The Underbelly

I wish I could say that the whole of our time in Uganda has been positive, and for the most part it truly has been, but I’d feel untruthful if I omitted the parts where it hasn’t been.

But how do I tell you about the things that regurgitate themselves in my nightmares? How do I talk about what it’s like seeing people beaten in front of my very eyes? How do I talk about feeling like I have rocks in my stomach for the country I so dearly love? How do I talk about the ugly underbelly?

I guess I just swallow the lump in my throat and begin.

Violence against women was brutally thrust in our faces multiple times on this trip. The first, and most horrifying, instance we witnessed involved a young, homeless, seemingly mentally ill girl standing too close to our outdoor table at our hotel restaurant. She wasn’t harming us, bothering us, or even speaking to us when she was chased off and then repeatedly beaten with a metal rod in the hands of the security guard of our hotel. She ran into the street where the security guard chased after her and kept beating her.

It was shocking and brutal and horrible and the scene is one that haunts my nightmares every night, partially because of the brutality of it all, and partially because I’m ashamed to say that I was too stunned to move. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

I don’t know if shock is why nobody else in the square moved either, but I fear it’s a regular enough occurrence that to the residents of Gulu, it wasn’t shocking at all.

That girl is someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s sister. Maybe someone’s mother. She is a human.

When the security guard went after her a second time, I asked one of my adult Uganda sons to go and make him stop. The security guard stopped and said he would “just scare her” from now on.

As if that is somehow less terrorizing.

I had heated words with that security guard and then spoke to the hotel manager later that night. The manager assured me it wouldn’t happen again because it was “unprofessional.”

Try inhumane. Or unconscionable. Or barbaric. Or all of the above.

The girl was not beaten again while we were there, at least not in our presence, but the boulder in my stomach tells me that her reprieve ended when we checked out.

The second instance of violence against a woman came while we were in the main market. We were on the third floor and down on the first floor, the food floor, a woman walking with a bag of potatoes was beaten by a man who was yelling words I didn’t understand. I think she was mentally ill as well or perhaps she’d stolen the potatoes. I really don’t know. The whole of the market stopped and to our horror they all laughed and pointed as she was beaten. Even people we know and love in the market stopped to laugh and point.

I’ll never forget the sight of her bag of potatoes breaking open and the sound as each one thudded to the floor, rolling in all different directions.

Nor will I ever forget the sound of hundreds of people laughing as she was beaten. It also comes cackling through in the quiet of night when my subconscious is still trying to process that it actually happened.

There was nothing Laura and I could do from so far away and again my heart broke because she is someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s sister. Maybe someone’s mother. She is a human.

The third time I became aware of how pervasive violence against women was in a letter/report from the Bungatira beaders, thanking VK for our support. In the letter the Bungatira beaders listed their top five reasons why this paper bead project is of such great importance to them.

Their top 5 reasons were:

1. It allows them to pay for food starts and not starve during famine.

2. It allows them to pay for medical care.

3. It allows them to pay their children’s school fees.

4. It’s a sustainable income source based on something they’re proud to create themselves.

5. It helps prohibit the gender based domestic violence that is a corollary in poverty stricken households.

It’s one thing to see random acts of violence committed to strangers in the city. It’s a completely new set of rocks in my stomach to know it’s a problem for the village women I know and love, who sit on papyrus mats with suckling babies in their laps while they wrap paper bead jewelry because they know having enough money for the basics means they won’t be beaten.

It’s another reason why the Bungatira Beaders and their paper bead jewelry are so important to us.

It’s why we took on a second set of young women beaders, so they can go to school and hopefully not ever experience such violence.

It’s why we love supporting Ivan the painter. He’s changing his community by hiring women, believing in equality, and painting countless images of strong Ugandan women.

It’s why we love Pastor Amos and Mr. Ekanya at New Hope School in Pawel. They rescue refugee children from the hands of violence and show them that there’s another way.

All of these girls and women are someone’s daughters. Some of them are mothers. Some of them are sisters. All of them are human.

Every penny that we invest in them and into their projects esteems them as all of those things and demonstrates that we, too, are daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, and sisters and brothers.

We are all so beautifully human.

4 thoughts on “The Underbelly

  1. Ricki Milne

    What a horrifying story. You surely have had a bittersweet trip. I commend you for your commitment to these people. You are such a beautiful person, inside and out. I feel lucky to know you through Connect, and now through Vigilante Kindness. I am honored to send you a small donation each month. I’m wish it could be more. I would love to purchase some of the beaded jewelry. I pray that you have a house to go back to when you get back home.

    Like

  2. Leslie j Gerbracht

    Thank you Alicia for your heartfelt post and your courage in writing it. I wish for you to be strong and know that you can’t do everything there that needs to be done, but what you are doing is so very important. You will not recognize my name but I am activeknitter2017 on WW

    Like

  3. June

    My heart aches for the women. The ignorance or tradition that would allow that kind of treatment to persist is appalling. I’m so thankful you can provide a source of income for the beaders to help stave off some of that horror. My thoughts and prayers are very much with you and those women.

    Like

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