Sunday, October 2, 2011

no more question marks

Well, the "unemployment projects" were short lived. Why, you may ask? Well, its because I got a job!

I just finished my first week working at Raven+Lily, an ethical fashion company that sells jewelry made by co-ops of women in India and Ethiopia. The jewelry from Ethiopia is made from melted down bullet casings to make pieces like the beautiful craftsmanship you can see below.

If that's not a picture of redemption, I don't know what is. And on top of that, the women in the co-op are all living outside the city in an HIV positive community. What an amazing group of women to be supporting...

I was honestly really worried that after leaving Sseko I wouldn't be able to find a job that I felt was meaningful to me. I had psyched myself up to be okay with a typical desk job or waitressing or something else I wasn't particularly passionate about. I was pretty seriously doubting whether or not that kind of working experience would come along more than once... But it has and I feel so blessed. And not only that, but I found my dream working situation in less than a month! That just doesn't happen.... It has seriously been amazing to see God's provision in my life.

A few months ago my post-Uganda life felt like one big question mark, but slowly the blanks have been filled in..... the last few very quickly. The same day I got the job with Raven+Lily, I also became a small group leader for College Young Life at UT.

I've never done Young Life before, but I heard they needed more leaders and felt like this was the perfect opportunity to be involved in the lives of some freshman girls. That was one thing I did really miss when I lived in Uganda.... I was the youngest person in my friend group and everyone was in their 20's. There wasn't any older-pouring-into-younger going on anywhere... so that was something I had resolved to make a priority when I moved back to the States.

With all these blanks filled in and no more remaining question marks, I'm really starting to feel settled into my life in Austin. Even though I miss Uganda, I really feel like this is exactly where I'm supposed to be. And I'm really loving every minute of it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

the unemployment projects

When you return back to your own culture after being in a different one, its something different than the "culture shock" you experience in a new place. Because nothing is particularly shocking, per se. I lived in America for 22 years before I moved to Uganda, so I'm familiar with how things work over here.... its just a lot to be completely submerged into it after being in such a foreign land. So it feels a bit more like "culture whiplash."

But I'm back and adjusting.... and thought I'd share a bit of my life.

This is my new house in Austin that I share with my lovely roommate, Kristy.

To state the obvious, our yard is in despicable shape. This is because of the drought going on in Texas right now; I've returned to triple digit heat and wild fires (no joke). We need some serious rain to recover. But besides that, the house is little but cozy and I love it.

I've been painting furniture, hanging pictures, rearranging sofas, sewing throw pillows, and doing various home improvement projects to keep myself busy. Because right now, all I have is time on my hands. Home-improvement is time-consumption project #1.

Keep-Cameron-from-losing-her-mind-due-to-boredom project #2 is a little cuter. Her name is Kona and she is a 2 month old Australian Shepherd/Catahoula mix puppy. Kristy and I adopted Kona last weekend and are enjoying her presence in the house oh-so-much. She gets super hyper-active around 7:00am and 10:00pm, but during the in between times she's a cuddly, sassy smarty-pants. Seriously, I'm a little afraid of this dog's intelligence level. Kona has already figured out that if she brings a chew toy with her when she sits by the couch, we'll be a lot less likely to suspect her of gnawing on the sofa-cover (which has become her favorite pastime). Needless to say, teaching Kona to do things like walk on a leash have been great time-fillers.

Unemployment project #3: pretend like you're employed. I just started volunteering for a start-up fair trade, organic clothing company called Good & Fair. I'm helping the founder organize his books and inventory and ordering systems and whatnot. So this afternoon I brought home the company laptop to do some work on QuickBooks, and I'll probably spend a good portion of the day tomorrow in a coffee shop, pretending like I'm working on a deadline of some sort.

Most-important-time-filling project #4: find a real job. I've probably applied for at least 20 jobs in the past week and a half. Now I'm in the oh-so-fun waiting phase to see if I've landed any interviews.... And of course during this waiting phase, I'll be hunting around even more for open positions. I try to apply for at least a couple jobs a day. Hopefully some one will want to hire me soon.

I'm not one of those people that can just sit idle.... I get too antsy. Hence the unemployment projects.

But these projects don't mean that I didn't watch the entire season of Happy Endings last week. Calling that "time well-spent" might be pushing it, but I have to make the most of all this free time somehow.

We'll see how long I have to keep coming up with unemployment projects.... so for now: to be continued...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

back on 'merican soil

I've been back in the US for a week now..... so I thought I'd share some of the adjustments I've been experiencing.

Adjustment #1: air conditioning. The temperature in Kampala was pretty consistently around 80 degrees. Houston's weather is a bit more extreme. It was 107 outside earlier this week, but a cool 65 indoors. Going back and forth between such a climate variation has left me perplexed about my wardrobe. I've landed on wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but carrying a sweater around with me for the particularly cold air-conditioned buildings.

Adjustment #2: customer service. Its no longer a pleasant surprise to have my order come out right or in a timely manner. It's just normal. Expected.

Adjustment #3: driving. This has been the best adjustment: reuniting with my car. It's amazing the independence it allows. If I want to go somewhere, I can just drive myself. I don't have to worry about going through the hassle of negotiating with a boda, or worry about an oncoming rainstorm, or think about safety issues like intoxicated boda drivers at night. I can go anywhere, anytime.... and have a new appreciation for how awesome driving is.

Adjustment #4: minority no more. There's not little kids following me around like I'm the pied piper. No one calling "byeeee muzungu!" No special treatment or unwanted attention. I blend in because "Americans" can look like just about anything. And even if I didn't blend in for some reason, no one would say anything. People here seem to keep to themselves.

Adjustment #5: cleanliness and order. America is a clean place. I don't see burning trash on the side of the roads, litter on the streets, or clouds of exhaust coming out of tailpipes. When I shower, there's no brown water circling the drain. And not only is everything impeccably clean, its orderly to boot. People follow traffic laws and stand in lines.

I really do think that #5 is the biggest adjustment.... In America, I haven't had to see or smell anything unpleasant in the past week. {Correction: I did smell something pretty rank when walking down the hallway of my little brother's dorm building..... but that's been the exception to my otherwise well-scented experience} And it got me to thinking about how the whole cleanliness and order thing changes the entire way I would describe a place. Words I would use for the America I'm seeing with post-Uganda eyes: clean, shiny, artificial, tame, orderly, pristine, comfortable, regulated, attentive, creative, and... did I mention clean? Words I would use for Kampala: bustling, overwhelming-the-senses, crowded, chaotic, raw, dirty, lively, resourceful, and gritty. Very different places.

One isn't necessarily better than the other, but they are enjoyable for very different reasons. America for its order and cleanliness and comfort. Uganda for its liveliness and authenticity. I love them both, and its hard not to compare them to each other.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

the goodbyes

Goodbyes are never fun... Especially when you've been somewhere for awhile. So I have a tendency to pretend that they aren't happening. And for the most part the whole denial-thing works.... That is until it actually comes down to the moment when you have to say goodbye.

The day I left Uganda, I had a farewell lunch with the Sseko ladies. In Ugandan tradition, they each stood up and gave little speeches about me.... about how much they loved me, what they have learned from me, wishing me a safe journey.... there were some tears.... honestly, it was little bit like being at your own funeral.

So many nice things were said.... As each girl got up I was alternating between laughing and crying. I think the comment I will always remember during those speeches was from Agnes. She said that I was "like a black woman and a white woman"... That I could work on the computer and manage and coordinate, but I also wasn't afraid to work with my hands or lift heavy things or carry bags a long way through the market. Having an African woman say that was such a huge compliment.

It was so special hearing from those women, because they were the reason I was in Uganda. Loving and serving and managing and learning from those women... Over the past year and a half we changed each other for the better.

And luckily I left the Sseko workshop on a happy note. I got group pictures with all the ladies... was tackled by all 25 of them.... and before I knew it they had lifted me off my feet, all of us laughing and cheering. A moment I'll never forget.

It was good for me to have some finality with the Sseko women... To recognize that me leaving was really happening... Because I didn't really do that with anyone else, to be honest. I just pretended like I wasn't leaving... even on the ride to the airport. My wonderful roommates rode out with me, and during the hour and a half drive we were chatting and joking- completely lighthearted. Then I got out of the car with my luggage, hugged Dani, Julie and Kelsey, and waved as I walked through security. And just like that I was gone. Up until the last hug and wave, we hadn't acknowledged or acted like I was leaving.... and with them, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I wanted my memories with them to be of the normal moments.

But I did end up crying in the airport after I got through security.... I made the mistake of reading the letters the Sseko ladies had written for me. I looked like such a mess.... sitting there waiting for my flight to be called with tears streaming down my face. I always wonder what people are crying about when I see them sobbing at the airport.... and in that moment I was the girl that I would have been speculating about. But thankfully I pulled myself together and stopped crying before I boarded the plane, saving the boy sitting in seat 16F from a very awkward 8 hour flight.

I haven't even been back in the States a whole 24 hours yet, and I already miss work, and the Sseko ladies, and my roommates, and the rest of my Ugandan community.... I think the reality that I'm living in American again (not just visiting) and that my time in Uganda is officially over will set in pretty slowly. This isn't a two week trip back for a wedding or Christmas, its a move.

So farewell, Uganda... and hello, America.

Monday, August 15, 2011


It's an unsettling word... "genocide." And visiting the genocide memorial museum in Rwanda is an equally unsettling experience.

Since I'm about to move back to the US, I wanted to visit Rwanda before I left the East Africa region. My friends Wendy and Phil have been living in Kigali for the past year, and I thought it was about time that I made my way down there.

Kigali is a pretty incredible city.... but you would probably only think so if you've frequented other large African cities. The roads are pothole free. The streets are clean and trash-less. There seems to be organization and security- people following the rules. Which is most shocking when you know where the country has come from...

Which brings me back to the genocide memorial...

I knew a bit about what happened in Rwanda in the 90's just from general knowledge, from living in Uganda and hearing the events of our neighboring country referenced, and (mostly) from watching Hotel Rwanda. But still the memorial was really educational and helped me understand the conflict even further.... For example, I didn't realize that the genocide took place almost 30 years after independence- when the whole Tutsi/Hutu divide really emerged. The hate and tribalism had been brewing in Rwanda for three decades. It wasn't just an automatic switch over to the dehumanization of the opposing tribe. It takes time for that kind of view to develop, and it shed light on why the killing of almost a million people had taken place so quickly- it honestly seems like it had been a long time coming with all the hate that had been building up.

There were a lot of graphic images and descriptions in the memorial that gives you a really negative sentiment about mankind after going through the exhibits. And not just being appalled that my fellow man could be capable of such atrocities, but I actually found myself thinking that it was "those people" who were so monstrous. Making that mental separation.... thinking of Rwandans as "those people"... it directed my distaste towards a specific people group and made me feel like I wasn't part of it. I just kept thinking "I can't believe they did this to each other.."

But then, after you leave the exhibit, there is a second one upstairs that is dedicated to instances of genocide that have happened over the past hundred years all over the world. And even though it was hard to see, it was honestly good to be reminded that tragic events of this magnitude are not limited to Rwanda or even Africa. The exhibit had pictures of the genocide that took place in Germany, Kosovo, Armenia, Cambodia.... Mass murders that I had no knowledge of before going through that exhibit. And it seems like the extinction of people groups has happened on every continent that people live in... Even on our own (lest we forget how our American ancestors whipped out the Native Americans and took their land).

So I ended up walking away from that memorial with a fresh view of the evils that humans are capable of committing towards each other.... all humans. And the common thread I saw in all the different cases of genocide was dehumanization. Whether the dominant group called the persecuted ones cockroaches, or savages, or vermin.... They took steps to make them seem less human, which makes committing such crimes against them feel less wrong. If you don't view someone as being human like you, it becomes easier to hack them with a machete or escort them into a gas chamber. The results of taking a group's humanity away are terrifying.

I know this post has been far more dark and twisty than my usual blogs.... but it was an experience that impacted me in a way that brought about some dark and twisty thoughts about our situation as humans and what happens when we forget that we are all the same. All created in God's image. All people with feelings and souls and life stories. So let us not forget.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

for hire

Unemployment is a pretty massive problem in Uganda. I would say that someone asks me for a job on a weekly basis. Friends of friends, relatives of employees, people on the street…. People in Uganda want the opportunity to work. From the uneducated to the most educated, this stands true.

This past week, we held interviews for four new positions on our production team. The day before interviews, we told our staff and a couple friends that we were taking open applications. We ended up interviewing 23 people. And their life/work experience was all over the board. Some were young women who never finished primary school and had been working in factories or in the worst case as prostitutes. Some were elderly widows with countless mouths to feed and bills to worry about. And (most shocking to me) some were recent university graduates. These bright young women with bachelor’s degrees were applying to make sandals, to work with their hands 40 hours a week.

Why? Because in Uganda, even if you get a university education, that doesn’t ensure a sustainable job. I talked about this issue to one of our managers, Agnes, who is a recent grad… She said that out of the 20 people who recently finished her same degree plan, only 3 now have jobs in that field. The rest are doing jobs that are unrelated to their degrees, or waiting tables, or unemployed and moving back to the village.

Yes, attending university is a HUGE stepping stone. And yes, our girls at Sseko are far FAR better off getting their degrees, than if they weren’t pursuing higher education… because it actually gives them a chance at success. So don’t worry, I’m not second guessing Sseko’s mission- I’m still fully supportive of it and clearly incredibly passionate about this main mission of Sseko, but our secondary vision of employing vulnerable women is quickly gaining in my esteem.

For the most part, people in this country really want to work. There just aren't good opportunities out there... So if I'm being totally honest, I'd be so much more excited to support someone coming to Uganda to do business development than just about anything else. Yes, operating a company in Uganda is incredibly challenging, but its also incredibly rewarding. But if you're not the entrepreneurial type, then support these business in Uganda who together are employing hundreds of women and making an incredible difference in this country.

Sseko Designs (obviously)

Krochet Kids International

31 Bits

Ember Arts

One Mango Tree


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

one month

At our staff meeting on Monday, I announced to the Sseko-ladies that I'm moving back to the US. I thought that I could stand up there, totally casually, and just you know, relay the information. Keep it cool. Keep it classy. But I totally started crying. I was standing up there, looking into their beautiful faces, and got that cracking, high pitched, crying-girl voice as I told them that I loved them and have loved my past year-plus of working along side them at Sseko. But then I pulled it together enough to use my normal voice and apologize for getting emotional a month early... and then we all laughed over my teary eyes and moved on with the weekly announcements.

But telling the girls made it real... that in less than a month I'll be moving back to the US. I'll be in Austin, looking for a new job, learning a new place, and making new friends. This is going to be a big transition. And I've been feeling all over the map about it. The feelings of excitement are mingled in with feelings of sadness.

I'm not going to write a "reflections" blog just yet, because I still have time here. I don't want to start a count down or anything like that, because I want to be present where I am. And making that hard announcement to the Sseko ladies made me want that even more... Not to check out. To stay engaged in my work and my relationships here until I board the plan... To really soak up my last month in Uganda.

A month can be full of so many things, and I am so looking forward to exploring this one.

at the cottage