by KareMeKuc co-founder Max Clary
Irii aber! (Good afternoon in Langi),
I am sorry that it has been a moment since I have last posted. This week’s post will be a blend of my personal life and the project progress as they are becoming deeply intertwined as my time here begins to come to an end.
Man, it hurts to say that this is ending soon. Uganda has become a second home to me. As I have done with many of you, I have been able to create friends into family with the people I have met here. It hurts to think about leaving a place where I have created such a beautiful home, it’s a good thing I will be back many times J. This week I want to talk about trust, connection and why I feel the purpose of this trip was integral in our future project.
For me, the purpose of this trip has been to connect with the children affected by war and the greater community in Lira, Uganda. I think it is safe to say that this goal has been more than successful and has exceeded my expectations. First off, I have learned about what the needs of the children affected by war are and how we can appropriately address them. For example, you heard from Jimmy and Moses, and many others like them have voiced their need for food security and education. The Peace Center that we will build will address vocational skills aimed toward sustainable food production in rural villages as well as teaching a business class that will allow these children to support their family on their surplus crops. With the help of Nellie, we were able to start building connections with local family planning and health care facilities that will offer us services necessary for these children’s health.
As time went on and I started to make friendships here I gained the trust needed to hear about these children’s lives and where healing happened for them, it also happened for me. For example, last week at one of our peace clubs at a primary school (grades 1-8) called Fountain we did an art therapy project. This project asked the kids to draw a picture of their life story. As my friend and coworker for CPU asked the kids to do this, I knew I could not ask them to share about their life if I was unwilling to get vulnerable and share about my life. Below are some of the pictures the kids drew, many of them depicting guns, bullets, rape, and the murder of loved ones. One child whose mother was killed with an axe just drew a bloody axe. Sorry for the heaviness but I feel it important to give you a clear picture. Mine, not so graphic, was completely black except for an open hand in the middle of the paper. Within this open hand bright colors burst out in every direction. What this meant for me was the blackness symbolized all of the trauma and “lemons” life has given me. The open hand represented for me the perfect symbol for giving as you cannot give to yourself or others with a closed fist. Finally, the bright colors were the love and beauty that was created out of all this darkness by giving to others and myself. When we were all done drawing the kids began to share about their pictures. Soon, one by one they started to break down as they let the sadness come out and as my neighbors began to cry they wrapped their arms around me and I held them as they cried. Before I knew it, I was crying with a renewed sense of determination to give these children a better life and an opportunity to create a life they are proud of. It was a beautiful moment as it became clear that I was no longer some white guy visiting but I was many of these kids’ friend to the extent that they even felt comfortable me with walking around the circle and putting my hand on their backs as they courageously shared their stories. In order to continue this important grieving and forgiveness work a counseling center will be built at the Peace Center for all kids to receive both individual and group therapy with a variety holistic wellness exercises ranging from talking, to art therapy, yoga, and meditation. All of this will be provided by trained and certified social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Along with the kids that I have worked with and become close to, I have also made friends with many people in the community who welcome the center as both a need and beneficially thing. Many of my friends who I have invited to join me in attending a Peace Club with the kids have become very interested in the work we are doing and want to help the center in whatever way they can. I will be working with many of my friends in Lira while I am back in the US to secure the appropriate materials and prices for all the resources we will need to build this center. I have seen many white people while I have been here come for a short time, take pictures and then leave. All I can say is I am glad I am not one of those people. Although I believe their intentions are pure, It has been vital for me to reach this human to human connection to recognize these people are people and they recognize me as a human rather that the white photographers that they have seen so many times. Similar to the work I do with the refugee women in Portland, I believe I am redefining that not all men are aggressive and impatient and not all white people are ignorant and removed. Often when I am talking in Langi with my friends and my hands are full of ocherre (rice) and organga (beans) they remark that I am not a mazungo (white person). What they mean by this is not that I am not white but that I am not so different from them. Forming these connections has not only been important for making sure this project is truly beneficial and okay with the community but as also proved to me regardless of skin color, background, or culture if we both choose to connect and let down our cultured notions of others we can connect as humans, as friends, and eventually, as family. So long story short, mission success in more ways that I can express on this piece of virtual paper.
Life as gone on well for me as I work during the week and then go dancing with my friends during the nights of the weekend. I have just finished an exciting adventure to Kampala (the capital of Uganda) where I took a public bus 6 hours from Lira to Kampala. On the bus I met a very nice woman named Mara who works with educating adolescent females about staying in school and family planning. Once in Kampala, I had to venture by myself around the city dodging in between cars stuck in a traffic jam to find the Old Taxi Park. Not to worry, as per the usual everyone was very nice and directed me to the taxi park and I was there in no time. Once there, a new friend (that based on his apparel, I am pretty sure has invented the first time machine and has traveled directly from the 80’s) helped me find my shared taxi and 15 of us piled into a mini-van (imagine an African clown car and that was pretty much exactly what that was like). Then I made another friend named Lillian who was just beginning her studies at a university in Entebbe and loves chemistry like me and is also training to be doctor. She was a very nice girl and made sure that I got out at the right place. Finally, now in this suburb of Kampala I wandered around, made some more friends and eventually found my hotel. At the hotel, which was the most funky and hallucinogenic place I have ever been, was the largest gathering of white people I have seen in Uganda and every single one of them (literally every one) had an African child they were adopting. So there I was immersed in Africa’s edition of Alice in Wonderland surrounded by white parents and their crying African babies and wondering what alternate reality I had just stepped into and if I would ever return. Luckily, I had the comfort of some reality as I became friends with one of servers who was a Rwandan woman living in Kampala named Sara. When Sara finished serving the African children that were soon becoming the westerners we know and love (playing with their parent’s Iphone and telling them they didn’t want that certain food and only wanted fries) she came and sat with me and had written down a whole bunch of English translations for Kin-Rwanda and Luganda (The language they speak in Central Uganda, In the north (like Lira) they speak mainly Langi and Acholi). So we chatted for a while and laughed at my terrible pronunciation and I felt home again. Early this morning (7/13) I woke up and my driver picked me up for the Safari I am currently on. Once again, I have never seen such expensive food or so many white people while I have been in Uganda, I guess this where they hide them all. Anyways, my driver, Joseph, and I drove for about 9 hours out to Western Uganda which at first looked a whole lot like the deserts in Texas or Arizona but with cows that have horns that are each like 3 feet tall! It was unreal and so terribly uncomfortable looking for the cows. But I don’t know, maybe if I had huge horns I would be proud of them too. Toward the end we got about as far west as Uganda goes nearing the boarder of the DRC and it became SO BEAUTIFUL like something out of those magazines you look at on the airplane. These huge rolling green hills of tea that look like a Mircosoft screen saver and then situated right in between these bright green hills and a tall volcano was a beautiful lake where people fished on banana trees tied together. I have now arrived at the hotel that sits on top of a mountain overlooking the game park. Tonight I watched the sunset and a line of elephants walking across the park. Haha, then I cried wishing I could have taken the kids I work with with me. I cried both out of gratitude and guilt as I reflected on my privilege. Privilege has always been a tricky issue for me as it is not fair that because of where I was born I should experience certain things. Nonetheless, should I then let my privilege go to waste? I understand for many people there are different answers but for me I have decided that the only thing I can do is to use my privilege to help others and experience it to its fullest with the gratitude that I know billions of people all over the world would have. I reconcile the fact that my skin color and my gender has given to me as it takes from the rest of the world by trying to be aware and grateful as I give it back to others. This concept is actually exactly what started this project as I knew because of my scholarship to school and not having to worry about whether I would eat or not I must spend that time working to help others eat. I believe that pretty much all of you reading this have privilege in one sense or another. For example, many of you are not worried about where your next meal is coming from but I guarantee that within a 25 mile radius of you someone is. I hope this blog post of human connection, giving and reconciling what we did not ask for but what we have been given inspires you to give some of it away and I promise it will come right back to you tenfold in happiness. Okay my friends, I hope are all well and I talk to you all again soon. SO MUCH LOVE from me to you