African woman.
I gave it back to the Ugandan women I work with – for them to tell, looking back at where they’ve come from, their childhoods – the places their mothers came from, and their mothers before them…the years that their families struggled because their hearts turned cold.
Maybe some of them will even have others in their own life to remind them that it was their imperfection – their courage to be authentic in the face of loss and discouragement – that was most worthy of respect, after all.
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 8, 2012 § 1 Comment
Today, I’m simply re-blogging a post from Nakate‘s blog.
The longer I work with artisans in Uganda, the more I find that the women I know from central Uganda are some of the strongest, most intense, most driven, powerful people I know.
Not to mention, my dear friends.
Today, I’m celebrating them -
- Agnes Kabugo is the project manager for Nakate. She not only helps women across her native country, she manages the local school and, often, will step in for her husband and preach at the local church.
- Grave Kavuna, a pastress in Kakooge, sent 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.
- 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. After that, she 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.
- Jane turned her mud hut into a cement house, and 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.
- Justine feels “settled” inside and stopped worrying incessantly – for the first time in her life.
- At 50, Florence received her first paycheck, and 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 home. She 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. She identified land she wants to buy in Kakooge, and plans to purchase it as soon as she saves enough of her salary. She 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. She started a business selling milk at the local market.
- 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.
- 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.Read the original post.
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.