Treasures from East Africa
We are back from three weeks in Africa, and I could write about so many things—the amazing sights and sounds of a part of the world so different from mine; all the painful signs of poverty, colonialism and war; vignettes of travel in crowded vans and motorcycle taxis, in crowded city markets and big open countryside; the experience of leading our two counseling workshops—in the Masai area of Kenya and at a serene Catholic retreat center in the north of Uganda; the incredible centrality of a rigid and expensive education system in the life of every student in Uganda; the joys of discovering and sharing craft possibilities using the materials at hand—banana, palm and papyrus; the challenges and strengths of tribal traditions among the Acholi people of the north where we spent most of our time.
There’s way too much to share, and the impulse is strong to focus on what was exotic and shocking. But that would encourage separation rather than connection, nor would it begin to capture the richness of our experience. Then it occurred to me that I could simply introduce you to some of some of the people I’ve met, who are at the heart of that richness. So here are a few:Esther
, who cooked delicious meals for us before and after our Kenya workshop. She spent years getting an education in India, where many people spoke of her as a monkey, recently lost her insurance job, but gets by raising chickens in her backyard. She is grieving the loss of a beloved father, and has taken in a severely mentally and physically disabled sister to give some relief to her mother. She is raising two girls—a quiet ten year old and a rambunctious pre-schooler. She has a wide smile and exudes warmth and serenity.
|Esther and her girls--Kenya|
, who crowded into the pick-up truck that took us to the family workshop along with his wife and nine-month old daughter, after an eight hour bus ride from rural western Kenya. He got polio when he was two and has no use of his legs, but manages with crutches and enormous arm muscles. He is a school teacher, a devoted husband and father, and teaches peer counseling wherever he goes. He has an open face, and speaks with quiet confidence.
|Nicolas and family, with Wanjiku--Kenya|
, who also crowded into that pick-up truck with three teen and pre-teen children whom I learned later were not hers. She works at a children’s home, and left her own family behind to give an opportunity to these three. Shy around strangers, she is strong, ready to play, and quick to laugh. I found it easy to rest my head on her shoulder, and was privileged to hear her tell, for the first time, of harsh treatment in her rural home as a child—eager to heal and help others do the same.
, four years old, the only Muslim at our family workshop. She came with a young auntie and made herself at home right away. She practiced her English with no self-consciousness, drew pictures with elaborate story lines, including one about a “good mosque”, happily ordered adults around during her special time, and gave me no choice but to fall in love.
|Naime and auntie--Kenya|
, who was rescued as a child from unspeakable conditions, the details of which I never learned. Now as a teenager, it was touching to watch her attend to little Naime as she drew and told her little stories, with a face full of patient loving kindness.
, whom we first got to know sharing a long ride in a crowded van in Uganda in 2008, then spent time with in 2011, including a visit with his wife and three small children in their home. Laid off from a good job at an Italian NGO three years ago, when they closed up shop to do good work somewhere else, he has faced enormous financial challenge ever since. He now does delivery work of agricultural supplies, which takes him all over the country and away from home for weeks at a time during the busy season, and is trying to start his own sales business, hopeful that financial stability is on the horizon for his family. Last year he lost his close younger brother when he was shot by the police at a road block. Felix has an air of confidence, a beautiful voice, a warm hug and a ready laugh. During the Gulu workshop he took on the challenge of giving up a three-year smoking habit, and left with confidence in succeeding.
|Otim Felix--with Abitimo and Naume|
, who left Gulu a few years ago to take a job with the regional religious leaders peace organization in a town that’s not far away, but requires a journey of two hours because of the terrible condition of the roads. They are focusing on land issues—a major point of conflict as people move out of internal displacement camps after 20 years of civil war. She leads a group of women there, and is passionate about gender equality. She also takes great pride in her strength and skill as a farmer. She is very quiet, radiating a mature calm composure—until you probe a little and touch her passion, which is deep.
, one of two Muslims at our Gulu workshop, and an elder of great stature and warmth. He was quick with appreciation for the opportunity, and eager to go home and share counseling skills with his small but growing religious community. He tolerated many unaware assumptions that we were all Christian, and interrupted others with firm kindness. He has been through decades of war, lost family members and all of his cattle and property, knows grief, but has not lost hope in humankind. He has loving eyes, a big smiling mouth, neatly mended shoes, and an enormous capacity to welcome and appreciate. We discovered that he is just three days older than me, and I am thrilled to have him as an elder brother/twin.
, a tiny twenty-five year old, who is a bundle of energy. Orphaned during the civil war, she was lucky enough to be found by two European women who put her through high school and university. She now works as a teacher of religion and geography at a nearby high school and college, and is active in a local Pentacostal church. She is fiery in her pride as a woman, and is up for any challenge.
, who works in procurement at a local hospital, and found the site for our workshop. She is an elegant dresser with a quick smile, and handled all the issues that came with the site with grace, efficiency and good humor. Deeply disappointed by the care she received from relatives as a child, she has an open place in her heart for orphans, and has taken responsibility for four young people, though she is single and not yet out of her twenties.
, who lost his parents then his older brother and was abducted as a child soldier during the civil war. Trauma shows in his face; he rarely makes eye contact and speaks in a barely audible voice. Yet more is there than meets the eye. He is training to be a teacher, doing farm work to pay tuition, and watching him extend himself with great generosity and compassion to Sheik Abdul as he told his own stories of loss was a revelation.
, a young Primary 7 teacher who understands intuitively that for children to learn, they need to be understood, and struggles to implement that knowledge in classes of up to 100. He is sensitive, earnest and compassionate, a lover of order and propriety, wrestling with his own insecurities as he reaches out to offer solace and confidence to others.
, not yet twenty, yet moving with assurance as the registrar of the workshop, handling innumerable small details with composure. She brought seven young men from the nearby town of Lira, part of a larger group with whom she has been sharing her understanding of counseling over the past two years, and quietly supported them all week. She has grown from a teenager to a young woman since last we were here, with some core of confident self-knowledge settled deep within. In my mind’s eye, I see it strong and steadily growing, enough to keep her balanced and sure as she faces all the challenges of adulthood.
, who leans forward with interest as he listens and speaks, and has a ready smile. His mind is quick, and he is eager to engage with others about economics and politics, showing a surprising maturity of understanding in one so young.
, quiet, humble and kind, one of the two who first took my heart in 2008. He spent seventeen years of his childhood in internal displacement camps, is glad to now claim a home with his adoptive parents in a small farming village, and is lucky enough to have found a sponsor to help him with university tuition. He may always struggle, and may never shine, but there is a tenacity and goodness about him that is enduring, and those who have gathered around him, in his village or elsewhere, have a resource to be treasured.
|Okello Richard Amunike|
, the other who took first took my heart, is so different—compact, powerful and light all at the same time, moving with assurance through his world, easily at the center of any group. His uncle is a tribal chief, and his home village is one big compound including several hundred family members. Valuing both his clan and tribal customs, and the best of western thinking and technology, he brings his skills in engineering and counseling and a natural bent for leadership to nearby South Sudan.
, who was horribly disfigured when her family’s thatch-roofed house was burned during the war, was brought to the US for a year as a teenager for a series of surgeries, and was able to leave all that luxury and find a place for herself back home. Those who see her face are always reminded of what she went through, but then we start to see her heart. Her attention is on being a good student and a good friend, caring for her young siblings, worrying about her mentally unstable mother, trying to bring more light into the world around her.
, large and loud, ready to find fun in anything, always in the center, assigning considerable loss and hardship firmly to the past. She is a gifted translator, a provocative dresser, an accomplished cook, a generous and thoughtful family member, and, as she pushes the norms of Acholi cultural, an all-round wild woman.
, young, tall and handsome, he has a wicked sense of humor and can get a whole group laughing with a few words. He is candid about his prejudices, and equally candid about his regret at the relationships he has damaged through his wild ways. It was touching to watch him listen and nod (serious for once) as a way forward to heal those relationships was opened for him.
, who is raising six children and struggling financially, particularly since the school where he teachers preschoolers is behind on pay. In his spare time, he is a dedicated Scout leader and now works with a group of women trying to heal from their experience of abduction and rape in the civil war. He relishes playing the bad boy in a group setting, is full of jokes, loves to hug, and has a big infectious laugh.
, a villager who became a bank guard and has risen to become chief of security at a big bank in Gulu. His attention and understanding of counseling have been recognized there, as he is sent to other branches to help with conflicts and personnel issues. A caring husband and father, who brought his young adult daughter to the workshop and is diligent in teaching counseling, there is an innocent optimism about him that is endearing.
, our friend who brought us to Northern Uganda, who came to Philadelphia with her family in the 1970’s, fleeing from Idi Amin, then returned in the mid 80’s to contribute to healing her country. Starting with six orphans under a tree, her school now serves1400, and she also leads the area’s growing peer counseling community. She is a clan elder, and manages an extended family of grandchildren and other young people in need that she just can’t turn away. She is passionate about the strengths of her culture, and the need for people to take action to improve their lives and communities, using whatever resources they can gather. She has a ready laugh and a common touch, and is looked to by many for her strength and wisdom.
All of these people have enriched my life. I hope that, even in this second-hand way, you can get some of those riches as well.
Dare to Imagine--
A new economy is possible!
Robin Hood Tax gains momentum
In mid-December, a landslide vote in the European Parliament for developing a “Robin Hood Tax” brings the hope to raise billions of Euros through a tiny tax on financial speculation one step closer to becoming reality. A financial transaction tax on stocks, bonds, and derivatives would discourage the senseless high frequency trading that dominates financial markets, and raise massive revenues for urgent needs, such as combating unemployment, global poverty, and climate change. Eleven European countries have committed to participate in pioneering the tax, working off a proposal for a tax of 0.1 percent on stock and bond trades and 0.01 percent on derivatives.
The Parliament’s overwhelming favorable vote, despite a wide European political spectrum ranging from Green and left parties to hard-core conservatives, is a reminder that such divisions could be overcome in the US as well, where a broad range of union, consumer, global health, and environmental groups are pushing for a similar “Robin Hood Tax”.
http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/european-union-parliament-landslide-vote-robin-hood-financial-transactions-taxSome things that have made me hopeful recently:
All of the above.
People who have little, sharing so much with those who have less.
Minneapolis, which recently became the first city in the nation to adopt a resolution promoting racial equity in employment, declaring that institutional racism "is a primary reason for unemployment disparities" and requiring the city to take action to make sure that people of color have a fair shot at government jobs, promotions, and contracts.
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the first UN treaty to achieve universal ratification, as a result of which 98 percent of the responsible chemicals have been phased out over the last 25 years, and atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting substances are going down.
New: posts on other people's blogs:
Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years: doingdemocracy.com/MB4PnJ02.htm
faitheconomyecology.wordpress.com, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives)
www.ourchildrenourselves.org, a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years.
www.startguide.org. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.
For earlier columns, go to www.pamelascolumn.blogspot.com.
My favorite magazine: YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world: www.yesmagazine.org.