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a southern yankee abroad

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LGBTQ rights

Ain’t No Mountain High, Ain’t No Valley Low

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I broke my sandal playing soccer! Fortunately, this man was able to repair it on the side of the road for about 25 cents USD. Soccer is big in my office and we play often…I only play barefoot or in tennis shoes now! 

Hello, hello! Long time, no talk. I am a bit behind on my blogging. Part of the reason is because I have been so busy here in Kampala, with both work and with personal travels. But I have to admit the main reason is that I don’t feel like I am “traveling” these days; I feel like I am just living my life here in Uganda.

The last couple of weeks have been full of highs and lows. In an effort to be honest and real, I have to write about both at the risk of sounding like I am complaining. I will try to alternate between the positives and negatives as I catch you, my readers, up on the Kampala life.

 

Pro: My birthday was fabulous!!

I turned 28 years old since I last posted! Thanks to my amazing co-workers and new ex-pat and local friends from here in Kampala, I celebrated my birthday with a surprise party/Ugandan feast during the day and with a dinner at my favorite Kampala restaurant, Cafeserrie, at night. My co-workers also showered me in gifts…I was truly humbled! ❤ This birthday was one of my best yet—it reminded me so much of last year, when I trekked Vinicunca Mountain in Peru and the local villagers threw me a mini-surprise party. It is going to be so hard to beat #27 and #28!

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BIRTHDAY 2

 

Con: “Africa time”

Both locals and ex-pats alike use this term to describe the perpetual lateness of literally everyone and everything here. For example, when messaging our office last week about the start time of a meeting, the head of my organization who is a native Ugandan said “2pm, No Africa time please!” While I can be guilty of being late myself from time to time back in the US, nothing in the US comes close to being on par with “Africa time.” Basically, it means double however long something is supposed to last, or add an hour or so on to any time at which something is supposed to start.

 

This week in particular, I’ve had some bad experiences with Africa time. I think the worst experience was when the bus that was supposed to take our team to Masaka for a training led by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights arrived to pick us up 5 hours late. That’s right, 5 hours….that means we arrived in Masaka at midnight, because of course the 2 hour journey took 5 hours in “Africa time.” We then went to a local restaurant to eat, as no one had eaten dinner. I was so exhausted and nauseated from the trip I could barely eat anything (and also, I think I’ve had my fill of Ugandan food, as described in the next con).

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Exhausted from late night travel…
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All piled into our matatu (a Ugandan taxi) on the trip back from Masaka…fortunately the trip back was not as traumatic!

One thing I love about Africa time is it means more leisure and less stress and worry. It’s been so nice to slow down from my usual NYC pace and live life at a pace that allows me to enjoy each day and live in the moment. However, this week has really made me miss the efficiency of the good ole US of A. I guess one positive is I now have an accurate way to describe the NYC subway system…it’s just running on Africa time!

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Enjoying a stop at the Equator on the way back from Masaka with the team

 

Pro: Jinja, the Source of the Nile

Last weekend in Jinja was amazing! Located about three hours (Africa time) from Kampala, Jinja is home of the source of the Nile River, which flows north through Uganda through South Sudan to Egypt and the Mediterranean. Jinja town was adorable, and full of so many cute art shops. I bought so much here!! (Including lots of jewelry for myself and friends and family, and 2 sets of coasters for my apartment, haha…adulting hard!!) Saturday, I kayaked in the still waters while Carissa rented a stand-up paddle board.

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That evening, we did a “dinner cruise” (which was actually more like a booze cruise) down the Nile at sunset. There were about 20 military members from the US, France, and the UK on the cruise from our campsite, so you can imagine this got to be pretty entertaining. Carissa and I camped in our tent along the banks of the Nile that night…it rained hard but our tent kept out all the water!

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Sunset along the Nile
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Enjoying a “quiet” moment on the “dinner cruise” hahaha

The next day, we went on an all-day rafting trip. This was my first time ever whitewater rafting, and it was a blast!! The rapids were grade 5, which is the most difficult level there is. Our guide, Koa, instructed us expertly as we navigated each rapid. We flipped over twice!!

Between each rapid, there was a nice long stretch of still water where we could relax and swim. I even got pulled out of the boat twice…the military guys would row up next to our boat and use their paddles to pull me in! Then Koa would have to pull me back into the boat. It was pretty hilarious.

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I’m about to fly out of the boat here!

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Pretty sure I am the one already facedown in the water haha

 

Con: Food

I started out really loving the food here, but after 1 month of it, I think I am done. One problem is the portions at lunch are so huge, and I get “in trouble” if I don’t eat “enough”! I have even talked to our cooks twice about giving me smaller portions each day, but they continue to pile it on. Also, matoke is literally served at every meal. I have had enough matoke to last me the rest of my life.

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My appetizing dinner in Masaka…the pea soup actually tasted good though. I didn’t eat the matoke… 😦

The good news is I have found a pizza place here that I like, as it’s my #1 food back in NYC, as well as a place that sells hummus, so hopefully I can survive the next 1.5 months. There’s also a Pizza Hut if I get desperate and homesick enough! And, there is always Cafeserrie, where I go at least once a week now, which has delicious salads, pastas, and pizzas.

 

This week, I am going to have to start being a bit more firm about my lunch at work. As good as it is and as generous as they are, I do not want to be force-fed! I also still want to fit in my clothes when I go back to NYC, lol…

 

Pro: Sunshine and summertime

I have found my happy place here in Kampala—Kabira Country Club. A day pass costs 40,000 shillings (about $11) and it allows me to use the gym and the beautiful pool for the whole day! They also offer massages and have a salon on the premises, and their kitchen serves amazing food right to my chair by the pool!

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A delicious colorful salad by the pool for lunch yesterday at Kabira…my happy spot!

Pro/Con: Work

The pro is I love and admire my dedicated and professional team, and the work we are doing together to promote media freedom is extremely important. However, it’s been a tough week. I wrote an article in the Daily Monitor about a situation involving a radio station here. The Ugandan authorities then called me out personally in a reply published in New Vision that also denied several facts I had included in my write-up that had been vetted by my team. I know my team faces this type of opposition on a regular basis, but it was a first for me. It was a reminder that this work is not easy.

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ucc

 

In addition, last week, I travelled to Masaka (the journey is described above) to participate in a UN human rights field training for journalists. Our UN officer did a fantastic job giving an overview of the background, development, and mechanisms of human rights law for the participants, as well as advising on practical ways to ensure truth in reporting when it comes to human rights violations.

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Working the registration table with D, my manager/”work mom”! Love this lady! ❤

However, a lively and contentious discussion arose when our UN officer stated that LGBT persons are entitled to the universal human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was very taken aback by the refusal of many members of the group to acknowledge that LGBT people are entitled to the same human rights that heterosexual people are entitled to, including the right to life, liberty and security of person regardless of sex or status as clearly laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whether or not a person agrees that same-sex marriage is a right, I was shocked that it was even a question that gay people should not enjoy the same universally recognized freedoms as everyone else simply because they are gay.

I had read about the obstacles that members of the LGBT community face here in Uganda, as this is the country that in 2013 tried to pass a law that would sentence gay people to the death penalty. The law was amended to give only a life sentence in prison (“only” is used ironically here) but was later overturned on a technicality. LGBT people still face a prison sentence in Uganda.

It shouldn’t matter whether or not you agree with the LGBT “lifestyle” for religious reasons–no one should die or be in danger for being gay.

The prejudice and misconceptions about the LGBT community became very apparent to me during this training as the discussion unfolded, and I shared my opposing views with the group. I will be perfectly honest—it was quite scary to do this in this setting, but I could not look my gay friends back in the US (and here for that matter) in the eye if I didn’t stand up for them when it mattered. I will be writing more about this at a later date.

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After a trying day at the conference, it was nice to enjoy a pick-up game of soccer with the team!

 

Pro: Dinner parties!

Tonight, Jill and I are hosting our new third roommate, our Airbnb hosts, and our local friend Nat and Jem for a dinner in our apartment! Therefore, it’s time to wrap up this post, as I’ve got to get to hosting 🙂 Until next time!

 

goofy

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Boda life
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Ireland, Part 1: Brexit, Dublin Pride, and Irish Football

 

IMG_0520Even though I am across the Atlantic, I have felt perfectly at home in Baile Atha Cliath (“Dublin Town” in Gaelic). Perhaps it is due to coming away from a rough (but fun!) 3 weeks in South America, but I feel like I have had time to fully recover and enjoy myself here already. And I still have almost a week left here!

I arrived to the Dublin Airport from Madrid Thursday evening–cold, tired, and exhausted. Michael picked me up and immediately began nursing me back to health (he is such a great friend!) I took a long, warm shower (my first real one since Asia!), and Michael gave me an amazing lotion to help with my wind-chapped hands. I turned in to bed around 11pm, right as the sun was going down. In Ireland during the summer, the sun does not set until 11pm and it rises at 5am!

Brexit

The next morning, Michael woke me up with news of the Brexit. I had been watching the vote as I drifted to sleep, and at the time it appeared the UK would stay in the EU. Therefore, I was shocked at the news as I woke up. My initial reaction was fear of the implications for the US–if Britain could vote itself out of the EU at 51% largely due to opinions on immigration, does it mean it is possible for my country to elect Donald Trump along the same line of reasoning? Sadly, I now think the answer is yes. And this horrifies me.

Several conversations I had with Irish citizens throughout the weekend confirmed my fear–there is a strong global right-wing movement that is growing and eroding the foundation of rational, moderate political discourse. One Irish woman I met while shopping said, “Happy Brexit! Welcome to the beginning of the end!” Another man laughed and said it was entertaining to watch the “great empire” crumble on itself (I can understand where his bitter sense of humor comes from, given what I’ve learned (or been reminded) of Irish-British history in the last few days).

The Irish are mainly concerned how the Brexit will affect border controls with Northern Ireland. As it stands now, traveling to Northern Ireland is as simple as crossing the border from Alabama to Georgia. However, now that Ireland remains in the EU with its open borders, and Northern Ireland is part of the UK, the open border policy is likely to change over the next 2 years (for the worse, in the opinion of many Irish), unless some extra agreement is reached. Some Irish believe there could be positive economic development and investment repercussions for them, as Ireland is now the only English-speaking nation in the EU.

Still in shock from the Brexit news, Michael and I went for a traditional Irish breakfast and then for a morning of shopping. We then walked around Dublin for a bit, stopping for ice cream at Murphy’s and for a “pygtail” (cocktail) at Pygmalion. IMG_0248.JPG

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This is the alleyway where Handel first conducted The Messiah. They re-enact it every year here.

We also saw Joe Biden pass by in his motorcade! This was quite funny to me, as I also saw President Obama’s motorcade pass by in Saigon earlier in the summer. As one friend asked, am I following them or are they following me?!

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Uncle Joe passing by in Dublin! BFD!!

Dublin Pride

On Saturday, we woke up bright and early for the Rainbow Run 5K at Dun Laoghaire West Pier along Dublin Bay. The weather could not have been more perfect! I was quite nervous, as this was my first time to really run since the beginning of May and I had a sore knee from my spill in La Paz. However, the race was a lot of fun, and Michael and I both did well! We were also covered in all colors of the rainbow by the very end (which was simply flour with food coloring…haha).13521838_10209382759627559_6600704039503503585_n.jpg13511050_10209382756427479_3700391745242614586_n

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After we cleaned up from our run, we made our way to downtown Dublin to join in the annual Dublin Pride parade. Michael was kind enough to invite me to march with his hiking club–Out and About. This was my the first pride march I have ever participated in, and it was truly an honor to show solidarity with and support for my LGBT friends back in the US and across the world.13521967_10209383025874215_4982384121704861924_n.jpg 

The Pride parade started in 1969 in NYC as a public response to the Stonewall Inn riots, and has expanded to cities across the globe in the decades since. Last year, around the same time the US SCOTUS came out with the decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country, Ireland became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage through a constitutional amendment. Several major companies had floats in the parade, including Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, and Accenture. In fact, Accenture was handing out American flags for demonstrators to show support for the victims of the recent Orlando tragedy, and they gladly shared one with me. I was blown away by the amount of Dubliners who came out to show support for the LGBT community along the parade route. There was truly an atmosphere of love and acceptance in the city, and I felt it was one of the most beautiful events I have ever witnessed.IMG_0368

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13517688_10207840293097776_9046839315067913136_o.jpgAlthough the LGBT community has made strides toward equal rights across the world, there is still so much work to be done, especially in the US. In particular, there are 32 states that still do not have fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination laws. Then, there are some states like Mississippi and North Carolina which have passed actively discriminatory laws toward the LGBT community. Yesterday, I was reminded that we all need to work together to ensure equal rights for all. LGBT issues are not just a “gay community” issue– they are human rights issues. As MLK once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Irish Football

After an amazing dinner at Brasserie 66, I turned in early, exhausted from the activities of the last few days and still recovering from South America! I woke up late on Sunday, put on my newly purchased Irish football pullover, and headed to the pub with Michael to cheer on “the boys in green” in their Euro Cup match against France.

I now truly understand European “football” (aka soccer for those who speak American!). To me, it is most comparable to college football in the US (or at least, the type I grew up around in the SEC!) Each country in Europe is like a state, and their football/soccer team is their source of pride. If Ireland is like Alabama, then the football team is the Crimson Tide. People post Irish flags outside their houses and cars, much like Alabama fans post pennants in the same way.

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The pub where we watched the game!

The atmosphere in the pub was electric. When Ireland scored their first goal and went up 1-0 on France, the floors shook from the noise and celebration! Unfortunately, Ireland went on to lose the match, but the fun (or “craic” as they call it in Gaelic) continued. This reminded me of Ole Miss football…win or lose, the party continues!

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By the end of the night, we had switched our loyalties to Belgium! hahaha

After another restful night, I am ready to explore Dublin a bit more today, and then the rest of the country later in the week. Ireland is just getting started!

 

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