Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Uganda Bites Back

“Today I wake up distressed. The hours I have been awake have been a gradual ascension to accept the inevitable gap between “those who have,” a culture of material selectivity, and “those who do not have,” a culture of marginalization. The severity of one is always relative to in different places and times — there is no definite standard or criteria for either, only the universal need for one to respect the other in the inevitable occasions that they meet. It is this respect which I hope to further understand, facilitate, and nurture.” 10:30 AM May 29th, 2010

I apologize for the vague and esoteric prologue. The details of my encounter, of my valuable possessions nearly being taken, are not appropriate for public display. I have shared the details with those to whom it is relevant, but for public consumption, I will instead provide my tentative learned result:

As I sit outside, toyed with by either the adorable 3 year-olds Payas and Fina or the two needy kittens that follow them, both of whom have a feeble concept of personal space and material possession, I begin to wonder about culture. I came here to listen, to observe, and to facilitate. Not to judge. I find it hard not to judge considering recent events, but I have gradually shifted into an acceptance, response, and now, reflection.

Culture, in my opinion, is an evolving process of, and a balance between, two distinct categories. One is the organization of human and natural resources, through visible and invisible institutions of learned behavior, organization, and impact. This category is made up of measurable parts. They are empirical, physical, and easily understood. One can easily observe this category, and its different appearance between countries, and draw what my be called a 'comparison of development.' One country displays more cohesive, efficient, and productive behaviors under this category, and therefore may be considered 'more developed' than other countries that show deficiencies.

The second is the subjective truth of the selected area (country, region, neighborhood, family) and its general mythology. This involves interacting with belief systems, religious devotion, and how individuals organize their beliefs and behaviors under such systems. One can often forget this second aspect, as it is not easily observed, discussed, or measured. Oft ignored, subjective truth is not commonly associated with understanding the 'development' of a country, as this concept does not coalesce with the commonly used evaluation of 'more developed' and 'less developed' societies. Each subjective truth is, quite simply, subjective. Neither rational nor irrational, a people's subjective truth simply belongs to them, and must be left in their possession in order for their culture to survive, in equilibrium with the necessary 'development' of human and natural resources. This is the respect I am referring to, and is one not easily given amidst my current uncomfortable circumstances. Sure, when there are tribal dances, wonderful food, and open discussion, and one can easily experience and respect the subjective truth of another people. But when personal trust is violated, when all is not 'hold hands and sing kumbaya,' and more difficult situations are presented, one can easily begin to judge.

I refuse to judge. I come from one culture, and they come from another. My experience here, my internship in community economic development, is an attempt at cohesion between the two cultures. When different subjective truths can find confluence, gain mutual respect, and act cohesively, wonderful things can happen. So in spite of recent events, I am steadfast in my respect, observance, and optimism.

On a lighter note, I have completed my orientation and training, having gone through a wonderful workshop with Paul from REAP (Renewed Efforts to Alleviate Poverty). I now have a thorough grasp on Community Needs and Asset Assessment Models, and am prepared to begin my Work Plan and Project Proposal next week. There are so many different ways to systematically measure and analyze the needs and assets of a community, and I am fascinated by these innovative techniques. Some are more empirical than others, some are more subjective than others.

I took a very long walk around lunch time, soaking up some equatorial sun rays and walking the dirt road around my valley. I walked up this larger hill, overlooking the valley, and was amazed. I will try to put up a photo of this view, but its simplistic beauty is simply indescribable. Walking in such a calm and rich place (rich in ways I have not even begun to comprehend), I began to think that I could very easily live here for quite a while. As I was contemplating such elitist Alexander-the-Great-esque pursuits, the young heifer behind me begins to become a bit perturbed. I look over at him, and he bows his head, ready for battle. In the state I was in, I almost charged right at him. I was seeking a challenge, and charging a young bull would certainly constitute one. Instead I turned a shoulder the other way, inhaling the fresh air, digging my toes into the clay-orange dirt, reaching down for a discarded fruit rind, and tossing it next to the cow. I hope he will understand my plight as I continue to respect his. I also hope he doesn't charge me on my run tomorrow morning.

Sibba Bulungi, or Good Afternoon,



  1. The only thing I understood was that everything you have was almost stolen. Ben, dear, write more simply.

  2. ok, so what happened?!
    (we miss you btw)
    XO Aunt M et al