The spectrum of life for women here in Uganda is somewhat of a paradox. One one hand, there are many women in positions of government leadership and activism. And, then, there is the other hand in which women do not have reproductive rights, knowledge or supplies for female hygiene which causes young women to miss school, or are married off when they hit puberty to protect them from being enslaved by local urban militia or a rival clan; or, they have been forced to work as children by begging to help support their family or a pimp, and so their childhood is over.
Like ancient goddesses, many women always seem to have an extra hand when there is more to be done. So, yet another hand holds the minority of women who are struggling for good paying jobs and/or to get an education, many deferring marriage and childbearing so as not to limit the potential to transform their lives, and the lives of their families. So the old adage is still true, “Teach a man and you’ve educated one. Teach a woman and you will have taught a whole village.”* Many women are innovative entrepreneurs here, and are inspiring and employing many in revolutionary methods of agriculture.
It is not any easier for the men in this, “boom town,” bursting with unemployed youth. The average is Uganda is 14-16, which means there are few elders to do the work of rearing, mentoring and guiding the many. It also means that jobs are scarce and the competition can be defeating. Last week, the government posted 27 job openings, and 10,000 people applied. That number was culled to 4,000 who met the requirements, and on the day appointed to begin the electronic application process, they all showed up. The computer system was overwhelmed by all the makeshift stations created in every nook and cranny of the government building, so the computer network shut down, and all were sent home disillusioned, or defeated, or angry, many to homes a long ways away.
From the “slums” of Kampala or distant rural villages to Parliament to is a long journey. Everyone knows where the slums are, and each has a name, like the one made famous in the film, “Queen of Katwe.” The reality is that Katwe has received a lot of notoriety, translation: tourists and money. Other similar sites continue the cycle of poverty, scarcity, survival and want.
I recently celebrated a birthday here, and when a young, hard-working woman learned of it, she exclaimed, “You get to become old!” with tears in her eyes. Becoming an older woman here in Kampala is not guaranteed. And, if one does live to an older age, one might be caring for one’s grandchildren because a son or daughter has succumbed to AIDs or is HIV+. The grandmothers are often the street sweepers, who use small, short handled “brooms” to sweep the gutters of the streets, occasionally with a baby tied to their back. And something I had never seen, women who sweep freshly mown grass, using the same style broom, causing one to work hunched over all day in the hot sun.
Life here is not edited nor sanitized. There is a vitality, a strength and a momentum that comes from the young. At first it was close-up and overwhelming, and now that my personal rhythms are settling in, I am inspired and in awe of the Beauty of all kinds that I am discovering in many unexpected places.
*I apologize for not being able to thank the first speaker of this truth.