It wasn’t my intention when I left Canada to criticize Africa – or Uganda for that matter. Rather to document the hope. Presume the innocent are innocent. Even though I was exploited by veteran visitors not to trust anyone. It turns out, what most said is somewhat true.
Why though? Why is there so much distrust, theft, poverty and corruption in Uganda? In Africa? Aid pours in everyday. Foreigners set up orphanages. NGO’s.
It’s rumoured that profits sit in administrator's back pockets. Lugandans fear help. For each other. Why? Why no trust?
In six weeks I learned how to survive in Uganda. To manage myself. To buy bottled water. To eat cooked foods. To keep my cameras hidden and my money belt inside my skirt at my crotch. To avoid driving into downtown Kampala during rush hour. Full stop.
In the first week I was counting the days. By the second I’d declared utter dysfunction. I was even heard to say, “Africa is fucked.”
But by the third week I’d grown acceptance. In the fourth I was a blended Mzungu. During the fifth and sixth weeks I started to learn the speak and fell in love with a beautiful soul. An African man. A muslim. From Uganda.
Leaving was sad. Very sad. I’d come to know it as home. The early morning sunrises - a cornucopia of colours, lights and sounds. To run before the heat. Before the traffic. To awake with the birds in high treble. The monotones of the garish storks. Always a rooster. Even in the dusk of the still night’s air. Live or canned. Always the sound of music.
Come a Sunday the gospel sway. Everyday early morning prayers. Goats. A cow. Traffic. Non-stop horns honking.
Savvy street smarts when crossing – at anytime. Who to buy fruit from. When to ask what it costs. Clarifying Mzungu or Lugandan prices?
Yes, leaving Uganda has been difficult. Africa is in my heart. But I’ve learned. I’ve spoken to many. Doctors, nurses, teachers, tourism professionals, HIV/AIDS patients, children, teenagers, IT professionals - even housemaids. What keeps these people going in the face of such adversity?Faith. Their faith. Their belief that God will fight the battle for them.
And hope. There is hope. Their hope lies in stability. Renewed leadership of trust. An end to corruption. Education for all. Skills training. Peace. Peace for stability. Peace for economic development.
But will it happen soon?
At the grassroots level t-shirts wear the words, Peace and stability, or Do you know your child’s HIV status? and Discipline, stamina, knowledge, sills for social and economic transformation…
As I sit aboard a 747 I contemplate again. What can I do? What can the world do?
Unity. Sharing of knowledge. Resources. Spoken from many when I asked for their wish for the world.
A man from the Netherlands sits next to me. He’s an irrigation consultant who has been working in Kenya. He tells me of Transparency International. A public poll of corruption. ID’ing the sources. What’s affected you, by who and how? In Kenya the media is low, the police are high.
Transparency. Will that work to erase corruption? To identify the sources and oust them from power? What if the power is too strong? Like in politics.
I know my wish for Uganda. That people develop trust in one another. To share the wealth. The rich help the poor. The poor know more. Most importantly, for everyone to have an opportunity to learn to read and write. For everyone to have fair access to health care. For the future with a HIV free generation.
Meanwhile, I head back to the comforts of Canada. To a television set. Reliable Internet access. A mobile phone network that can manage the volume. A toilet that flushes. A shower that works. The availability of water – at all times. Power that rarely turns off. The ability to walk into a grocery store and not leave your backpack at the front door. To go to bank machine without a guard with a gun. To walk into a restaurant and not have your bag checked or your body swept with a metal detector. To accept the change as being right when you’ve paid for goods. To not have to lock your bedroom door, your front door and your backdoor during the day when you’re home. To look out the window and there be no metal grates protecting the glass. To walk home and into your front door without a No hawkers allowed sign displayed. To forget about your laundry being hung up overnight on the clothes line and not have to fear it being stolen in the night.
Yes, Uganda is full of mistrust. From the top down. A case of survival? True. But Uganda is also full of beauty.
A lush rich fertile land with sunshine, warm air, night rains, wildlife in their natural habitat and women who everyday look their best. It’s also full of hope. People with dreams and strength to make things better. To improve the lives for everyone.
Peace will come.
It will take time.