Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My 'Full Circle' Story

When I was 16 or 17 I watched the Invisible Children Rough Cut documentary in my living room. Three times. The people in the film, the disheartening stats and the call for help rode my train of thought off its tracks for days. This issue seemed SO BIG and I felt so small. What did I know about civil war in Africa or the ICC or when and how is the appropriate way for Americans to intervene?
This documentary was my 'aha!' moment. My identity as an activist grew from there, and now I don't feel so small at all. Now I can confidently discuss the issues I got tangled in as a high-schooler and I can voice my opinion on how to solve these problems.
The atrocities of the LRA and our responsibility to stop them has remained a cause that is near and dear to my heart, though now it sits among (and admittedly sometimes takes the back seat to) many other worthwhile investments including my feminist lifestyle and my work to improve third-world living conditions in a more efficient manner through UNICEF.
When I wanted to volunteer abroad I chose Uganda because the terrorism there is the source of my identity as a person with purpose, a person with something to contribute. The LRA had fled Uganda long before I visited, but I had promised myself that I would see this place in the films and I made it happen. My experience in Uganda has changed my life forever, especially considering the amazing, resilient, courageous people I lived and worked with.
Tonight Invisible Children Columbus held a documentary screening and hosted "the Roadies," a group of interns who give up months of their lives to advocate for LRA victims. I knew that in previous tours the roadies brought spokespeople who were straight out of the LRA-affected areas, but I didn't expect one this time around.
It was such a pleasant surprise to find that we did have a visitor from Northern Uganda, and her name was Fiona. If you remember from earlier in my blog, Fiona was also the name of a girl I met in Uganda. She lived at the house where I learned to cook traditionally (outside) and fetch water. Today's Fiona was just as vibrant and beautiful and intelligent, but she had a different story. Growing up in Northern Uganda instead of Kampala (where I stayed) put her in the middle of the Ugandan civil war. She lost her parents so her uncle took her in. Her uncle was then adbucted by the LRA and Invisible Children is putting her through university where she studies public policy.
I knew I wanted to try my (very rusty) Luganda on her and when I told her "webale" (thank you) her eyes lit up. They lit up the way people's eyes get because they're surprised, but then the shape of their eyebrows kind of makes them look sad, if that makes sense. She said "Where did you learn that?!" and I told her briefly about my time in Uganda. We talked, took pictures and hugged goodbye. Our marketing efforts generated a much, much better turnout than I had anticipated, and everyone who came out was so generous at the merch booth as well.
When I step back and look at my initial reaction to the video and how motivated I was to do something about it, and seeing today's tangible results of that motivation (with the support of other like-minded peers, of course) I realize that things really came full circle. I never would have believed when I was 17 that 4 years later I'd be making a difference and making a connection with a Ugandan by speaking a tiny bit of Luganda with her.
I guess what i'm trying to say is that no matter how big or complicated your purpose or problem is, you can absolutely be a part of the solution. It won't be convenient or comfortable or given to you as a set of instructions, but it will be totally worthwhile once you step back and recognize how far you've come.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I promised I'd be back! Here's a few updates:

I continued feeling ill and ended up going to urgent care in my hometown the day after Christmas. For some reason my blood pressure was alarmingly low and the nurse wanted to send me to a hospital. But it got a little better and the nice Indian doctor took some blood and put me on extra malaria medication, assuming that's what I had. As my condition improved over the 4-day treatment of pills, I was also convinced that I had had malaria, but a more mild case of it since I had taken my antimalarial pills as instructed for the previous 2 months. Anyway, after I had finished that medication I received a phone call saying the tests were negative. So what it was that I actually had remains a mystery. I'm just glad it's over. And while it was kind of crappy timing since I didn't enjoy my time at home as much as I would've liked, it was nice being there since my family took care of me and made sure I was as comfortable as possible. I did get very cabin-feverish and bored, though. Tyler came down to keep me company for the last couple of days, which helped.

I got some sad news on Christmas morning. The girl I had written about named Lucy was involved in an accident. She was hit by a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) and passed away. I usually try to find the bright side to any bad news but sometimes you'll come across a story and the silver lining is too distant and blurred to really make out. As I mentioned before, I have very little experience with death, and having this occasion involving an innocent little girl makes it that much harder.
I am curious, and more anxious, to hear what kind of condition the kids are in once they return to school next month. Please keep those children in your thoughts/prayers, and I will ask about them.

I also need to ask Freda about the older sister who was taken up north last month. Freda left Uganda yesterday, and I bet it was one of the hardest departures that Herman and Annie have had to say to any of their volunteers. Freda was really a gift to them, and they were able to enjoy each other's company for three months, which is much longer than the average visit.

I really miss Uganda. I miss the kids and the people I worked with, the weather, the sense of community, and people's attitudes. I miss the laid back sense of time that everyone had. I miss being around people who didn't have much but were still content and thankful for what they did have. In my first day back to classes, 3 of my 4 professors complained about their classrooms, basically about how 'ancient' or 'disgusting' they were, because although the rooms were all clean, the desks were uncomfortable and the projector screen wasn't big enough, etc etc. I thought back and remembered how excited the Lungujja girls would be to take spelling tests leaning over their knees, writing on the concrete floor. People's standards, expectations, comments, everything is in perspective; and I'm so thankful for mine.