Archive for January, 2008

January 31, 2008

Poetic Justice

WARNING: The pictures contained in this post may be disturbing for some.

Poetic justice is … what happened in Nnalya on Wednesday.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that a four-storey building collapsing on a group of semi-skilled workers and killing at 12 of them is a tragedy.  The loss of life at St. Peter’s Secondary School in Nnalya was totally unnecessary.  I feel for their families who have lost the only bread winners.  I feel for their children who will never grow up to know their fathers.  I feel for their wives and the long journey of grief and loneliness ahead of them.

I don’t take the death of these men lightly at all.  I was horrified to witness the mangled bodies being pulled out of the rubble.  Today, when a foot of one of the dead men was found, I felt a sharp pain run through my stomach.  I imagined the agony of the man’s death and the futility of his passing.

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I am angry.  Angry that since the construction of the dormitory building started in February last year no alarms bells went off regarding the shoddy construction.  No one said anything about the skimping on cement, the use of poor wet timber, the lack of a solid foundation, the thin ring beams and the low grade iron bars.  None of the ‘educated’ parents with children at the school raised doubts when they were taken around the site late last year. No one asked who the site engineer was, who the contractors were and why the mandatory signage at the building site was missing.

I am especially angry that this afternoon Michael Werikhe, the State Minister for Lands and Urban Development, shirked from his responsibility.  “Government is not to blame,” he said.  “It’s those guys you elected into office at Local Council level.  They’re the one’s who are corruptible and are not doing their jobs.”

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the collapse of this building has something to do with things unseen.  Bad Karma.  Poetic justice, if you will.

In December, I wrote about the unbelievable illegal exhumation of bodies by Kampala City Council (KCC) at the Lugogo Cemetery.  I could not … cannot understand how little respect KCC has for the people it purports to serve.  The fact that they would desecrate dead bodies so blatantly and justify it with arguments for the need for yet another apartment block and shopping center is beyond my comprehension.

Now it appears that our friends at City Hall aren’t the only ones grabbing land and desecrating bodies.

Following below are a few pictures of graves at a family cemetery that was located on land which St. Peter’s Secondary School is reported to have ‘unlawfully’ acquired.  The grave stones were carelessly knocked aside, bodies carelessly exhumed and dumped at an unknown location and this was on the same plot of land that the collapsed building was located.  In fact the grave yard was less than 20 meters away from the new dorm.

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No one from the affected family was willing to speak to me on record about the desecrated graveyard.  They whispered about being paid to look the other way and being threatened into silence. Neither the school management nor the owner, Dominic Kavutse, were willing to comment.

Today, three people were rescued alive from the rubble.  One of the men died shortly after his arrival at hospital.  It was an unbelievably meaningless death and someone should pay.  Someone should pay a lot.  I propose the Kira Town Council authorities for choosing to ignore the evident building faults and looking the other way.  I propose the school parents’ committee for not caring enough to take the time to inspect a dormitory that would house their children.  I propose the school administration for rushing the workers to finish the building, no matter what, in time for the new school term.

I propose Dominic Kavutse because Karma is a vengful witch.

January 30, 2008

And Now for Today’s Game …

… spot the oops and win a date with a hot Red Pepper editor!p1170262.jpgred-pepper-oops-2.jpg

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January 29, 2008

The F Word

aka ‘ONE FOR THE GIRLS’

I am a child of the feminist revolution.

I was taught that I was a strong, intelligent, capable member of the human race and that my worth on this earth was as much as that of the next person.  I was told that the sky was the limit if I just applied myself and used my God-given abilities to make the most of my world and the world of others around me.  I knew that my gender would not, could not, hold me back and if anything, it was what spurred me on to success.

My 20s were a time of gung-ho feminism.  Of celebration of my womanhood and of a constant drive to share this freedom with females everywhere. However just a few years later I am being told that everything I taught was a lie. That feminism is against the very root of what makes me a woman.  That I must choose between the two.

This alternative ideology is very subtle and yet it is everywhere.  It is the line of thought that feminism and feminity are opposing factors.  That it is impossible for me to have the spirit of Mary, the mind of Maathai and the body of Monroe.  It’s a throw back to the early 20th century when women were told not to be bold and ambitious and even if they were in positions of ‘power’ the needed to be meek and sober and to stay in the background.

I was appalled when I first heard this teaching at a women’s church meeting recently.  Using a lesson from the anti-feminist Christian writer Michelle Stace, were told that to be a feminist is to be rude, sarcastic and selfish.

Stace teaches that ‘the godly woman will teach her own children at home … She will not cast off her God-given responsibility to others – no matter how well intentioned they might be.  The feminist leaves her babies in childcare, enrolls them in preschool, sends them to public school and plugs them into endless after-school activities. Baby-sitters, teachers, youth leaders and social workers are raising these poor children.’

Stace adds that a godly woman is chaste and sober and doesn’t mind staying in the background.  On the other hand the feminist loves to be the center of attention and uses flattery to achieve her ends.

It is not only in the church that this teaching is being propagated.

I have had the misfortune of attending a bridal shower with one of the sengas­-for hire who spent several hours laboring on the argument that a woman’s first duty is to please her man and to be available to him at all times for sex and for pleasure.  If he wants food, cook it immediately.  If he wants a bath, go run the water.  When he returns from work take his bag, kneel at his feet and remove his dusty shoes.  If he’s feeling horny, lie on your back and open the crack.  Never show your anger to him, do not contradict what he says and never ever fart in his presence.

The media is not to be left behind in this regard.  The Style Network, one of the newer channels available in Uganda on cable TV, is full of programs that advocate the return of the submissive, almost docile woman, who is also expected to be sexy, savvy and really, really good in bed.

The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life” is one of the programs that are a subtle attack on feminism.  Jane Buckingham, the host, introduces the program by saying that she is a busy executive, a mom and a loving wife.  She says although it appears that she has it all in control, she doesn’t because of several things she doesn’t know.

The first time I heard this introduction, I thought, “Oh goody!  Finally a TV program on how to balance my budget, get ahead in the real estate market and make the most of my stock earnings.”  But the reality of Buckingham’s program had nothing to do with my expectations.

“The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life” has numerous ‘useful’ tips like The Art of High Tea; Getting Dressed Up for Dinner; How to Buy Jewelry; How to be Hip in the Old Fashioned Way.  Buckingham has a plethora of information on basic home repair, beauty, finding a bra that fits, and hemming a pair of pants. According to one reviewer, she has “loads of savvy counsel to help us feel more refined, in charge, and together as we navigate the rocky terrain that is twenty-first-century womanhood.”

Whereas I may find Ms Buckingham and her ilk slightly offensive, she does have a large following and it is growing.  At my office, her program is very, very popular both among my female and male colleagues.  Just the other day I was forced to chase them out of the office when they were glued to a segment on ‘getting in and out of your car gracefully.’

Maybe this is a sign.  A sign that I was misled into believing feminist ideologies of emancipation, equal rights and naked ambition.  Maybe Stace, Buckingham and the numerous sengas in Central Uganda are right in alluding to the disconnect between feminism and femininity.

For my 30th birthday a few years ago, I received a book on etiquette from a well-intentioned friend.  I never opened it, finding it slightly insulting that she thought I was bad mannered and unrefined.  She didn’t give up her quest to make me a ‘better woman’ and recently directed me to Fearlessly Feminine, a blog she said could be of great use to me.

According to Fearlessly Feminine, I should not  

• Contradict parents, friends or strangers
• Laugh loudly
• Make noise with hands or feet
• Swing arms or make awkward gestures in company or in the street
• Loll on a chair.
• Look earnestly in someone’s face without any apparent cause
• Dress in a bright and loud manner that attracts attention

And the list goes on.  It’s so aggravating, it’s enough to make me want to be a man.

Perhaps the teachers of my youth had it wrong, but I think not.  Feminism, in my opinion, is not at odds with femininity.  Rather it is an expression and empowerment of who I am.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with women who chose to knit, cook and clean all day instead of battling it out in the boardroom.  Instead of fighting that which unites us, why not accept that this is a dynamic world in which goals change, people change and the progression of women is not alien. 

That’s my long way of saying I am a feminine feminist and I am proud of it.  I will wear the F word with pride.

January 26, 2008

Identifying with My Inner Nerd

Visited the Entebbe Wildlife Education Center with the boys after several years.  It could do with a little TLC particularly in the visitor areas within the center, but on the whole it is a magical experience for anyone under 10 – or for a borderline nerd like me.

So since we have gotten the whole nerd thing out of the way, can I just say how heartbreaking it is to see animals wounded and caged because of the danger they face in the wild?  Go on … laugh … think … then laugh again, whatever.

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January 25, 2008

Something Old, Something New

Interesting ‘expat’ blog reads found floating around the Ugablogsphere …

Phil Hollands is a missionary and graphic artist in Kabale. His blog is a beautiful collection of stories and the most amazing pictures of his travels.

Caked in Red Clay is the blog of Christopher Mason, a Canadian journalist based at a newspaper in Kampala.  The blog has some good writing and analysis, but if you are uncomfortable about the stereotypical views of expats on thier host countries, stay away.

If you haven’t visited Glenna Gordon’s photo blog, abandon everything you are doing immediately and head on that way.  The Scarlet Lion hasn’t updated her page in a while, but it is still really, really good.

Several Peace Corp volunteers joined the Ugablogsphere this year.  Many of the Peace Corp blogs are ho-hum, but A Short Goodbye is certainly worth a visit.  The writing is good and the pictures are better.  (S)he could however get a tip or two on blogging more regularly from Kristy.  For some reason this bubbly (at least online) volunteer reminds me of Carlo.

Finally, I really enjoy reading Holly and Ben’s Lira adventures because of the simplicity of the posts, the pictures and the evident openness of their hearts.

Have you found something new recently?  Go on … share!

January 24, 2008

Yay to Losers!

Personal development author Shakti Gawain once said,

“Ambition is an idol, on whose great minds are carried only to extreme – to be sublimely great or to be nothing.”

I choose to be nothing.   I choose to abandon my lofty ideas of starting a blog revolution and to post a picture of a karoli bird instead.

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I choose to lose.

January 23, 2008

So I’m thinking about Starting a Revolution …

Who knew a simple blog post on identity could trigger off such strong emotions?  I don’t think I am making optimal use of this forum.  There things I want to change, policies I want to influence, property I want to acquire and people whose knees I want to break … ideas, ideas. 

Prepare for the revolution!

January 21, 2008

I Am Not My Tribe

A fellow I know – a handsome, intelligent and presentable man, the kind you’d not be afraid to take to meet your parents – likes to boast about his heritage.  He’s 100 percent Mukiga, he says, and enjoys bragging about the exploits of his people and the beauty of his ancestral land.

On his Facebook page, he identifies himself as a “Kabale Kid” and enjoys tallying how many other Kabale Kids there are on the web and how far they have gone in life.  He speaks Rukiga with the typical homeboy flair and can list his ancestors down to 10 generations. 

Before I rejected Facebook for the more conventional way of meeting people and making friends, I was listed on Mukiga Boy’s page as one of ‘them’.  A Kabale Kid.  I protested my inclusion in a group for which I feel no affinity.  Despite the fact that my parents are Bakiga, my Rukiga is as bad as my Cantonese.  I know as much about the Kiga culture as I do about the Tibetan monks and even though I have been to Kabale several times, I feel more at home in Nairobi.

The truth is, although I was born by Bakiga parents, I am NOT a Mukiga.

As you can expect, the Kabale Kids are not happy with me.  Not at all.  They say I am trying to be a mzungu by asserting that I have no tribe.  They accuse me of denying my heritage and have called me pretentious, arrogant and stupid.  Some have even gone as far as to say I am a shame to my father’s good name. 

What can I say in response?  Nothing really.  Perhaps just to repeat why I feel this way.  Why I am this way.

I was born in 1975 in Mengo Hospital, located smack-dab in the center of the Buganda region, thousands of miles away from where my parents grew up in southwestern Uganda.  I was born to a generation of people who for the first time were venturing out of their villages to seek education elsewhere in the country.  They went to school far from their homes and settled wherever they could be gainfully employed.  My parents’ wedding was a joyful cross-cultural celebration with my father’s Best Man from Acholi and my mother’s Maid of Honor from Buganda.

Before I was a year old, my parents moved to Canada and for the first five years of my life I was surrounded by people with a skin color not my own, who knew nothing of my ancestry.  At six, we moved back to Uganda and lived in the Church of Uganda housing on Namirembe Hill where my best friends were Lugbara and Langi.  My parents did the best to teach us the Kiga language and culture, but above all emphasized good behavior, the love of God respect for all regardless of age, economic status, race or tribe. 

School felt pretty much like home.  It was a melting pot of people of all sizes and colors and I didn’t care where they were from or what language they spoke.  I had been taught to judge people for who they were as individuals and not what part of the country they came from.

As I entered teenage, the realities of my divided country were first made known to me.  I was told I was privileged because I was from western Uganda and that I would be able to get a better job and live a better life. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  My family was as poor as the next and most of my school fees and the fees of my siblings were met through scholarships.  We wore hand-me-downs, ate chicken only a few times a week and felt proud to drive around in my parents’ old car.  We carried baskets to school in place of snazzy bags and when they grew old, my mother made us bags out of scrap material donated to her.

So what if my great-great grandfather came from Karagwe and not from Sudan?  It didn’t matter.  It never has and never will.  I was told I was a Ugandan and was taught what that meant and that was enough. 

I guess this is why it is hard for me to understand tribal conflict.  To understand Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya in the last three weeks.  Of course I can empathize with the downtrodden and I will fight for the end of injustice, but when it comes to justifying violence on tribal lines, I don’t get it.  I just don’t.

A Ugandan journalist for whom I have a lot of respect would probably call me an ignoramus because of this.  Of the Kenyan situation and the criminalization of sectarianism he wrote,

It now appears to me that this fast globalising world, rather than give people a new and highly individualistic, capitalist and consumerist identity, is so faceless and empty of real meaning that it forces many Africans to try, as much as possible, to retain their original identify of tribe, language and culture.

Maybe the solution is to the embrace the tribe as the unit of social, political and economic mobilization — as was the case in pre-colonial times. We would eliminate the sham of having ‘broad based’ governments that in reality represent the interests of a small ruling elite with a sprinkling of outsiders to give beef up their political-correctedness credentials. Maybe tribe should be embraced, not abused as a primitive and backward form of social mobilization and political organization.

It might be backward-looking, but at least it will ensure that when angry members of disaffected tribes come running after you with a machete, you will be able to see them before they strike.

He’s a philosophical maverick, my friend is, but perhaps he has a point.  Why deny what is?  Instead of imposing a culturally unnatural state on a population that clearly thinks otherwise, why not embrace the diversity? 

However what do you do with the rest of the population?  Those small, but growing groups which like me share no particular kinship with people who have the same nose shape as theirs and can’t speak the language of their historical past?

I know I am a pariah among the Kabale Kids, but I am not apologetic about my stand.  At the end of the day I am still a fairly good person who is thankful for where I come from and respectful of my past.  But I am NOT a Mukiga.

January 21, 2008

Oops.

Last week, I wrote about one man’s investigation into the disappearance of Jesus’ foreskin.  Turns out I uploaded the wrong picture of travel writer and author, David Farley and he said so here.  Pole. 

This is the real David Farley a.k.a Holy Prepuce Hunter.

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*Picture respectfully ripped from Write to Travel and no, I don’t have the picture of the real Holy Prepuce.

Thank you for visiting, Mr. Farley.

Now how come no matter how much I write about Terrence Howard he doesn’t visit my blog?

January 18, 2008

Strangely Familiar

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Respectfully ripped from xkcd.com

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