I’ve been in Uganda for nearly seven weeks now. My fellow travel companions have returned home, but for me–still three weeks remain in Uganda. While I was still in the states, when I was deciding if I truly wanted to extend my stay here beyond the planned time, I wondered if it would be worth it. To assist with my decision, I asked many people–family and friends, for their thoughts. But, I quickly learned that from each source came differences in opinions, which compiled–were not as helpful as I had hoped. So, I had to decide for myself.
In choosing to stay, I often wondered what I would do after the others left (something that I still wonder during stagnant times here). However, I don’t regret the decision. Everyday here, I continue to learn. For instance, today as I ran an errand with a friend, I conversed with a woman from Saudi Arabia. She has been in Uganda for about the same amount of time that I have. We joked about some of the Ugandan quirks, such as dangerously speedy boda bodas with drivers who transport possibly one, most likely two, and sometimes even three or more passengers at a time to their intended destinations. On the other hand, if you’re a tourist, they might take you to a completely different location or to the correct one, but they might follow an indirect path, so that they can charge you more, it’s pretty much a gamble! We continued to converse and eventually I asked her about her home country: ” How is it? Would I like to visit there?” And she hesitated. She talked about how Uganda is more “free” than Saudi Arabia.
As she spoke, I realized how different it is reading about gender disparity in textbooks, versus hearing about them first hand, versus experiencing them for yourself. She looked at my clothes–a t-shirt and knee-length shorts and said that in her country, I would not be permitted to wear them. Then, she pointed to her own clothes. “You would wear this–dark colors like this,” she said pointing to her own black, floor length, and long sleeve dress. Saudi Arabia is not as free as Uganda…which is an incredibly hard pill to swallow, not because I was learning this for the first time, but because I was hearing it with a new perspective.
To me, Uganda is not always “free.” Our time in this country began in the west. Durning our time in Rwenzori, more specifically, Ruboni my fellow university students and I had the opportunity to spend a good portion of a couple of days with families from the village community. Additionally, we were able to facilitate leadership training through the honors college with materials adapted from the Kansas Leadership Center located in Wichita, Kansas. Both of these experiences offered a plethora of opportunities to witness and live in a world that accepts gender inequality in way that we do not in the States.
Each student had a different experience when interacting with his or her host family. In my case, I felt incredibly blessed to have been placed in the home that I was. The family welcomed me and always made me feel comfortable. During my time with the family, I shadowed the wives of the household and ATTEMPTED to imitate them as the performed their activities. These tasks included: cooking, gardening, cleaning, and caring for their children. This vague explanation cannot begin to explain the arduous nature of the activities that I mentioned, but for the sake of staying on topic, I will not elaborate. In Ruboni, the men and women have different activities. A man has certain responsibilities and a woman has different ones. The roles are clear and seem rigid. Because we went as students, in an attempt to learn about a different culture, we did our best to respect their cultural norms–often times begrudgingly–and acted within them as best we could.
Durning leadership training, we worked with around a dozen community leaders. Three of the attendees were women. As the training took place, we found it nearly impossible to get the women to speak. In most cases, they remained silent and kept their eyes downcast. When we split into smaller groups, the woman in my group spoke more. During these breakout sessions, the groups were responsible for choosing challenges to address that the people face in the community. Domestic abuse was a topic that 2 of the 4 groups chose to focus on.
During leadership training and home visits, I was able to speak to two women from the village because they spoke English very well. From our conversations, I learned about their cultural expectations. As the woman, if she becomes pregnant, then she must go to the husbands residence to live with him and his family. She will take not only his name, but also his religion. In the village, women are looked at as property. If a woman is married to a husband, then the husband must pay a bride price to her family–typically cows, goats, chickens, etc. In the village especially, but in the cities as well, female drop out rates for school are higher than for males. In the village, we learned that the families of young girls choose to educate the boys before or instead of the girls because schooling for the girls is seen as a wasted investment, since the girl will eventually belong to her husband’s family, rather than her own, thus her skills will be utilized not in the family, but outside of it.
The list goes on and I could explain many more personal experiences and eye witness testimonies regarding gender discrimination in various scenarios, but my point is this…. In the process of running an errand–I met a woman who spoke of how free Uganda is, but as a woman from the states, it is difficult for me to recognize this freedom that she sees. At times, I feel that people can be overzealously patriotic, but–with humility, I can appreciate the freedom that I experience in America. However, this sweet freedom is tainted with a bitter aftertaste as I remember that in America, I am privileged. White. The freedom pool that with my tongue I lap from is not offered to all and many are parched.