4 days in Uganda and I’m already famous!

4 12 2009

Yesterday, I made my Ugandan TV premiere on UBC – the Ugandan Broadcasting Corporation. I went to a press conference at the Ugandan Human Rights Commission. AGHA, the organization I work for was part of a coalition that was participating in the press conference. I’ve noticed that because there are so many NGOs (over 3,000 in Kampala alone), a lot of work is done in coalitions. We thought the press conference started at 9 so we (one of my AGHA co-workers walked me to another partner of theirs – the Ugandan National Health Consumers/Users’ Organisation – and they drove me into the center of town) arrived at about 9:20 🙂 and were told that the press conference wasn’t going to start until 10. I sat down next to a very nice man who happened to be the CEO of another NGO, the African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Tortured Victims (ACTV). It was so interesting to hear about the work they are doing with refugees and torture victims in prisons. I’m now trying to see if I can visit one of their sites and see firsthand the work they do while I’m here. The press conference eventually began with the chair of the Human Rights Commission doing a full reading of the four page (!) press release. A few minutes in, I noticed that it looked like a camera was pointed at me. I smiled awkwardly and looked the other way and eventually realized that all the still and video cameras were taking shots of me. It was such an uncomfortable and yet funny feeling all at the same time. I was just sitting there doing nothing. I went back and told my AGHA co-workers about it. They chuckled and said it was because I am a “muzungu” a white person. Race is obviously a part of this experience and I’ve gotten used to sticking out like a sore thumb wherever I go. I didn’t think much more of the press conference until this morning when my boss came in and said she saw me on TV! I still don’t completely understand why a picture of me made the Ugandan Broadcasting Company’s TV coverage of the Human Rights Commission’s kickoff to human rights week especially because there were much more interesting questions asked about a very controversial bill being considered right now.

I’m still learning about the government structure here but essentially a Member of Parliament introduced a bill making it a crime to know a homosexual and not report him or her. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda. This new law would make it a crime for a health care worker to knowingly treat someone who is homosexual, it would be illegal for a family member to have a gay person in their family and not turn them in and many more obscure connections. The President has indicated support of the bill and a reporter asked a valid question about what the Ugandan Human Rights Commission as the entity charged with defending human rights in the country, thought about this bill. The Chair essentially didn’t state a position and said as it was customary practice, the bill had been sent to the Human Rights Commission and that they are reviewing it and will make a recommendation later. This is a hot topic as many donors to programs in Uganda are saying they will pull their funding if this law passes. Here is a link to a recent article about this bill, will also give you a sense of the Ugandan journalistic style as well as one of my favorite headlines so far: http://www.monitor.co.ug/artman/publish/news/We_will_not_bend_over_for_aid_Buturo_tells_donors_95519.shtml

 Tomorrow, I’m going with a group of students that work with AGHA to a march for human rights week which should be fun. I’m then planning to spend the rest of the day exploring and hope to get more pictures up early next week. Also, as I’ve started to learn Luganda thanks to my co-workers Diana and Roselyn, I thought I’d share the wealth and start adding a Luganda word of the day to future posts. So for today, the Lugandan word of the day is: Weebale (ee sound as in elephant and the last e is pronounced like an a) and means thank you. Nearly everyone speaks English here and it is the official language though it is a very different type of English and in Kampala, Luganda is spoken quite frequently.

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3 responses

6 12 2009
Andreea

Allison,

I finally caught up on all the blogs. This is fascinating! I can’t wait to hear more about this bill. Way different don’t you think? I kind of know what you are feeling when you say you stick out like a sore thumb. That’s how we felt when we visited China especially in the rural areas. People would come up to us and ask to take a picture with us. We felt like celebrities. Has that happened to you besides being on TV?

How are the roommates?

Miss you! Can’t wait to hear more…..

6 12 2009
Seesuze

Allison,

This is fabulous. Can you believe that you are making all this happen? I remember sitting outside my apartment one night chatting with you about whether or not you would take this trip, and now here you are. You are doing a fantastic job capturing and sharing your experience with us. The work you are doing in Uganda is so important, and you are the perfect woman for the job.

I’m in awe of you,
Susan

7 12 2009
Kristin

All of the things you are already learning (and sharing with us) are so interesting and surprising. Congratulations on making it on TV – though I can imagine your discomfort with all of those cameras checking your reactions!

I can’t wait to read more and see photos. We all miss you and are living vicariously through your exciting adventure 🙂

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