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Book Review | Crossroads | Today’s Uganda As Seen through the Eyes of Ugandan Women By Christopher Conte

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Posted August 6, 2015 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in book review ~ 1,456 views

     

mini-cross roads

In the global West, old stereotypes about Africa in general – and African women in particular – refuse to die even as the continent changes rapidly. So when I arrived in Uganda in 2008 on a journalism fellowship, I was surprised. Women, in particular, didn’t fit the image often conveyed in the US. Far from seeming oppressed, backward or long-suffering, the women I came to know were confident, competent and prominent in the media, boardrooms, academia and policy-making circles.
My fascination only grew as I came to know them better. My Ugandan friends humbled me with their knowledge, wisdom, eloquence and insight into both their own culture and mine. Listening to their stories, I quickly realized that while I had come to Uganda to be a teacher, I would come away a student. My lesson would be that there is much to admire and preserve about Ugandan culture in a time of the homogenizing process we call globalization.
Being a journalist, I urged my friends to share the stories they had old me with a wider audience. The result is “Crossroads: Women Coming of Age in Today’s Uganda” – a collection of 15 true life stories by Ugandan women. In these autobiographies, women ranging from youths just launching their careers to grandmothers reflect on how their culture shaped them and how they hope to reshape it for the future.
The stories are as varied as the women, tackling issues as diverse as religion, sports, health, sex education, governance and much more. If the stories have a common theme, it’s that the women revere their culture even as they are bending it to fit changing conditions. They turn unblinking eyes on society’s problems, but proudly declare their loyalty to traditions that set their culture apart.
I believe their stories would resonate with people in the Ugandan diaspora, who also live with the tensions between the culture of their birth and the one that surrounds them today.
Consider a sampling of chapters from Crossroads:
• Sophie Bamwoyeraki nostalgically recalls her childhood in a rural village, where disciplining children was everybody’s responsibility, fathers exercised strong moral authority in their families, and communities were tied together by common beliefs. Sophie, a school teacher whose children have grown up to become well-educated professionals, wonders how those old virtues might be preserved in today’s hurried-up world (hint: she says power outages can be a blessing because they bring families together).

• Hilda Twongyeirwe, a well-known advocate for women writers, describes bouncing between western doctors and traditional healers in a frustrating search for a cure to a childhood illness. She finally was cured – thanks, she believes to the love of her father. Her observations about the healing power of good social relations jive well with some findings of contemporary medical anthropologists.

• Lydia Namubiru, a young mother and now graduate student in the US, describes the rich blend of religious influences in her life, from Islam to Catholic, Protestant and evangelical Christianity, and finds value in all of them – including traditional beliefs that she says still hold a powerful sway over her. Lydia, who has worked for nongovernment organizations, later turns an anthropologist’s eye on western NGOs in a satire that gently mocks their lingo and cultural isolation from the people they supposedly are trying to help.

• Caroline Ariba, a young professional who hails from Teso, agonizes over what she will do when her time comes to marry. She recoils at the memory of family members measuring her sister’s value in cows during negotiations over the girl’s bride price, but is equally troubled by the experiences of another sister whose common-law marriage leaves her and her children quietly rejected by her community.

• Shifa Mwesigye, a communications professional currently working with the United Nations, describes how a meeting with a ssenga reshaped her ideas about being a wife. Feeling everything from ridicule for the ssenga’s teachings about proper wifely behavior to shame about violating behavioral norms that still have great appeal, Shifa concludes that many traditional values, including selflessness, grace and the ideal of serving others, should be preserved – but that men as well as women need to do more to live up to such ideals.

• Peace Twine, a social activist from Kampala, describes how a terrifying stint in a secret military prison on false charges instilled in her an undying belief in the sanctity of the rule of law, while Harriet Anena, a journalist from Gulu, discusses her community’s and her personal struggles to overcome the psychological legacy of the Kony War.

• Elvania Bazaaala, an architect, discusses the unexplainable urge she has felt since her childhood to be an athlete, and how she had to fight against society’s expectations to achieve her dreams.
I could go on and on. In deeply personal terms, these writers and their colleagues all show that there is much to admire about both the Uganda of tradition and the sophisticated yet gentle and wise Uganda of today. Having worked with them, I no longer believe there is a single “pearl of Africa.” There are many, many pearls.

“Crossroads: Women Coming of Age in Today’s Uganda” can be purchased on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Crossroads-Women-Coming-Todays-Uganda/dp/1507680228/.
You can read more about the book at www.uganda-crossroads.net. To contact the author of this article, who edited Crossroads, write to cconte615@gail.com.


About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

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