March 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
There has been loads of interaction regarding Uganda in my life these past two weeks. I work in Uganda, so that shouldn’t be surprising. But, after #KONY2012, my life feels a bit like a viral discussion. Phone calls, emails, facebook posts – messages…it goes on. And, I couldn’t be more grateful to IC for sparking such a valuable conversation.
It was, however, a very small interaction that caught my interest last week – one that could have easily been overlooked. And, one I did overlook at first.
It was when I posted the Kony 2012 Drinking Game to my friend Sheila’s facebook wall, and she replied with this:
“Nice. I say, bring it on. One day we will get this whole thing right. Right??”
What has me coming back to this post was her use of the vernacular – “we.”
After living in Bots as an expat for more than a year, if Sheila knows one thing – it’s that none of us have figured it out yet, and no one Mzungu can stand up in front of all the others and announce that they have the answer to how to do this dance just right.
“We” are all trying to figure out how, exactly, is the best way to weigh in on our little piece of global issues that people have been trying to solve for generations. “We” have all signed up for jobs outside of our comfort zones, our cultures – our usual frame of reference. “We” all have the propensity to get carried away in our desire to help, and misstep.
“We” all like our alcohol/marijuana/cigarettes/insert-your-crutch-here when the going gets tough. “We” have all had moments of public embarrassment – my friends are still teasing me for drunkenly burning my lip a month ago trying to smoke the wrong end of a cigarette.
But the point is that we’re all trying.
I had a long conversation with a shop owner I have an account with this week. He smiled when I walked into his office – “I’ve been wanting to you about this whole Invisible Children thing,” he said. “Tell me what you think.”
But, before we got there, he said something else. He said – “You know, personally, I get the criticism, but then, I think. ‘Hey, so, they got the story wrong, they didn’t do it just so. Regardless, there’s an army of informed people standing around telling people the real story. And, at least Invisible Children got everyone lookin’ east. At least we’re paying more attention, now.’ And, come on, that in and of itself is valuable right? Those guys could have careers marketing all kinds of things. And, they picked something they’re passionate about in Uganda. So, you know – there’s some good in this, right? At least in the dialogue? I mean, they could have been telling us all about phones, or Nikes…but they picked Uganda.”
Once he finished, I really didn’t need to tell him what I thought. He had covered it. And, as I walked out of his shop, I felt like he had been the one educating me.
I walked out of his shop feeling humbled, again, by the truth that I’ve picked a career that puts a target on my back. We all have, and we’ve done it willingly – because we’re people that wanted to help.
And, it’s exactly because of that glaring, damned target that all need the rest of us to remember that we’re human when we fall – particularly when we may have set ourselves up for a little too far of a tumble. And, let’s be real – we all do it.
Not to mention, we all tend to forget that, regardless of how we feel, this desire to help has become a career – and it does not equal the sum total of who we are as people. And, when it does, we’ve made a grave mistake.
I ended up sitting on my bed – crying – after a Skype meeting last night. It wasn’t anything that was said. It was just the realization that I crossed a line – somewhere – and I keep teetering back and forth on it, this reality that my personal investment in Uganda is so huge that when things don’t go like I hope, it affects more than my company – it affects me. When we struggle financially, when lines don’t release the way I hoped, deadlines get pushed, or confusion sets in – I think about it on a personal level, and it takes everything I’ve got to learn to make that separation.
But make that separation I must. It is absolutely necessary to know that my work in Uganda is not the sum total of who I am – and that our failure or success is, quite simply, not about me.
In this profession, the personal and the professional mix in a big jumble of emotions that crux somewhere between wanting to make a career out of providing help, and wanting the way you help to make you a career.
The reality is that it’s a career – not a religious crusade, a campaign or a movement. And, at the end of the day, the people behind these careers gone religious crusading campaigns and movements are only human.
And, you can be certain that the little scar on my bottom lip is a quiet reminder that, no matter how good we get at separating the personal and professional – we are all, indeed, still working on getting it right.
(Pictured above: Sheila, playing with some of the children in Kakooge on her last trip with me).
February 6, 2012 § 4 Comments
There is a framed quote above my desk that reads,
“You have heard that you must not let the golden hours slip by. Yes, but, what if some of them are only golden if we let them slip?”
I pushed through adolescence like California wildfire, afraid of missing the ground to cover on the next hill, hungry for where the wind could carry me off to. Everything a panic, everything extreme.
Some people climb out of their youth with a slow rhythm in college – sleeping in before afternoon class, and moving at a predictable place into the throes of adulthood. The acne goes. The panic fades. Like the dawning of a new era, new loves are found, business develops and life turns a corner, trading in a rushing wildfire of hormones for a kind of rhythm.
My acne stayed. So did my panic. I carried my terror of finding a rhythm into my twenties and, with it – a sense of chaos. I moved states. I moved schools. I moved through dating relationships – tearing through the first years of adulthood like the wildfire I’ve been since I was in junior high. This driving, maddening, thrashing nightmare – what if I miss something?
I thought moving ahead would keep me from missing out.
I have a theory that behind every ballsy, half terrified, half dominating woman is a calm, collected man, living somewhere she left him in the wake, and showing up to check her tires and her transmission, and grab her by the right arm to give her a couple choice words in the midst of her whirlwind. With him come the golden hours and the stilling of the quick tick of time she couldn’t have drowned out herself. In effort to do just that, the match to my wildfire came to visit me last week, showing up to the airport over-caffeinated and in a pair of worn out jeans I convinced him to buy when I was first in college.
It had been three years. And, in my leather pants, moccasins and a short tunic, I gave him a hug and tried not to stare him down. A bachelors degree, five countries, four states and three years later, I wasn’t sure what he’d make of me. Or what I’d make of him. He’d stayed in the same town, and held the same job. I hadn’t stayed anywhere longer than four months. He’d stayed alone. I’d dated everyone from a fraternity coordinator to a Black and Decker account manager.
Two days later, my arson and I bought drinks. Over the slow burning light of a bar candle, we discussed the years we spent tearing through life afraid of missing something – sneaking out late – or early. We discussed the panic we had together – afraid of missing something, afraid of losing each other.
We did lose each other, and, after that, and he’d made his slow fade into a new phase of adulthood. He spoke of the calm he’d experienced. I confessed the way I’ve been shoving life into my empty places like a winter bound chipmunk – the next relationship, next country, next thing.
He’s stayed in the town we set fire to – fighting in the driveway, fighting in his truck – slamming car doors, slamming back doors. The town we’ve found every private corner of, and found each other in them. We talked about that, too, and, watching the slow flicker of a candle, I realized that, in my hurried fear of missing out – I had missed all kinds of things along the way. I’d missed my life in a small town – the reliable rhythm of my tires being checked for air, the ice scraped off my windshield, and the same highschool, zit faced boy handing me an ice cream cone every summer at our favorite stand while my arson waited to pay for both of us at once. I missed all the things I could have done while I was packing my bags to move elsewhere. Missed the quiet. Missed the feeling of belonging to a place.
Hours later, half baked, more than a little drunk, and nursing a lip I’d burnt with a backwards cigarette, his eye caught a twinkle – and he shook his head at me. “You’re a damn pain in the ass, you know that?”
I smiled. With a left handed compliment gone right, he’d reminded me that some things come back around, no matter how fast and far you run. And, in the dim glow of Pistol Pete’s, I found comfort in something familiar to me.
I dropped my wildfire off a few days later – early morning Sacramento air, the smell of cologne I’ve know from the back seat of a car since I was sixteen years old. In the cold, Sacramento air, my arson turned and smiled. I thought of a million different things to say in that moment. And, then, I decided to try something different – something a little slower, a little less panicked. Something more like what he’d do. So, I bit my lip and said, “hey. I’ll see you soon.”
His face broke into a smile. He nodded. “Yeah. I guess so.”
“Maybe in June,” I offered.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Come on out.”
I waved goodbye from my warm car, and drove to the nearest breve americano. After that, I went on with my day – an accidental twitter storm on bad aid in Uganda, meetings with my bookkeeper, inventory, press releases and appointments with shop owners.
I got thinking about my great big wildfire of a life that day. And, I realized that I’ve spent years chasing things to their end – running, burning until the fires die out, afraid of missing something along their way. And, I’m not sure it’s gotten me much of anywhere.
Years later, in a different small town, with degrees and jobs under my belt, and two terribly different ways of looking back on how we’ve spent time since – not much had changed after all except, maybe, me.
It took the return of a wildfire to help me discover that I’ve let far too little time slip. And, it took him leaving again to make me realize I don’t want to miss the golden hours anymore.
(Photo via Margaret Jacobsen Photography).
January 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I wrote recently on the Nakate blog about why Nakate asks for donations when we’re a business. Clearly, it’s an oddity. Shouldn’t we only be asking for donations if we’re, in turn, GIVING things away?
See, the donations that go towards companies and projects giving items away are unfortunately not often going towards something sustainable. They could be creating change for today that won’t last for tomorrow. But, at Nakate, we are running fundraisers for the purpose of never asking for donated money again. Our goal is to reach a point of complete sustainability within a year – without going into debt, without compromising our values, and while continuing to expand as we do it.
Now, what usually happens with businesses like ours is that grants are given and, we are applying to grants, to be sure. But there is something so beautiful and organic about running something off of funding from people you know. Our catch phrase is “Where will you take Africa with you?” We run off the idea that women across the world are taking a piece of Africa with them and, while they do it, some of them, in turn, are also giving a piece back.
This is what has gotten my business to the place it is.
My goal is to be completely sustainable within the next year. And, I love that it is primarily a group of women that’s getting me there. I love that each trip I take to Uganda I come home and I write an email to a group of people that I know on twitter, facebook and through the blogosphere. I love that they write me BACK. I love that I’ve had coffee, lunch, dinner and drinks with many of the names that come up in fundraisers. I love that my project is possible because of groups of people that have measured what I am doing, and counted it worthy of a micro investment. I love that yoga instructors, nonprofit advisors, health coaches, photographers and designers are the kind of women that are funding my work with a group of women they, also, have chosen to believe in and respect.
In that line of thinking, I wrote the following yesterday afternoon before running off to heat yoga:
We’d like to argue that the fact that we are not “giving” anything away makes us exactly the kind of company you should consider donating to in 2012. The donations we ask for are for sustainable solutions. We ask for your help with women’s salaries, expansion in our lines of goods and other investments in order to help us hire more women while dealing with the financial difficulty of being a start up business.
We ask for your help developing a solution for sustainable change, because we’re different from other companies. We’ve chosen to work with women in small, rural villages – women that would not be hired by other companies, women that didn’t previously know how to make the kinds of goods we sell.
Because we are developing sustainable change through training women in rural areas of Africa, and creating change as we go, we ask for donations. Because we are not giving money away, but rather paying women for goods that give them pride and allow us to teach them business skills as we go, we ask for donations. Because women that have never had jobs before are working for us and investing their money back into their own businesses in their spare time, opening bank accounts, roofing their homes, sending their children to school and spending their money in other sustainable ways, we ask for donations.
Precisely because we using them towards growth on the ground that gives pride, grows the local economy and changes women’s lives for good, we ask for donations – smart donations, donations we will use on the ground towards change that will last.
This month, we’re asking for donations to help us expand into more product lines in the new year. We’re asking for donations in the hope that, as we sell these product lines and expand, we soon will not have to ever ask for donations again.
We’re asking for donations to work towards sustainability – for Nakate, and for Africa.
Because we ask for donations from people who consider themselves personally involved in a business they believe will change women’s lives for good, we try and involve them whenever possible in that process. This is why we have “perks” listed in our latest fundraiser – ways we can further involve you further in a personal way as you invest and believe in us.
However, you can enter any donation amount here.
January 15th is my 23rd birthday, and I’ll be asking for donations of $2.30, $23.00 or $230.00 from now until then. If you would like to enter a specific amount, simply deleted the automatically entered amount of $150.00 and enter your desired amount.
December 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
“At an event recently in Minneapolis, Rose McGee, a professional storyteller, came forward with a powerful statistic: White male entrepreneurs endure failure at least 11 times in their career. Wow. I was struck both by the high rate of failure as well as the subtext of the comment. White men are allowed to fail. But are women and minorities given equal opportunity? Unlikely.
The bias that emerges isn’t one of white men having more income, educational advantage, or social capital. White men are afforded more chances to take risks—and in taking risks they are allowed to fail and succeed in greater number than women and minorities.
So why is access to risk so essential? The ability to take on risk—to risk failure—is what enables individuals to carve out their own direction in life. It’s part of what gives someone a sense of power to overcome circumstance and reach for something bigger. The ability to take on risk means quite simply that one no longer has to live in a world of “a dream deferred” (to quote Langston Hughes), but can rather embrace “the impossible dream” (to quote Man of La Mancha)…
…I learned that in sharing and being open about where you are headed, you actually increase the odds of getting there by enrolling the support of others. In this way, embracing uncertainty and problem solving around uncertainty with others from the beginning rather than waiting until you’ve ruled it out is a necessary component of risk-taking…
…The clown is the supreme archetype of failure. Part of the reason the clown is such a successful entertainer is because most people can’t afford to fail like a clown, to be that vulnerable, clumsy, and uninhibited. Even to see it second-hand—to experience the second-hand embarrassment of the clown—is a release for people…
…So what can we learn from clowns? Part of the method of the clown is to try to enjoy the process, to be comfortable with the failing so that you can show whatever it is you feel and not hide, aiming only to show what is good. In the realm of entrepreneurship, clowning translates into the ability to take a risk and then should you fail, be able to spin that failure into both a learning opportunity and a success…
…In perceiving failure as part of success—as endemic to it—we can transform our thinking and develop more of an appetite for risk. Only when women and minorities begin to shift their attitudes towards failure and risk will society begin to rewrite the cultural scripts that make it acceptable for white men to fail, but somehow “unsafe” or “shameful” for others to dream big as well.”
Excerpts from “To Succeed, Women And Minorities Need To Be Able To Fail“
December 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
Africa pulls me from my comfort zone. Workaholism is hereditary, like any other addiction, and with limited time I want to make every moment count. I wake up in the dark, here, find my phone – what time is it?
It’s always before 6:00, and usually before 5:30. This morning it was 4:50, lying awake, listening to the traffic on the kampala to gulu highway, the chickens – twenty minutes go by and there’s a rooster. And, it’s time to write, to upload photos, to fill in inventory and do what I can before the sun rises. Then, we sit and wait for the water for the coffee, the water for the shower – buckets of water over my head in the sunshine, warm in the cold outside air on my back and legs. We sit and wait for breakfast. It arrives. We wait. Then, finish, and more waiting. A morning that began before 5:00 never actually begins before 11:00. To me, the day begins with a mental clock in – “we’ve arrived, we’ve begun work. It’s here.” But that is not the African way. The morning begins with your first greeting – “Ah! How did you sleep? How was the night?” It continues with the second, a few moments later. Every beginning is that way, twice over, sometimes three times. I struggle with formalities on a culture that turns on two greetings, two goodbyes, here and at the car – there in the house, and then outside again, a bow and then a handshake, a “how are you?” and then a second, “how do you find this place?” and then, following that, a “well done.”
I fight for a balance. My mind is processing poverty – time wasted is money wasted, and the problems before me aren’t problems that will be solved while we are taking tea. And yet, if I am ever to solve these problems, tea must be taken, formalities must be met, and the second greeting must be given. If I do not move smoothly into the African way, there will be no understanding between us. And so, while the long tea, and the sitting, and the waiting, and the greeting, all eat up time for work…they are also an integral part of work.
So, I look for the balance – the time for tea, the second greeting, the smile when I’m past exhaustion, and then, the quiet demand for work, now, and to protect my time. It is important to be doing business, getting things done. It cannot all be about relationship, or we will not finish anything today – and yet, it cannot all be about finishing things today, for without relationship in the community we will never finish. And so, I find the giving of one thing to gain another. Dominance. Leadership. Who is respected in the community? Who must I meet? And, after a long day, are there people we must stop and greet before we go home?
At the same time, I find that the formalities in the village have given me entrance into women’s lives. I am a mzungu, and so they will sit and greet, and take the time to speak to me. And, what is my work if it is not sitting and taking out vast chunks of my day to find out who women are, what they want, and how we can together make it happen for them? The second greeting, with them, is a passport into information, the expectation that they will speak with me is the entry way into opportunity. And, for me, it is a new rhythm that speaks to me of the importance of people. Relationships cannot possibly be over-estimated here, and so, holding a woman’s baby during a long meeting is building my work. Sitting and taking tea when I thought I had something else to do is, in that moment, my most important job. Hearing a story I did not expect, taking a stop we did not plan for – making the time to go to a woman’s home – it’s all part of investing in relationship and, slowly, I find that the relationship itself is important to me. Beyond the business, or the success it brings to our project, I find that I begin to value the relationship itself – and these people have become my friends.
And so, Africa and I are doing a dance – I give, she takes – she gives a little and I take. And, together, we are finding a balance between us that is slowly changing us both.
November 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
My vision for Nakate centers not only on female artisans the third world, but artisans in the third world that haven’t been given a market before, and thus don’t know how to make the kind of quality goods that other women do. As our model has developed in Uganda, we’ve found that it works best to bring women in that are excellent at their trade, and have them teach the women working for us. Slowly, we stop buying from the women that are good at what they do, and pick more and more pieces from the women that are learning.
Quality control is an integral part of that process, and I believe that it’s one of the best ways to not only teach women skills as artisans, but as people that will be going out and beginning other businesses with the capitol they earn through Nakate. If you can learn that the quality of a necklace matters, then you know that the quality of your milk or meat or the clothes you’re selling at a booth at the market in fact, matters. If you see that a dirty necklace doesn’t sell, you learn to make your things…and hopefully keep your things…in a clean environment. If I have learned anything in Africa, it’s that poverty does not have to equal uncleanliness.
Today was my first day running quality control on the ground, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve done so far. It’s the most disappointing thing in the world to send a woman away holding the majority of a group of necklaces she was hoping would help to feed her children.
I fought back tears, and I made myself see the bigger picture. The ongoing training process is important, and when a woman doesn’t try very hard, or she inserts plastic where I asked for metal, she needs to be held to the standard she’s been given, or she will never regain her pride. If there is no standard to meet, no earning present in your work, then there is no pride in your work – and pride in your work is of the utmost importance, especially as an otherwise marginalized woman.
I know that, in just a few months, several of these women will have a market stalls, and I hope many of them think back to today, dusty and full of smoke, and remember that I told them that its important for their products to be the same size, for beads to be formed neatly, for them to not leave them in the dirt, or put blue in where they were supposed to be using black.
I hope that the way I taught them to to hold up a necklace and check the quality for themselves helps them in their endeavors, not only working for me, but working to make clothing, baskets, or present food in the kind of small restaurant some of the women are saying they hope to open.
I hope that the explanation of colors, checking one against another, looking with their eye to see if it matches with a white person’s skin, and bringing several of one kind of piece helps them to begin, on a local scale, to perceive customer care, marketing to a certain audience and uniformity in their products.
I smiled at the women who walked out the door with the expectation of enough, some of them even more than enough. But the women who didn’t took chunks of my heart. And I sat there hoping that, as our work plays out, their products improve and we work, together, towards becoming women that understand quality when we see it, especially when it comes from our own hands.
Just hours later, it began to happen. One by one, women whose work had been less than quality began showing up to the house where I am staying, offering work that met my standards, and had been changed to please me.
I saw in their faces that it’s already happening – when I accepted their work, there was a quiet strength that came into their eyes, and I could see pride beginning to form – in themselves, in the work of their hands, and in the work that, together, we are going to do to change our lives.
November 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In my village, the rain has many faces. Sometimes it comments like a torrent in the night – tap tap tap on the tin roof, and I wake up to the sound of a thousand tiny plinking drops, amplified by the dull tin rising up on a slant above the blue mosquito netting, and reaching it’s highest point over my bed.
I wake up groggy in the night, needing to pee, and I listen to the rain tap tap tap, telling me that the front door is locked from the inside, I don’t have a key, and that I’ll have to use the bucket in the corner of the room if I must go. Sometimes, I get up and do it. Other nights I roll over and will myself back to sleep, and the rain goes on, stopping sometime in the night when I’m passed out on my single bed with the iron sides.
Sometimes, the rain comes in thunder, booming, clapping – what was that? Sheila smiled at my face looking scared the first time it happened, and pulling the Pixies quickly out of my ear.
“What was that?”
Then, the rain comes with a force held back for several moments, only letting single drop escape, and making taps like acorns on the tin roof when it’s summer in California, and the wind blows on the oak trees. The only trees beside my house are coffee trees, and matoke trees. And I know it must be rain because they are not tall enough.
When the rain comes like this, it comes with a humid pressure thick enough to make you break a sudden sweat as you’re sitting.
In Botswana, they call the rain “pula” – money. In Luganda it’s “nekumba.” My first day in Kakooge it rained while I was showering, and the cold droplets mixed with the lukewarm water in my green washing basin. I showered African style that day, squatting on the ground and splashing water on myself. The next day, there was a basin and a cup, and no rain. But the rain hadn’t bothered me as I was bathing. No, in the rain and the water and the black painted cement I felt a part of this place, and tucked myself into the differences it hands me – naked in the rain, awake with the water pounding on my rising roof at night, sweating in the afternoon when the first thunderclap rises.
Agnes noticed it too. She smiled at me quietly my second day here. “It’s not the rainy season,” she said. “But I think that you have brought the rain, and a blessing with it.”
November 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
I ran a 5k for Habitat for Humanity in high school. I have a tee from it – “I habadabadid the habidabado.” And, that was it. In 28.5 minutes and five kilometers, my Habitat for Humanity career began and ended in a morning. Afterward, I rewarded myself with TGIFridays, and moved on.
The next time I happened on Habitat for Humanity I was disgusted with them. They were charging poor Ugandan women for their homes, and the women I met were having trouble meeting the loans for them. Why did Habitat for Humanity simply not help to create them shelters, nice, solid foundations and brick walls, and hand it over – gift like – and then move onward elsewhere?
Today, Habitat for Humanity resurfaced in my life in Kakooge. I came upon it several times, and discovered that my work is in partnership with theirs, though I doubt that they will ever know my name, or be aware of our mutual building up of African women in this village. Many times I heard the words, “I have paid back my loan on this home through the beads,” and as I sat and spoke with two women – first, Margaret, who when I first met her was having a tough time meeting payments for the loan on her home and second, Scovia, who is from the Rwandan tribe Munyarwada, but is first generation Ugandan, I discovered that Habitat for Humanity has a business model that is working. The requirement to pay for a home gives pride to a woman when she has accomplished it. She is motivated to work, to pay her bills – to do her best for an employer like myself when we present the opportunity to earn capital. And, in that way, Habitat for Humanity has partnered with me in Kakooge – and I am thankful.
“Through the beads” have become an anthem for my days in Africa. Through the beads, a pig, through the beads school fees, through the beads…vegetable stands, mortar and bricks for a home previously made of only mud, through the beads new clothing, money to pay people to dig for me and food for my children when before we had, “fallen so sick.”
Through the beads, support for Habitat for Humanity that I could not have planned myself. And, through Habitat for Humanity, homes for the women that partner with me in our livelihoods.
November 28, 2011 § 2 Comments
When I arrived in the Ugandan airport this week, I spent an hour standing, warding off men who wanted to take my bag – “Mzungu! Zungu! Are you sure they are coming for you? Do you want me to take your bag? You want to use my phone to call? Have they forgotten you? They are coming – are you sure?”
In front of the neon flamingo restaurant sign that has become one of my first familiar Ugandan sights, I stood and I waited for Sheila – my twitter friend.
Sheila and I have been keeping up on each other’s blogs, emailing and mentioning each other on twitter for nearly a year now, and I waved to her quickly when I saw her walk through the entrance. With a “silly you!” face to all the men badgering me, she and I gathered our bags together with Agnes and Millie, and our driver Katende, and we left to spend the night in Wobulenzi.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my relationship with Sheila, but it quickly became apparent that ours was a bond of mutual commitment to empowering women. She had seen my vision online, through my voice (my “brand” as it were), and she knew we were compatible to work together.
I’m not sure either of us knew just how compatible, or the companionship we would find in Agnes, who runs Nakate on the ground. Our separate experiences as women in Africa were shared, and the gracious – untypical – humility of Agnes’ husband allowed for him to encourage us, to take dishes away as we laughed and spoke openly as women. And, this is Africa has taught me this time – to empower women, you must first come to them as a woman, not a philanthropist, or a social entrepreneur. But a woman. A woman who understands shame, loss, embarrassment, need for hope. We bring our thoughts to Agnes and she encourages us in her knowledge of the women. “I want to portray their strength to the American market,” I say. “I want people to see them as powerful. I don’t want them only to know them as women with AIDS, women torn from wars, women whose husbands have gone.” She nods, quickly. “That is what we want, as African women. And that is what they want. They want you to show that they are passing through whatever it was, and they are coming out on the other side. And, that is how they see themselves. They see themselves as women who own land, now, women who have livestock and businesses and are providing for their families. They see now that they are strong.”
Developing that truth into our media, this week, hasn’t been hard. I’ve been re-photographing women that, last year, were crying as they told me their stories. This time around, Sheila stands beside me and asks them to smile. Then, she makes a goofy Canadian face and says “Come on! Laugh a little! Are you happy? Be free!”
At first it it was difficult to get them to loosen up. Traditionally, Ugandans are very serious for photos, and smiling for the camera is a foreign concept – even verging, it would seem, on embarrassment. But we kept working at it, and gradually each of them, like women ready to erupt, broke into laughter and began to move – giggling, laughing, doubling over, clapping, even some of them dancing a little as I took their photos. Soon women were gathering around for our shoots, and the laughter started sooner and came easier, and it didn’t stop as quickly. I realized, in those moments, that I had never seen any of these women truly smile before. I wondered, as I edited photos later, if they didn’t see themselves as happy, even when they were serious in front of the camera, and if it wasn’t simple journalistic skills like asking the right questions, and drawing out the truth in a person’s account, that were necessary for telling the stories of the women in Nakate.
I tested out the theory as I asked them questions – do they see themselves as designers? Artists? Do they like to wear certain colors or styles? Do they wear the necklaces? Which are their favorites?
At first they were timid – as if no one had asked them these types of questions before. But the answers came quickly, and I knew that they saw themselves as women just like me, if I only asked them the right questions. Like me, they had colors they liked to wear better than others. Like me, they preferred one necklace over another, and they had titles for themselves – designer, jewelry maker, weaver, artist, business woman. Like me, they needed someone to come in and see them the way they see themselves, and assure them that they are right. They are powerful. They are different. They are full of laughter.
A remarkable thing happened last night, as I walked into the village for the second time that day. I found the women were wearing the jewelry they were making for the very first time. And when I walked up to their huts, they began to laugh.
November 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
There is nothing so frustrating about running a business as learning to create your own brand. I have had so many women ask me how to get started on this. They ask questions like, do I need a logo? How much social media should I be doing? And, how do I find my “target audience?”
My lovely friend Jenna is here to answer those questions for you, this week. She has taught me much since we first met over cyberspace, earlier this year. She is the only woman I know that has successfully planned a wedding, run a small business, kept up top performance at a public relations position and kept her blog up with dancer-like rhythm….all while training for a marathon.
So, without further ado, I give you Jenna:
Hello, my name is Jenna Leigh, I am a small town Midwest gal with big dreams. I am a photographer, a wedding blogger, and a branding extraordinaire. I am a wife, a puppy mama, a runner, and a lover of life. I have grown a small empire of businesses in a years time and I truly believe that nothing is more important that a strong brand.
1) Logo: It is hard to argue the importance of a strong logo. Your logo is a change to showcase your style, your flare. It should be a designed representation of your work. I believe that a logo begins to tell your story, so it should be something you absolutely love. If you aren’t a graphic designer yourself, find one… it is well worth the investment, I promise you!
3) Be Memorable: Memorable doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. How are you going to stand out, what will set you apart? When I set out to stand out, I found clients who were up for anything. One of my favorite engagement shoots took place at the Wisconsin State Fair. Those photos attracted a new audience and were so memorable. I have had many of my brides say that when they saw that shoot they were hooked, why? Because it was different.
5) Keep it Simple: Another mistake so many photographers and business owners make is making their websites so full of information. Simplify it all and share only a few reasons why you are the person for the job. The reality is, time is limited and many clients will browse hundreds of photographers websites. Long paragraphs describing why you love being a photographer will often be skipped over… really, they want to look at your photographs. Write a few sentences that sum up you and your business and be done with it.
7) Show Your Personality: I get so many client emails and inquiries that it is important that my voice is heard through email. Don’t feel like you have to be a rigid business owner, showcase your personality! When I email my clients, I keep it fun and light, it attracts the audience I want to work with. My emails tell a story, a story about why my clients should choose me and it gives them a look into what working with me will be like. Keep it fun, lighthearted, and share your brand through your writing.
Branding a business is a journey, an adventure. Have fun with it, once you create your story, share it with the world. Get out there and tell it. Be open to change but stick to that core brand that you have worked so hard to create. Just be you, a fabulous creative, and don’t ever look back… keep on chasing your dreams and take your clients and supporters along for the ride of their lifetime.