Delicious: My Trip to Uganda
In May, I traveled to Uganda to support the follow-on project of Prossy Kawala at Uganda Media Development Foundation (UMDF). Prossy was a fellow at MLP for four months last fall, strengthening our project on responsible speech with her knowledge of community leadership development. So I was thrilled by the chance to visit her in Uganda!
My first week in Kampala was very busy, and I was still adjusting to the time change. I had meetings with UMDF staff, learned UMDF’s programs, and participated in the third World Press Freedom Day. For me, World Press Freedom Day began at 4:30 am with booming thunderclaps that were followed by a six-hour torrential rainstorm. I had never seen so much rain! I kept thinking that I saw more rain in five minutes in Kampala than I had seen in a year in Albuquerque, where we have been in a drought. While the rain did force UMDF to cancel the public march, the rest of World Press Freedom Day went smoothly. It featured speakers, panelists, and booths from organizations such as Africa Freedom of Information Center, Panos Eastern Africa, and U.S. Embassy Kampala. More than 265 journalists were in attendance and many spoke on the issues they regularly face for exposing truths including consistent threats on their lives. It was powerful for me to share the work of Media Literacy Project to this room, connecting with them on media justice principles.
Over the weekend, UMDF staff took me to Jinja—a town about two hours outside of Kampala and home to the source of Kiyira, also known as the Nile River. On our way there, we passed the Mabira forest, which community members have been fighting to protect. Some of the forest has been destroyed to make room for sugar plantations, and the government has wanted to destroy more. Seeing the clearly defined border between the edge of the forest and the sugar fields served as a physical reminder of the daily power struggles that are employed between corporations and community in all parts of the world, including the US, and of the love, will, and energy it takes for resisters to hold the line.
In my second week I met with the U.S. Embassy, followed by a visit to the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA). I met UPPA’s vice president and spoke to a dozen of their 100-member press. We talked about ways to connect parliamentary policies to grassroots community organizations and community members, and the journalists were interested in making this change! UMDF then took me to Mbale for two days where they hosted a dialogue between community members and government representatives. The conversation centered on the topic of social services and mirrored the conversations currently taking place in the U.S.—where community members understand social services as basic human rights and where the government frames social services as handouts. One government official asked, “Do you want the government to tell you when to feed your children?” It sounded like eerily familiar, like an echo of the US conservative agenda resounding thousands of miles away.
In the midst of all my travels and excursions, I was eating—fresh avocados, mangos, and pineapple. I tasted Luwombo, a dish steamed in banana leaves, and I regularly ate matooke, mashed green banana that is a staple side dish. Jjunji (yam), lumonde (sweet potato), kamonde (Irish potato), muwogo (cassava), posho (cornmeal masa), muchere (rice), and ensujju (pumpkin) were served to me. I ate in Nakalama where roadside cooks are renowned for their beef kabobs and roasted corn, and I had both. In Busembatya, I purchased their famous dry rice to bring home. And my favorite was in Serenada where I ate fresh fene (jack fruit) from the tree!
The second day in Mbale I provided a media literacy training to the journalists at Open Gate Radio and STEP TV and Radio. Using Ugandan media examples, we discussed media literacy concepts and techniques of persuasion as we delved into how to deconstruct media. The journalists commented on how using media literacy skills could be used to strengthen their production. It was a productive and inspiring conversation, and we left with many next steps for UMDF, MLP, and the journalists themselves.
Ten days after I left Uganda, the government initiated a media siege, closing down some of the newspaper and radio outlets in Kampala, including KFM, a radio station that I had visited with UMDF. I connected with Prossy and with other Ugandan journalists during this struggle. It felt strange to be so far away, watching the videos of the people I had just spent time with. At UMDF’s request, MLP issued a press release that was picked up by the Associated Press in the U.S. We wanted to support UMDF only in the way that they wanted us to.
True cultural exchange provides the space to learn and grow from each other, to trust one another to know what is best for our respective communities, and to provide support when it is asked for. I had so many amazing experiences in Uganda and met wonderful people. I’m sure UMDF and MLP will continue to participate in a cultural exchange in the months and years to come, and I am excited about the possibilities our partnership will create. To sum it up, a colleague asked me on my last day, “If you had to describe your trip in one word, what would it be?” I replied, “Delicious.”