Grass Sweepers

Grass Sweepers.1.2.cThe 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.


Women in Uganda

Every day the newspapers are full of stories about the astonishing impact of the refugee crisis as Uganda has welcomed 1.2 million refugees fleeing the violent conflict in South Sudan in just 11 months with 2,000 more arriving every day. There is great emphasis on the benefits of education, however the government has just announced the closure of 1,3000 schools due to appalling conditions. Corruption, torture, human trafficking and the destruction of the environment because of the drought, army worms, and poachers are still everyday events here. Of all the images that are swamping my soul, the images of women here in Kampala have the strongest resonance for me in telling the story of the perseverance and resilience of the people I see here.

Butterfly Girl.f.©.2

I met this beautiful, young Ugandan girl at a birthday party after she had just had her face painted. Her parents goal is to keep her in school, and healthy. Many girls are married off at very young ages (and soon after bear a child) either for profit, or to prevent the girls from being captured into sex slavery by urban militias.

Handless Mama.F.©.jpg

This haunting woman and her child were begging on a very busy street in downtown Kampala. She and many others, including very young children, were begging as they wove their way between cars, trucks, bodabodas (motorcycles used as taxis and mode of transporting goods), and matatus (converted vans that serve as taxi’s with up to 16 people in each one). Begging in traffic is against the law, but poverty drives necessity. I asked our driver how she might have lost her left hand, and he replied, “It is a form or torture to cut off someone’s hand(s) in the northern part of Uganda. She is of the Acholi tribe that has been the targeted by Al-Shebab. Aside from her plight, it is very likely that she, as well as the children, are being “pimped,” and receive almost nothing for their efforts. (iPhone capture through my car window.)
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This photograph was taken the day I arrived after a three-day transit, as I began to get excited about being in Uganda. The earth is truly like red clay here, and always catches my eye. This is a scene often sighted: men of all ages standing to the side of the street with a bodaboda nearby. The average age in Uganda is 14 years old, and unemployment is a constant issue, as is education. (iPhone capture through my car window.)
Banana Woman.2.F.©
People here seem to effortlessly carry all manner of produce and other objects on their heads.