The Season of Weeding: Abim & Kotido, Summer 2011.

It was a two-day journey from Kampala to Kotido, only half of the way on paved roads. We did it in one day once (well, i did it once, my housemates lived there for three years and i, only three months). And the one time we did in one day was hell – my stomach had shrunk to the size of a walnut with its inability to keep anything down for three weeks, i was dehydrated, and i’m pretty sure i hallucinated.

But when we made the trek over two days, it was a dream. To get to Kotido, we had to pass through the Abim region.

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Abim is like nowhere else i’ve ever been. Even at the time, i think i wrote more blog posts about how voracious the colors were of the Abim mountains than i did about Kotido, which i did in fact quite love.

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You could see where the powerline stopped, somewhere in a town in the Abim region but long before we were in Kotido. Our home has a solar panel and small amounts of voltage so long as the sun was out. We’d take turns charging our laptops, running a mini-fridge a few hours a day to keep home-made ricotta cool. It was the rainy season, nothing like the dust-curling bone-heat they told me of when it was the dry season. I remember being grateful for the one sweater i’d thought to slide into my suitcase.

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In the Kotido market, during a rainstorm.

In the Kotido market, during a rainstorm.

My “room” in the house was a mattress and mosquito net tucked in a corner, shrouded by a collection of curtain pieces like the ones in the above photo. It was Thera‘s (very thoughtful!) idea, to give a fellow introvert some more privacy. She’d even saved me some ticky tack, to hang a collection of photos and postcards on my wall.

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I was re-living this summer while Jonathan (supposedly) studied for his Greek exam.

“It’s kind of crazy to me that you did that,” he commented, the photo Thera snapped of me on a boda-boda on my screen.

Photo by Thera Freeman!

Photo by Thera Freeman!

He didn’t mean crazy as in foolish, or as in out of character. This was a hint of green in his voice. More like it was a reality unknown to him, a part of me before us. And yet it was because of Uganda the “us” even happened. We’d had a champion of awkward first dates, us alone in an Applebee’s save the one guy hellbent on making Karoke night a thing. I’d just buzzed my hair, prepped for a summer of sub-Saharan heat and lack of hot showers. I noticed his dimples, the eyes, even then. But i my focus was on the 7,414 miles to conquer and courage to find.

Thank God for my mom. A friend of ours had prepped and de-briefed with both of us, a woman who had spent the bulk of her adult like working for MCC on the continent of Africa. “You’ll need spaces to really talk, to really be heard,” she’d told us. Mom arranged for me to preach my first Sunday stateside again, at her then-new church. She let me lowercase the bulletin and screen a video i’d edited of my time abroad.

It was Jonathan’s first Sunday as the worship music leader. He was one of the first to really listen, to let me be really heard. I remember noticing the eyes again in worship planning, how he didn’t judge me for wanting to juxtapose John 15 with an E.E. Cummings poem.

The fact that it’s me in that picture feels unfathomable. Not that i had the desire to learn and see and listen in Uganda, i still have that desire. But that time in my life, the depth and wonder and complicatedness of where i was feels far, far in my past and far from here. I know it happened, for how could a summer of confronting my own white, American privilege not leave contours on my perspective today?

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Maybe it’s the coming-full-circle thing, that bite and blister and beauty of seeing the time and the growth and the redaction between lizzie on that motorcycle and lizzie getting married. I have no regrets, the loves of my life all intertwining in the most bizarre of stories. I was so young, so eighteen, so fresh out of my first year of college and so wanting to know more than i did.

I said then it was a summer of pruning, like the name i had been given: Nachap, the season of weeding. The seed that has grown the most, though, is the realization that every season is one of both pruning and growth. Sometimes the balance tips, hands deep in the earth straining with the baobab roots to come up. And sometimes it’s the blossoms, blossoms who need water and sun like all seasons but whose focus is so on being alive there’s little room for weeding.

And sometimes, i think you just have to slap on the gardening gloves and make a choice to keep planting, whatever the weather.

buy my book!

in case you missed it, some of my favorite posts from my summer in east africa: south sudan’s independence daywhen we went all the way to kampala so we could see the last harry potter movieon our access to water in kotido.

Happy First Birthday, South Sudan!

A year ago today, South Sudan was born a free country. I had, on this day, the immense privilege, joy, and honor of being in Juba city to celebrate with the South Sudanese this beautiful and hope-filled occasion. I think it speaks through without the need for utterance that this day, this day was one to be treasured for years to come.

And what a year it has been. South Sudan has remained on the brink of a full-scale war and it seems the world has waited, with baited breath, for the fragility of the hope of sovereignty to crumble. But it hasn’t. So today, rather than harboring on the lament of tragedy, i want to celebrate the resilience and courage of human beings in South Sudan. Prayers and wishes and thoughts for peace and for stability are what i send today. As my friend Fr. Katongole has said, “lament is the heart of hope.”

current jam: ‘your song’ elton john

best thing: midnight runs for ice cream with j & summer days.

Reflections on the UGANDA 2012? Event

“Pain is an irrational thing, but there are practical and employable tactics we can use to work through it. But arresting one man is not going to ‘clean up’ the pain of an entire country – or an entire region, which is in East Africa.”

I said something to this effect two Wednesdays past at the aforementioned Uganda 2012 event. It was probably less cleverly phrased in actuality than in my memory, as i tend to be considerably more gawkish in person than when hidden behind a laptop keyboard – but the sentiment remains. The #Kony2012 campaign began as something building off of emotional energy – the ‘irrational’ side of human nature – rather than assessing the practical and logistical ways we, as Global North youth can empower and actualize Ugandans to work through the trauma of recovering from war. This isn’t to say empathy or compassion have no place in action (i argue they are at the core of all empowerment) but you cannot channel your emotions alone into a movement that could, via governmental policy, potentially impact the lives of thousands (if not millions) of people. Compassion is key, empathy is needed, but to act on emotion alone renders no progress.

Which is why we had gathered last week to talk about what we could do, beginning with a critical conversation concerning UGANDA in 2012. In this, my goal as the event coordinator and facilitator was two-fold: i wanted to engage in this discussion in a way that actualized and recognized Uganda without putting the “face” of the problem as a face of a man who has instigated incredible pain and travesty in the country – with full understanding that being able to have this very conversation meant i had to recognize the privilege i posses, as a white American university student with leisure time and the resources to learn more readily available to me. Secondly, i wanted us as a crew (whomever showed up) to leave the event feeling, if nothing else, to have learned enough to want to continue to seek bigger, harder questions.

I’d like to think i achieved my two aims.

We began the event with, well, yours truly, making an opening statement to something of this effect: You are all most welcome in this place.* We would like to begin by acknowledging that it is a privilege for us to be gathered in this space discussing these global concerns. Furthermore, as you have no doubt noticed from the title of this event, we are talking today about Uganda in 2012, not the internet-driven “Kony2012” campaign. To this end, this gathering is not intended in any way to attack Invisible Children, its affiliates, or supporters. We will be incorporating thoughts on the film into our conversation today, but we want to make an effort to give light to and engage in the complex history of Uganda and its peoples, not just the face of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The event itself today will be a little atypical in format; it is a panel-led conversation. Our panelists will make brief statements concerning their area of research, after which i will guide us all in a group discourse with key framework questions. I therefore invite you all to speak out and voice your opinions and questions but simultaneously encourage you to be respectful of all our fellow human beings in this space.

With my co-coordinators Professor Holly Hanson, chair of the MHC African & African-American Studies Department and Saran Sidime, one of my best friends and future Secretary-General of the UN. Photo by the lovely and talented Mohini Ufeli!

We then moved around the circle, as there were only 20 or so gathered, to introduce ourselves with reasons for coming. Some were required by their professor (but i like to think they found the time valuable nonetheless) and most others because they had seen the Kony 2012 film and wanted to know another perspective. It was the perfect size gathering; small enough that everyone could speak if they wanted – giving it a real conversational air – but not so small that people felt obligated to speak.

Photo by Mohini Ufeli, of Vocal Lens Photography.**

From there, some of the panelists gave an outline history of who the LRA are, why they came to be, and why supporting the UPDF (Uganda Police Defense Force, which is the Ugandan army) as a means of ending the war is not a viable political alternative. We talked of Archbishop John Baptist Odama and the religious leaders who slept on the streets with the night commuters and, transitively, of the attention given to the victimized children long prior to Invisible Children’s presence. The point was made that night commuting has ended, Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda, and the real problem Uganda faces today is rebuilding a country recovering from a traumatic guerilla war. Such a dilemma is more psychological than anything else- and therefore more complex than the capture of one single person.

I could enumerate the rest of the conversation, but i feel it would be better if i instead recalled the highlights that stand out to me now, two weeks away from it. Most of all, amidst the conversations about what reintegration of child soldiers looks like and detailing the power of fair trade purchasing, i saw hope. I shy away from clichés as much as possible, but the frankness of such a feeling needs its proper name. The horror of war is, ultimately, an irrational thing. To attempt to hold the idea that human beings can enact such atrocities on one another is simultaneously terrifying and almost impossible. This is why IC is right to react to war – and why emotion-centered films are so effective in invigorating action within people. But to be lost is the sorrow is to lose sight of what a dear friend of mine, Dr. Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, often says: “lament is the heart of hope.”

Wanting justice isn’t a wrong thing to desire. But we have to critically examine what we mean by justice; does deploying more violence in the form of military action really mean justice will be brought forth? I think not. Claiming an American military action will end a war is such a limited way to view Uganda – and it loses sight of the most crucial aspect to healing: forgiveness. Having hope doesn’t mean covering town with posters of a criminal. Having hope means listening, processing, churning through ideas and making mistakes. Hope is the power of reconciliation, hope is what i saw when my peers knew that something was wrong with the documentary that rendered it, as one student put it, “impossible to have a rational reaction while watching the film because it is so emotionally manipulative.” They came anyway. Just because one film presented one skewed side didn’t mean they couldn’t seek out the questions on their own.

And ultimately, that is what we were left with. There isn’t a universal plan for action. Seeking peace isn’t as easy as a painted sign or letter to congress. And, to be totally fair, IC is stepping up their game in handling the critiques so well. I applaud them for that; i also must thank them for making such a controversial video. I say now as i said then: “let’s be real: we wouldn’t be gathered here to talk about Uganda 2012 today were it not for this internet buzz spawned by Invisible Children. On some level, we owe that to them.”

But peace is complex, and the first step in unraveling the complexity enough to see the knots as individual pieces rather than jumbled balls of yarn is understanding. Continuing to ask the questions, to dig deeper into history and read continually about on-the-ground information. If its purchasing power you want to employ, buy fair trade Ugandan products. Support micofinance outreach and loan to small business owners. But know that capitalism isn’t the ultimate truth to curing afflictions on this scale.

It has taken me considerably longer than i intended to write this blog post; in part, this is because i am in a musical and exams are encroaching closer than comfort prefers and, well, i do occasionally leave the internet in my wake whilst sitting outside and reading Dorothy Day. While i do feel slightly guilty for not talking sooner, i am glad i waited – because a few days ago, i stumbled across this gem via some friends met in Uganda:

I highly encourage you all to watch this video; it is a more community-focused mini-documentary on the need for a nonviolent resolution with the LRA. On a personal note, i have met almost all the people interviewed and have critically engaged in some wonderful, challenging, gut-wrenchingly-hard conversations concerning the meaning of forgiveness. It is a powerful film that serves as a beautiful counterpoint to the Kony campaign. Most of all, though, i think it says everything i just did but more eloquently, more directly, and from the people whose voices matter far more on the subject than my own.

current jam: “it gets better” fun. (i cannot stop listening to this song. just cannot.)

best thing: putnam goes up in less than a week! if you live in the valley, there’s a facebook event for you.

**photos by the lovely & talented mohini ufeli, of vocal lens photography! (go leave her & co-photographer, ify’s, facebook fan page some loving!)

* i realize i use this phrase with considerable frequency here with not context; it is something that was told to me over and over when in uganda. i mean it to offer that same hospitality, as much as i can in my smallness and via the internet.

Uganda 2012?

I am now pleased to announce a plan that has been in the hatching stages for a few weeks now for you, dear reader. As soon as the “Kony 2012” film was released, i contacted a professor i had last semester for my Power/Exchange African History class with the question of the hour: what are we going to do?

After some wonderful planning sessions collaborating with current students of hers, as well as with some friends of mine who are engaged in various components of activism and advocacy within the realm of what the “Kony 2012” campaign has put forth, we give you this: Uganda 2012? A Panel-led conversation concerning what Uganda needs from us.

To any and all Mount Holyoke students/residents of the Pioneer Valley, i warmly extend an invitation to you to attend! I will be serving as the event moderator, and i can personally assure you there are some of the smartest people i know on the panel itself. It should be a lively critical conversation!

This conversation is in no way an attack on Invisible Children, its affiliates, or any supporter of the Kony 2012 campaign. Rather, it is meant as a space to talk about Uganda more deeply and more broadly and what we as college students studying in the United States can do in terms of global governance and advocacy. Anyone is welcome!

In only mildly related news: this event, paired with WMHC’s Radio Week next week and three weeks until opening night for Putnam means the blogs might be a bit scant in the next month. Believe you me, I’d much rather be writing about falling in love with Rachel Maddow or tearing off for a weekend in the Seychelles (if only) than pulling my hair out over finals. Alas. My current mantra: this is a gift. This time is a gift. This place is a gift. This twenty-five-page-research-paper is a gift. IT IS A GIFT.

current jam: “little boxes” walk off the earth

some thoughts on kony 2012: can be found here and here and especially here.

Updates on “Kony 2012”

I promised to keep you updated on “Kony 2012” developments. In keeping with my word, might i direct you to two conversations i think worth supporting and critically engaging in:

The #Uganda2012 Project:

‘The first part of the project will be a film called #Uganda2012. The film will harness the creative energies of Ugandan filmmakers, photographers, activists, writers, poets and artists to tell the REAL story of  Joseph Kony’s tragic legacy in Northern Uganda and document the the work of many amazing Ugandans who have worked tirelessly to rebuild the region. The film will be released on April 18, two days before the #KONY2012 “Cover the Night” action.’

And this article from Al Jazeera of a screening in Uganda that caused some serious frustration:

   ‘People I spoke to anticipated seeing a video that showed the world the terrible atrocities that they had suffered during the conflict, and the ongoing struggles they still face trying to rebuild their lives after two lost decades.

  The audience was at first puzzled to see the narrative lead by an American man – Jason Russell – and his young son.

  Towards the end of the film, the mood turned more to anger at what many people saw as a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialised their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous.

  One woman I spoke to made the comparison of selling Osama Bin Laden paraphernalia post 9/11 – likely to be highly offensive to many Americans, however well intentioned the campaign behind it.

  The event ended with the angrier members of the audience throwing rocks and shouting abusive criticism, as the rest fled for safety, leaving an abandoned projector, with organisers and the press running for cover until the dust settled.’

You are all most welcome.

The Children are Not Invisible: PART II.

I would like to begin by thanking everyone who has commented or emailed or otherwise communicated with me on my blog yesterday. Your insights, critiques, and kind words are treasured in helping me grow and reaffirming of the very ideas behind this movement: that we, as a global community, can begin to engage in a discourse over human rights violations across the world. In lieu of such comments, i want to address a few things that have been said from a variety of people as something of an addendum to yesterday’s blog.

First: I AM NOT AN EXPERT. If that is how i came off, i apologize, for i in no way think of myself as someone whose opinion is any better than anyone else’s. Yes, i have lived very briefly (10 weeks this past summer, for new friends) in Uganda, and yes, nonviolent conflict resolution is a path i treasure and value above all others, but this only gives credence to me standing on a soapbox so long as we all know i’m just spouting my opinion, not universal truth or the ultimate end of the conversation.

And while i like to think i’m informed and passionate, i will never ever claim to be able to “speak for Uganda.” That, in and of itself, is too broad to even turn to a Ugandan person to answer (it’s like asking me “What is like being female in North America?” I can only answer to my personal experience, not the transcendent unique feeling every single woman has on the continent). Instead, might i direct you to some other incredible Ugandan leaders and capacity-building heroes that are good places to begin deepening our understanding of the complexity of the ramifications of this conflict together.

So, thank you for your questions – i will do my best, but often will try to direct you to other sources that i feel might better answer the dilemma.

This brings me to my second contention: in standing against Kony 2012, i am not standing against the conversation that has started. In fact, i am in full support of such a conversation. I appreciate that the Kony 2012 video has gone viral – because it also means critique of it has too, and this tells me that people are not content with just watching a 27 minute video to consider themselves educated on a global issue. We’re talking, you and i, right now, using one of the most frightening and awesome weapons the world has today: the internet. Invisible Children’s model of utilizing social media to instigate these conversations is brilliant, and i am so glad to see that this tool is being used to tell multiple sides of the story.

And, ultimately, this is what i care about. Yeah, i have some qualms with IC. But i have tried to engage myself critically and with an open mind in the discourse of the Northern Uganda conflict since i was fourteen. At risk of sounding self-congratulatory (which, again, is not my intent): i was often disillusioned by how little my peers knew then about a war where people our age were the primary victims. My sophomore year in high school, i was the Vice Principal of nothing less than the Invisible Children chapter at my school, because they cared. They understood why i, as just a teenager, wanted to be involved in a movement and conversation that concerned something far greater than myself and, on the surface, foreign to the world i knew. They got this, because they wanted people my age to care – and i would say, here and now, they’ve done a pretty good job in starting this conversation among many of my peers. I will never forget this, nor will i discredit or debase an entire organization based on some disagreements over their presentation or policy. There is no such thing as a perfect NGO. This doesn’t mean i don’t stand by my criticisms; my opinion is no different today than yesterday, but in much the same way i am asking all of us (myself included) to imagine complexly, i have a complex opinion on a large, multi-faceted body of people and ideas.

Ultimately, what i wanted to express yesterday and intend to here today is this: don’t stop at the IC videos; they have done a superb job at getting the conversation started among their target group which is, in their own words “Western youth.” I know, from your comments and queries, that many of you were really first exposed to these tensions and the crimes of Kony (etc) in the last week from this video. Thank you for caring enough to watch it – and thank you for also wanting to dig deeper and learn more. Apathy will be the destruction of the human race, but this kind of dialogue makes me hopeful this end isn’t as fast-approaching as i once thought.

However.

This is not an issue that solely concerns Western youth. Nor is Kony a threat who sprung up yesterday in terms of international action or conversation. My concern with ALL of the hype around this on the internet at present – criticism included – is that this is turning into an internet fad. That, this time in two weeks, when the facebook statuses and tweets are lying in the archives of our social media-driven output, the conversation will fizzle out. In the same way, it worries me that there is a mentality that once Kony is captured, the war’s ramifications will largely come to an end.

We cannot let this craze be the end of the conversation, in the same way that we cannot think capturing Kony will end a system of inequality, poverty, and injustice. As John Green says, “the truth resists simplicity.” For some of us, as an internet-driven collective, this is a beginning in engaging in real-life conversations about American privilege, distributions of wealth, war, reactions to conflict, and governmental roles in peace efforts. For some of us still this can be a frustrating, hands-thrown-in-the-air “of COURSE!” moment wherein we express that this conflict is much bigger and much deeper than one man. All sides are needed in this conversation as we embark together, moving forward to build tomorrow.

And, while i think it goes without saying, i want to add that no conversation when grappling with trauma and hope of this magnitude and complexity is easy. But we should all do well to remember that the people talking are people and therefore we should remain respectful of opinions contrary to our own.

And one final note: nonviolence is not merely a strategy. It is a way of life – though it can be employed as a strategy. The best metaphor i can think of is this (wherein it becomes excruciatingly obvious i am, in fact, a religion major): you can read the Bible as a scholar to examine its historical value and to inform your opinions on literature, society, or its misconstrued use in American politics. In this context, your reading may not be faith-based, but is a tool to reach a greater end. Conversely, if you read the Bible as a sacred text (which doesn’t necessitate you remove a critical eye) and see its rich complexity and contradictions and laws for life as something by which you intend to pour every facet of your being into, you are reading the text as a way to live your life. The same could be said for reading the Bhagavad Gita or the Qur’an. On one hand, it is a tool to understand something; delving deeper, it is a road map of beliefs. I believe in nonviolence, and i ask you in your responses to not write this off as a “foolish strategy.” This is my life, and i am (perhaps foolishly, i admit) being vulnerable here and stating that.

I respect those of you who think a military intervention is needed, but i disagree. While this side to the conversation is complicated, i will save longer thoughts for another time – in part, because i’m not sure if it’s really my right to have any say in how Kony is brought to face justice. Instead, i shall employ the words of two men whom i admire greatly, as cliché and over-used such phrases might be: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi.

Shalom to you all.

some helpful links:

interview with arhcbishop odama (a man whom i have met twice and am in remaining awe of – a nonviolent activist and leader in uganda). thanks to thera for this link!

the acholi religious leaders peace initiative (really, read this!)

an incredible vlog and african response to this hype. please, if you read or watch nothing else, read/watch this. 

“The Children” are NOT Invisible: Why I Don’t Support the KONY 2012 Campaign.

I was first exposed to the conflict in Northern Uganda at the age of fourteen. My exposure was, as i have articulated many times, a radical uprooting of the doll’s house i had grown up in; my white privilege, American privilege, gender identity, and perception of self not only became salient to me, but i thrust such perceptions all under robust and ruthless scrutiny. Through interactions with women and men my age and older in Uganda returning from tragedy beyond articulation, i uncovered a passion for fighting for human rights for all peoples. But more importantly, this realization did not merely stem from shared or witnessed woe – it came from a shared human experience. My friends who live in Uganda are human beings, as flawed and beautiful and resilient and hopeful as you or i. I awoke then to a global community committed to human rights because we are all human, not out of pity.

However.

My exposure to the Ugandan conflict is a rare anomaly in the scope of international awareness. I was educated because i went to Uganda. In all honesty: i knew nothing about Uganda before i left; our trip was spent half in Uganda and half in Rwanda, and i was focusing all of my pre-departure energies on the latter. Thus, my education was first-hand and on-the-ground.

Not everyone has this blessing or opportunity. It is for this reason that i think much of what the organization Invisible Children does is fantastic. They are supremely good storytellers; as flawed as their methodology and approach may be, the team behind the documentaries and information dissemination do a brilliant job at communicating the importance of caring for people whom most of their donors and participants will never meet. They instill a dedicated passion for a cause that, in and of itself, does not threaten American security or comfort on an individual level really at all. In terms of introducing the Ugandan conflict to broader discourse especially among my peers across the country, Invisible Children is great.

Most importantly, i have no doubt that the people who are at present posting “KONY 2012” as their facebook statuses and writing checks to this NGO have the very best of intentions. In no way do i want to ever discredit the commitment one human being has made to another to see their full identity and fight for their basic, inalienable rights. This is a beautiful act.

But the “KONY 2012” campaign is not, in my opinion, the way to empower and actualize the full identity of an entire nation of peoples and victims of war.

The KONY 2012 campaign, for those who do not know, is the latest brainchild of Invisible Children, an organization based in the United States with a mission to end the conflict in Uganda and its repercussions across Central and East Africa. Spawned by a 27 minute video, this campaign seeks to promote awareness about the war crimes of Jospeh Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA (the insurgency that initiated the civil unrest in Uganda and army that is responsible for abducting over 30,000 children and forcing them to be child soldiers and sex slaves) through a social media grounded guerilla art movement. This is to be manifested in the form of sharing, reblogging, tweeting, and posting “KONY 2012” on all forms of internet discourse with links to the Invisible Children website. Furthermore, the campaign is to come to a head in April when mobilizers are to “cover the night” by putting posters, pictures, and stickers of “KONY 2012” on every visible surface they can find.

At first glance, this intention is excellent. Of course i want people to be educated and aware about the gross injustices Kony has performed. Guerilla art? Count me in. Social media? I live in my computer – golden.

But promoting such awareness by glorifying a criminal, portraying this intervention as an American/white man’s burden to “help” Africa, and encouraging a militaristic intervention?

Absolutely not.

This conflict is far more complex than a mere facebook status can convey; frankly, it is more complicated than a thirty-minute video can explain either, particularly when 50% of said video is dedicated to why “YOU” must end the war, not what Ugandan leaders of independent grassroots movements, churches, mosques, and other bodies of change decree what needs doing. To end a war, we must confront injustice by empowering the people involved.

This means that the voices of “the children” must be heard far more than our own. I do not see this in the KONY 2012 video. In fact, the whole narrative begins with Jason Russell, one of the founders of Invisible Children, saying “my life was changed.”

Yes, it’s your narrative, Jason. Yes, please speak to what you know. But let’s all remember this is more than just one story – one story is an excellent place to start, but the truth resists simplicity.

The impact of the scene in both the original documentary and this video of Jacob mourning the loss of his brother is so. so powerful.  In many ways, i think everyone in the world should see this scene to understand the visceral sorrow that was – and remains to be – the war in Uganda. Woe is universally transcendent of language and border. But do not let this woe be all of Uganda that you see. All of the empowerment, of the celebration of human resilience in the face of adversity, were scenes filmed in America. In part i am sure this is because of resources, and yes, some of the people in America were Ugandans – but what of the people who live in Gulu town? What of their relief? Their self-actualization?

This depiction of Uganda – as children suffering from the horrific impacts of war – is an incomplete picture that is otherizing and portreying the conflict as something that “we,” in our American privilege, must swoop in and “fix.” In this reductive perspective, there is no space to love and seek to understand people complexly, because the war is all that we see.  And to paint this conflict in the eyes of the American public by creating a campaign of hatred towards Joseph Kony is not, as the film claims, subverting or changing the way the media portrays global challenges. It is totally buying into this idea that “the bad guys” are the face of war – and it furthers this concept of Uganda as a nation broken and in need of “the good guys” (meaning Americans) to save “them” from Kony.

Furthermore, by putting Kony’s face as the face of the conflict, we are glorifying violence and his crimes against humanity. But more importantly – and i will fully disclose this to be a reflection of my own belief in nonviolence as a way of life – there leaves no room for forgiveness. I am not alone in thinking that Kony should not be put to death, and that this action would not heal the wounds this war has scarred us all with. Calling for the ICC to step in is fine, but integral to rebuilding a country torn apart by war is an element of forgiveness (which is different from forgetting – and doesn’t mean there is not an element of accountability for crimes committed). And this act is not for those who did not live through the war to decide the fate of – not me, not Invisible Children. Forgiveness must come from those who need it, and those who need to give it.

And this doesn’t even begin to cover the disparities within the Ugandan military in terms of accountability and real peacemaking. Grant Oyston, a sociologist and proprietor of the Visible Children Tumblr, does a superb job in this article of describing why a military-driven intervention in Uganda is not the best solution. He describes the problems with a military-driven mindset, for all past military interventions have failed and caused violent retaliation by the LRA. I highly encourage you to read the entire piece – but if you take only one thing away from it, please take this:

“Military intervention may or may not be the right idea, but people supporting KONY 2012 probably don’t realize they’re supporting the Ugandan military who are themselves raping and looting away. If people know this and still support Invisible Children because they feel it’s the best solution based on their knowledge and research, I have no issue with that. But I don’t think most people are in that position, and that’s a problem.

Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on supporting ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn’t helping. Do I have a better answer? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that you should support KONY 2012 just because it’s something. Something isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.”

Good intentions are good. But they are not enough.

I want to reiterate once more i don’t think ill of anyone who has reblogged or posted or stamped KONY 2012 to their foreheads – your compassion is never to be understated. Thank you for caring. Selfishly, Uganda is a very special place to me and seeing so many people taking public stances for human rights in a country i love so much is moving, moving in ways i cannot describe. I am not telling or asking you to stop caring or to stop being involved with social change. I am asking you do so in an informed way that imagines and seeks to understand this conflict complexly, and in a manner that acknowledges our stance as allies in a global community of agents of change. Empower yourselves!

And, should you want a documentary to dive deeper into the complexity, might i direct you to the brilliant, Oscar-nominated masterpiece that is WAR/DANCE. You will not regret it; there is no narration on the part of the documentarian, and juxtaposed to unbridled woe that is war is uncontainable hope and resilience and pure human-ness.

Let us all work to imagine peace in its complexity.

**EDIT: Invisible Children has since put out a counter-blog to some of these criticisms and many others. I encourage you to read their side as well! Thank you for your thoughts!

**ALSO AN EDIT: There is now a PART II to this post, viewable by clicking here! Thanks! 

*** I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU WATCH THIS. This is the best response i’ve yet come across.

current jam: “vienna” billy joel.

best thing in my life right now: going to les mis tonight!

to prune, to pluck, to cleanse, to clear.

The 30 Day Photo Challenge: A Photo of My Reality Right Now

I have always been a person of many names. When I was born my parents gave me the name of Elizabeth; my mother claims it was the only name they could really agree on, yet in their concurrence with one another the name selected was laden with love. Elizabeth, as a name, is rooted in Hebrew and literally means ‘God’s Promise’ or ‘my God is a vow.’Throughout history, Biblical, fictional, and otherwise, there have been a substantial number of incredible women bearing the name. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, the two Queens of England, Elizabeth Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor… It is a name I strive to live up to, a name I am honored and humbled to posses.

But while the name I bore is Elizabeth, none called me such. For the first eleven years of my life, I was Beth. Carved into my dress-up clothes chest, painted on my doors, made into a sign by my Grandfather was the nickname that most of my family still uses.  And while a part of me will always be the little girl called Beth- the part of me that refused to wear anything but pink, the child who poured over dragon lore, the little girl who would ride her bike until her legs felt like they were falling off, the kid who refused to let her mother brush her hair, the little one who discovered Harry Potter and Billy Joel and The Sound of Music. She’s still real, she still exists in memory and in name.

Yet I was not to remain Beth forever. When I began Middle School I decided it was time for me to no longer be such a child. Written on my notebooks and doodled in the margins of worksheets was a new name, a name most people now know me by: Lizzie. It is a name fit for my adolescence, a name that fizzles and sparks off the tounge, filled with not one- but two uncommonly used letters, a name of awakening and spunk and clumsy steps and bad hair days.

In many ways Lizzie is still perfectly applicable to who I am, who I want to be. But the older I grow the more a familiar urge, an itch bubbles up in my head. I am growing out of my name, growing out of my teenager years and coming into adulthood. The time is not now, but I am certain before long the day will come when I will no longer introduce myself with Lizzie; the rhymes and songs of Dizzy Miss Lizzy, or (worse by far) Lizzie Borden referred to only by friends and family who have known me for long.

But that day is not now.

For Today, the day that has been my summer of learning how to Live, how to slow down and Grow, I have been gifted with another name. Not to replace Lizzie, to add.

While still in Kotido, I was given a Ngkaramajong name by beloved, calming, wise, leading Mama Rose. The name was chosen based on the season that I arrived in, not really based on personality characteristics or my English name. Which, given how potent and relevant it is, is really quite astonishing.

My Ngkaramajong name is Nachap, meaning that I came in the season of weeding. Weeding, pruning, preparing and tending to the earth to make room for a healthy and uncumbered crop to grow.

This summer, this time spent in this beautiful and broken place, has been a time of pruning. A time of discerning in what soil to plant my crop, a time of pulling out by the roots what would choke the vine. A summer of being aware of the baobabs that might overcome my small planet in the universe, a time for allowing good seeds to take root. Waiting, throughout the weeding, for the plants to bear fruit.

When people ask what exactly my internship entails, or what I’ve done, it is more than merely difficult for me to explain. I’ve mentioned here that my work has not been glamorous, or product-oriented, or even for some fancy NGO with T-shirt give-aways. We built a solar oven, collected some plastic water bottles, and made a little headway in plugging the raw data of the schools into a database. Hardly worthy of a junior league Nobel Prize.

But the material rewards are not from which my treasure is reaped. This summer I have learned how I want to live my life. Not in finality, but in constant process. I have pruned, I have plucked. I have stuffed my head with books, memorized faces, held hands, rode motorcycles on winding city streets, cried for a fictional wizard, eaten more goat than I care to admit, encountered the divine in the smallest of nooks, the most profound of people. I have seen churches, encountered Faith beyond my own reckoning in mamas with warm, worn hands and woven into the fabric strung from street shops.

Not all of what I have learned has been beautiful, pretty, or nice. None of it was trimmed in lace or slathered in butter.

I have muddied my feet on holy ground, danced in the rain. I’ve peed in a hole in the ground, slept a summer under mosquito nets, barely been able to walk 100 feet to the clinic.

This has been unbelievably difficult. This has been perfect. This has absolutely sucked. This has been a life lived on top of a tall, tall mountain screaming out at the world below that all was Good and Great and Wonderous.

I am leaving with lines etched across the skin stretched taunt across my soul. Laughter lines, sorrow lines, wallowing and worshipping and wondering and wandering. Not lines easily unpacked or deconstructed or made do with the rhetoric of the ever-present product-oriented inquiries. I am whole, I am in pieces. I want so badly to go home there, I desperately wish I could stay home here. My life is one destined, so it seems, to be spent in the in-between places, the space of collision and collaboration. The space of never and forever and no absolutes and Truths that stand the test of the universes coming and going.

And I am content.

current jam: ‘brand new day’ joshua radin

thoughts in my head: a time for leaving.

It is no longer possible for me to avoid stating the obvious: my time in Uganda is drawing to an end. According to the countdown widget on my Mac, I have precisely 3 days, 10 hours, and 46 minutes until my plane takes off from Entebbe International Airport, commencing the twenty-four-hours-plus journey back to the states.

Clearly, as I have avoided blogging about my departure, I have some mixed emotions about leaving. This summer has been profoundly awakening and incredibly difficult; I don’t want to leave Uganda, but concurrently I am seriously craving an enormous, greeny salad and to have time to cuddle with my kittens and share space and love with my family. And, as I may have mentioned, this is my first summer away from my college friends. While emails and facebook messages make me abundantly grateful for the internet (no matter the speed), I have really been homesick for Mount Holyoke and all the wonderful, wonderful women I feel I’ve known for a lifetime already.

So, I have hot showers and Elmo’s Diner Greek Grilled Cheese with Chicken sandwiches and skype and riding my bike to the movie theatre to look forward to. But I also will be missing chappati cooking lessons with Rhoda, taking boda-bodas to craft markets and eating delicious cuisines of all kind. I will no longer wake up every day to see the gorgeous, boundless Ugandan sky, no more basin baths or mosquito nets or cups of tea shared with the Sisters or Bishop. Time will shift; appointments will be kept to the minute, meals held earlier in the day, and the Slowness and steeping of moments like strong tea will begin to dissipate as I hurry to buy textbooks and pack up my postcard collection, scurrying to ready myself for a new semester.

It’s a bricolage of senses, of moments, of feelings. Having time and space to be alone will be most welcome; a spell for thinking and processing (and let’s be real, editing the hours upon hours of footage I’ve taken) will be healthy and renewing. Transitioning is not going to be easy. I wrote here, long ago, that my biggest fear for this summer was not contracting some horrendous tropical disease (been there, done that…sort of), bodily harm, or being homesick. My greatest fear was feeling like a stranger in my own skin upon my return to the US. Being so changed, so molded and formed I no longer fit anywhere- a child of two homes, two hearts. Forgive my clichés, but the worry is still knotted, contracting and pulling and I’m doing my best to quell, to que sera, to c’est la vie.

A friend and mentor of mine, a woman who knows more intimately than I the difficulty of living in two places in your heart, once gave me some very practical advice pertaining to traveling in Uganda: put yourself in the hands of someone you trust, and let go of your own agenda. They will take you where you need to be, when you need to be there.

As in many gifts given so freely to me here, this piece of wisdom is one I treasure. It is applicable beyond the realm of the pragmatic, and in this vein I can only hope and pray that in my letting go all will be okay- lost at sea or up in the clouds, wherever the road my lead.

current jam: ‘turn, turn, turn’ the byrds

best thing in my life right now: chappati lessons! rhoda has been teaching me, and as i video’d the whole thing (like you’re surprised!) i am fairly certain i shall be able to make a decent ugandan chappati once back in the states! a taste of home at home.

fantas: 20