thoughts from places, blog edition: kampala

Kampala, the city of seven hills, crawling and rolling over low mountains and spilling over every which way as a city seems to bear the physical manifestation of its own persona. Whereas Washington D.C. is a wide-reaching city with orderly streets and large, trying-to-be-Roman buildings filled with people in suits and heels and ugly ties, Kampala is a sprawling and haphazard mass of chaos. Like D.C. though, the people are very direct in their attitude and reflective of their home; at first Kampala appears to be completely lacking in navigation- few street signs, a number of winding roads that could really go anywhere, and everywhere people. But as I spent more time in the city, the more I was able to find my own way winding through crowded taxi buses, private hires, and the abundant boda-bodas. As the things tend to be, there is a method to the madness. Perhaps one that required more of an attention to landmarks like billboards and cafes rather than avenue markers, but still. As planned and organized and deliberate as the USA’s capital city is, so is the inverse of Uganda’s.

I truly like Kampala; the winding mess and confusion is like a melody you have to learn all on your own. This is something endearing to me, something alluring, something a little dangerous and a lot loud. The city’s pandemonium is at once entirely Western and utterly East African. The music is like that of a land that is, after enduring all that is wrong and evil and bad, waking to its morning. It is not an easy awakening, not one without bumps or poor decisions, but perfectly capable and smart and willing people are taking on an incredible challenge in redefining their reality.

One of my favorite quotes pertaining to post-colonialism is from, of all films, Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood/Americano twist on Jane Austen’s classic. The character Lalita (who is the Indian version of Elizabeth Bennett) is engaged in a lovely verbal tête-à-tête with the American named (gasp!) Darcy. He claims India is incredibly backward, and when he says such Lalita snaps back with a “Well where do you think America was sixty years after independence? In the middle of a bloody civil war!”

I think so often Americans forget our struggle to be MODERN and ON TOP (if, I might add, we even are as such or, as I am more inclined to believe, we prefer to have the illusion of being a SUPEERPOWER). We did not truly endure the brunt of either World War; we lost thousands- which is a horrific, horrific tragedy- whereas nations like Russia lost millions. And I don’t mean millions at the hands of Stalin- millions in combat. Our land was not ravished, we required no foreign aid post-conflict. In fact, we emerged from WWII as the self-proclaimed superpower. Economically we certainly were.

But the United States, in their firstness of liberation from colonialism, had so many advantages we forget when scoffing at Africa (which is not a country, but an entire continent five times the size of our little nation) and its slowness to be MODERN. We see only our own good and the great Other’s backwardness. We claim our ingenuity and brashness to be the catalyst for our Success- yet most white Americans chose to come to the New World because they had the means to. Africa was occupied without much choice, just as most Black Americans can trace their ancestry back to people forced to leave without say into slavery. We forget that even centuries after our Glorious Declaration was signed that we had our own Apartheid.

It bears reminding, I thought, as we left Kampala. We all come from somewhere, we all can only know what we ourselves know. I say this having just spewed gross generalizations pertaining to the American Colonies, but still. I only have seen Kampala through my own cultural lens, my own presumptions and curiosities prompted by everything I have ever heard, thought, read, or seen from my entire life thus far. My lens is my own- just as you read this with your own everything tied in.

My smallness and my Herstory (to be the blatant Feminist, for which I will never apologize) seem to be percolating in all that I am experiencing in Uganda. As we learned in Anthropology, my cultural herstory is colliding with everything Uganda. I acknowledge it, and am trying to dive into that collision space- the place where potential lives.

From this intermediary one draws, in my humble opinion, one of two grounded principles: we choose to Fear the other culture, or we choose to Learn from it. In Learning there is Listening, and in Listening there is Love (thank you, Mennonites and Gann!).  I am learning to Listen this summer. In my choice against Fear (which, need I mention, is a daily decision) I have to live into that awkward colliding space. Processing.

Much like, I think, Kampala is learning to Listen. To the voices of all the tribes, all the people of Uganda. It’s a colliding space, where next to grandiose malls abrim with European and Asian and North American tourists are tin-roofed, mudbrick homes.

Culture is a living and breathing entity with its own life. So the collision is one hell of a ride, if you ask me.

current jam: “dog days are over” florence + the machine

best thing in my life right now: my new barbie shoes from oweno!

pages read in war & peace: still none…an explanation post to come soon!

fantas consumed: 5

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