Monthly Archives: February 2011

Election Fever

First things first: I am sorry for the noticeable lack of blogging recently. I have been in the throes of finishing up a grad application for next year, and I think between all the essays and short answers, all my creative writing energy has been consumed by that. But good news – I submitted it an hour ago! Let the blogging re-commence!

Last Friday, Uganda held its 5-yearly governmental elections. With incumbent President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) Party reigning for 25 years, growing popular irritation at corrupt and the lack of progress, and opposition party leaders accusing Ugandan elections of pandemic fraudulence and rigging, Uganda’s elections were predicted to be a relatively big deal, at least in Africa.

But then the rest of the world decided to revolt, and Uganda’s elections barely made the papers. (Note: I’m not bitter about that, and I think the revolutions sweeping the North African region deserve to be recognized and celebrated. I’m just stating the facts). 🙂

Leading up to the elections, the US Embassy warned us to be extra vigilant. There was talk of an al-Shaabab terrorist attack, mass rioting, and increased military presence in the city. When Ugandan friends would ask me if I felt scared or nervous about the elections, I would tell them truthfully, “No, I don’t expect anything to happen. But I am not sure whether to trust expectations any more. No one expected what happened in Tunisia, Egypt, or anywhere else — and look what happened!”

So, the day of elections, all the IJM interns bunkered down at our bosses’ house, packing extra food, a change of clothes, and our passports just in case. Looking back, all those precautions seemed rather ridiculous, since absolutely nothing happened that day.

In fact, the scariest moment of the weekend happened two days later, when I was coming home from my Sunday afternoon fellowship group and managed to find myself in the middle of a mass victory party for – guess who – the victorious Museveni, who had just been elected for his sixth term in office, with a vote of more than 60% (the debate is still out on how many of those votes were legitimate, how many were coerced, and how many simply didn’t exist). That moment didn’t have to be scary, as some later pointed out, since being in a large crowd of NRM supporters with the police surrounding them (who also support Museveni), was perhaps one of the safer places to be in the post-election fever.

But the whole atmosphere had a strange feel to it. Thousands of people shouting popular NRM chants in unison, boda-boda drivers driving recklessly, trucks packed to the brim with people and loudspeakers blaring victory music. I had been reading way too many Op. Ed columns by Nick Kristof, images of popular revolutions and police brutality running through my head, to feel comfortable in any situation involving massive amounts of people riled up about politics.

Mayoral elections were held last Wednesday (prompting a spontaneous public holiday), only to be canceled when the public got news of fraud and ballot box-stuffing. Things got violent quickly, until police quickly clamped down on the unrest. There is still no indication of when mayoral elections will be re-scheduled.

Since then, things have calmed down, relatively. But it’s a tenuous peace at best.

No one expected the results to be any different than what they were – Museveni, either by bribery, fraud, secured his power for another five years.  But Ugandan eyes were watching Egypt, and noting the parallels between the two rulers, and the similarities between the two societies. They were getting inspired.

However, unlike Egypt, Ugandans have only enjoyed peace in their country for the last few years (with Joseph Kony forces terrorizing the North for much of the last 20 years). Memories of bloodshed and political uncertainty are too fresh in Ugandan minds to risk revolting for the sake of free and fair elections. Many Ugandan friends said that they can imagine an Egypt-situation happening here, but not for another 5 or 10 years. For now, Uganda is satisfied with staying alive and staying secure, even if it is under the rule of a corrupt president who shows no indication of giving up his power anytime soon.

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This is Why

My job as Executive Assistant mostly keeps me in the IJM office in Kampala, doing computer work and running around the office setting up meetings, organizing files, sending emails, etc. That’s all great fun (well, okay, sometimes it’s not so fun), but over the last few weeks I found myself feeling more and more disconnected from the the heart of IJM’s work in Uganda: caring for widows and orphans in desperate need of legal representation, food for their families, and hope for the future.

And so today, at long last, I put aside my office duties for a day and headed out with Claire, one of our Aftercare staff members, to the isolated rural villages and dusty roadside towns where our clients live. (The Aftercare team makes bi-weekly visits to our clients’ homes to check up on them, bring basic food supplies, and pay children’s school fees and medical bills as our budget allows it).

As Claire went over the list of clients we’d be visiting today, I recognized the names of all the widows from case records and reports I have been compiling and editing, but most of the names meant very little to me. Thankfully, as we traveled from house to house, those names became faces, real people with hopes and dreams and fears.

At one house, Scott, our Communications Fellow, interviewed our client to find out more about her story. I watched her smile shyly at first introductions, then grow somber as she remembered the traumatic events surrounding her husband’s death, followed by laughter as she expressed the joy and hope that the work of IJM has brought to her family now. I thought more than a few times today, “This is why I am working for IJM. This is why I am in Uganda right now.” It was incredibly refreshing.

I would like to tell you that all of these “this is why” moments involved some deep moment of introspection followed by a grand realization about the nature of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But a few of them just involved beautiful African children.

Like this moment:

And the moment that followed about three seconds later:

And last but not least, definitely this moment too:

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Home Sweet [Orange] Home

Two weeks ago, I moved into a new flat. I had just finished house-sitting my boss’s house for a month, and wasn’t sure how I felt about moving back to my tiny, rather isolated apartment on the other side of town. I felt safe and comfortable there, but never really settled and content.

This flat I just moved into has been occupied by various IJM interns for the last three years, but has been vacant for the last few months. It was only when I was able to talk the landlord’s price down by 1/3 of the cost that I decided to take the plunge and move. And after just two weeks, I already feel more settled and at home in this little place than I ever did back at the old apartment.

It’s very small, very cute, and very, very, orange. And I LOVE it! Can I take you on a tour?

The kitchen (The curtains are made of fabric I got in Rwanda - I think they're my favorite part!)


I love the window-pane style of the cupboards.


I have enough couches and chairs for 10 people (a big improvement over the two chairs and one futon I had at my last apartment)

As overwhelming as the orange walls are, I do have to laugh – I used to say I really wanted a bright and cheery house, but never thought I’d have the courage to paint it such bold colors – and here I am in probably the brightest flat I could imagine! God definitely has a sense of humor.

Even the hallway is orange (kitchen on the right, living room on the left)

And last but not least, it has two bedrooms, which means anyone can come visit anytime you want! I would love to have you!

My room on the left, guest room (ie the Peter Rabbit room) is on the right.

Of course, there are things that I definitely don’t like so much about this apartment  – like the horrendously ugly marabou storks (imagine: evil-incarnate in bird form), that guard the trash pile outside, rendering it impossible for me to take out my trash. Ever. But rather than ruin this happy little post with more traumatic details of the marabou storks and just how much I despise them, I’ll save those details for another day.




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