This Blog Entry is a part of my Uganda Trip Page. Click Here to read all of the blog entries as well as information about the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, the American Refugee Committee & how to help.
Uganda is a complex land and after only one short week of travels, I know I do not have nearly enough expertise to summarize the country, the people, the lifestyles.
So I am going to share a story for now.
I made many new friends on this trip. I traveled with a group of staff from the American Refugee Committee as well as a few other guests. American Refugee Committee is based out of Minneapolis so there were many locals on my trip.
I became very close with the girl pictured above. Her name is Amanda and she is also a photographer from Minneapolis. We went through this entire experience together. I am so grateful that she also came as a guest of ARC. We had similar attitudes and adventurous spirits which made for a lot of laughs and great fun. We were also able to talk about what we saw and how we felt. We were inspired together.
On one long car ride, we were talking about our experiences. I told Amanda that my goal prior to traveling to Uganda was to show the world that refugees are like you and me. That no matter where you go, you will find joy and love and the strength of the human spirit, even amongst people that have been forced to leave their homelands in search of peace, and have endured many hardships along the way.
I told her I didn't want to share the stereotypical photos of a malnourished child with hollow eyes, tattered clothing and flies buzzing about. I felt that we had seen that so much already & have perhaps been de-sensitized. I wanted to emphasize the humanity of the refugees. Amanda astutely pointed out that we obviously didn't have to worry about that!
At that point we were on our second full day at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement. We had seen drummers and tight-rope walkers and artists and more! She knew we had captured images that represented the human spirit because it is so vibrant and apparent there!
The people of Uganda really amazed me. They didn't complain when we were forced to wait to de-board our plane. Instead, they were polite and happily chatted amongst one-another while we waited. No groans and loud cell-phone calls like you'd witness on the tarmac at JFK. Quite the first impression!
They were also outgoing & so quick to smile. Everywhere we went, kids yelled "Mizungo!" which means person with white skin. Kids would yell to their parents "Mizungo! Mizungo!" and the entire family would stop to wave. They'd also call out "Hi! How are you?" which was so endearing.
I also witnessed that they were very hard workers. From sun-up to sun-down, the hundreds of people I saw were busy at work. Life in the refugee camp does not have our modern day conveniences.
There is no running water. Most do not have electricity. There's no jumbo-grocery store. So what you mostly see when you are there is people working.
You see people - kids included - carrying the yellow plastic bins on their way to retrieve fresh water. You see moms and dads bent over in their gardens. You see clothes-washing and food preparation in small plastic bins.
And you also see people living in harmony. Imagine living in a town of 120,000 people where everyone had just arrived from a different country! So many different customs and religions and cultures. All meshed into one small 80 square mile settlement.
Later that night Amanda and I were looking through our photos when something struck her: "We ARE taking those photos!" she gasped.
Sure enough, if we looked closely at our photos from our visits to the settlement, there were signs of poverty everywhere.
We realized that the magic of the place, the people, their friendships, their hard work, their kindness, their smiles, their "Hi, How Are You?'s" transcended appearances. Their attitudes made it possible to be in the middle of a poverty stricken place, yet not focused on the poverty. It happened immediately to us. Unknowingly even.
The refugees of the Nakivale Settlement had shown us through example that they are not defined by their current situation. They were acrobats and artists and farmers and mothers and lovers and kids who like to play, laugh, live, create!
And that, my friends, is my story. Is it enough? I hope so. For now at least.
Thank you for listening!
A few pictures from outside the settlement: