Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thanks a lot, Congress

This past Friday, millions of Ugandans placed their votes for the 2011 presidential elections (I'm pretty sure it was only a small percentage of the 14 million that actually registered though.. Not that I can blame the non-voters, it was pretty obvious who would win), and it looks as if Museveni is in for another term. Despite some violent clashes mostly in the east, despite the allegations that Museveni's party (National Resistance Movement, NRM) has been bribing voters and despite the cries of corruption throughout the campaigning period, it seems to have been a relatively uneventful election period. So, even in a country that's battling poverty, a high maternal mortality rate and a rapidly growing population (one of the highest birth rates in the world!), things appear to be moving forward. Can I say the same about my country right now? Sadly, no.

In fact, it looks like we're moving backwards at an astonishingly fast rate. Without even delving into the terrifying influence of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party-ers, or the support for cutting foreign aid and lots of civil service jobs (two of the smallest sections of our budgets! You really don't want policemen and fire fighters in your town? Seriously? You don't care about the 911 dispatcher service or the people who plow your streets? You don't see the value in having an international presence that isn't limited to the military?), let's consider the most recent indication that we're country full of morons.

The house voted last week to bar all funding for Planned Parenthood. As one of my best friends put it, "this is a truly disgusting attack on women's health." This affects every woman in the country, and even a lot of men. It disproportionately affects poor women and women of color, and it leaves so many young women without access to the reproductive health services and education that they need (I emphasize young women because of their increased risk for STD's and the greater possibility of unwanted/unintended pregnancies).

As the old saying goes, you don't know what you've got till it's gone, and to all the republicans and few democrats who voted for this bill, that applies to you too! Or maybe you wouldn't care if Planned Parenthood was gone because your moms, wives, sisters and daughters can afford to get their health services elsewhere. But good luck to you when your teenage daughter decides to become sexually active and doesn't know where to go for contraceptives. Good luck to you when your voters can't afford the expensive private clinics, or can't afford insurance (Planned Parenthood has a sliding fee scale that also applies to people without insurance). Good luck when young people no longer know where to go to check their STD and HIV status, and so they just don't. Good luck dealing with an increased number of dangerous abortions by unlicensed/untrained practitioners.

Planned Parenthood provides one of the best ways for women, of all ages and backgrounds, to take control of their health and therefore, their future. Defunding Planned Parenthood would move us back decades in terms of women's rights, and I can't help but believe that the people who voted to pass this bill absolutely know that. I only hope the Senate has women's interests a little closer to heart.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Oh Uganda

I've always felt like the best time to sleep would've been in class. Specifically chemistry. In fact, it's really the worst time to sleep, but it's the time I used to always feel the sleepiest. I would spend most of the class thinking that the first thing I would do when I got home was lie in bed and pass out for hours. Ironically, the moment class ended, I would wake up, probably feeling more energized than I had all day. The same is true for writing. The moment I have a moment to write, I suddenly have nothing to say. But in the spirit of blogging, I'm going to write anyway (because the majority of personal blogs say nothing at all... Except for my friend Andy's of course, it's a wealth of knowledge).

In any case, I'm back in Uganda after my retreat to the snowy North (I miss you already Vermont... just ask my friends here in Uganda, I won't shut up about it). But, I'm really happy to be back here. So far, I like 2011. But maybe it's too early to say, or maybe it's irrelevant, because I like every year. But let me tell you why it's great:

1) I went to Erin and Heidi's wedding and it was possibly the most fun thing ever.

2) My friends Eric and Rebecca got engaged. Meaning... engagement party with all my friends, and another wedding in the future. Hooray! Oh and a lifetime of happiness for them :).

3) My room is really clean! By my standards. But don't ask me what my standards are and don't come over to my room.

4) I have a lot of friends and they all make me laugh, mostly with them. Sometimes at them.

5) I ran a training session today, with Jordyn and Solomon, for our Alumni Leadership team (10 students elected by their peers to lead the Alumni Program, which currently consists of 350 students). It was a lot of fun and we managed to pack in a ton of information (mostly about project planning and community mobilization). It's sort of weird only being about 2 or 3 years older than most of the students (and younger than some), but luckily I recently rediscovered my ability to be mature, responsible and confident, so I could effectively lead the sections I needed to.

It was also really inspiring to interact with recent high school graduates that are so enthusiastic, motivated and excited to be a part of the Educate! Alumni Program. They came from all over the country (the representative from the north traveled 7 hours to be here!), and from really different backgrounds, but were all excited to interact with each other and share ideas. I guess long story short, it was a nice change of pace from office work and a reminder of why I'm really working for Educate!. It's also the number 1 reason that I'm excited about this year. I think new years resolutions are stupid, but I made one anyway and it was to learn as much as I possibly could from my job after feeling alternately incompetent and frustrated for the first six months (that was intentionally melodramatic to emphasize my point).

And finally, 6) (although the list would've looked much better had it been kept to 5... seems like a better interval) I spent most of the day yesterday watching "Friends." Joy.

Oh wait, one more thing... Tomorrow is February and that's one of my favorite months.

The end!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Preaching to the Choir

So I finally made it back to the good ol' state of VT. Taking a vacation from the sunny, warm weather of Uganda to tough it out in the wintery goodness of New England. It was actually disappointingly warm when I first arrived (oh, my whole trip here was kind of a debacle, but maybe that's a story for another time), but it has cooled down a bit since.

In any event, after a ridiculous trip home, I was bombarded by my entire wonderful family (all 4 siblings, 2 siblings-in-law, 3 nieces, 3 nephews, 2 dogs, and 2 very accommodating parents), and quickly ventured off to Brooklyn to spend the weekend with some of my best best friends (yup, double best). Hilarious times ensued and before I knew it I was back in Vermont, meeting my new future brother-in-law (super awesome, I totally approve), and being obnoxious with my sis before the two of them headed back west this morning.

So, I've had a day to do nothing but relax (went for a walk in the woods, kind of slippery! and ran errands with my dad... ffuunn), and I've finally settled in for some quality TV time. It's a lot more boring and commercial-filled than I cared to remember and not nearly as engaging, but thank God for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Laughing at Republicans never gets old, although it does get worrisome (disclaimer: for my Republican friends, don't worry, I'm not talking about you, just the crazy ones who don't believe in equal rights).

So I was watching this clip of The Daily Show and what started out as laughing turned into the rant below. Enjoy.

I won't even go into the ridiculousness of their homophobia (that is also for a whole other entry), but I would like to take a minute to consider the disservice they're proposing to women across the country-- to essentially eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood. Abortion issues aside (I'm pro-choice), there are so many other critical services that Planned Parenthood offers, and I think the most important thing about Planned Parenthood is its accessibility. Women from any financial bracket can access basic services at an affordable price. And it's really not just about birth control and abortion; they're preventing, testing for, and treating STDs, screening for cancer, and treating general women's health issues among many other things.

In a country where health insurance is not affordable for many people, especially young people, who are probably most susceptible to STDs, HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies, this is one way for women to continue accessing vital health (especially reproductive health) services.

After reading "Half the Sky" (a little dramatic, but really interesting), which dedicates at least a third of the book to the dangers of ignoring reproductive health issues in developing nations, and after reading articles about the world's population growing at an exponential rate (reaching 7 billion this year, yikes!), all this pro-life chatter that has spiraled into anti-birth control, anti-sex education (and basically anti-women's well-being) seems to boil down to two key social issues: sexism and classism.

The sexism is obvious. Because of cultural values of how American women are supposed to behave (chaste and shy), there's an assumption on the part of many pro-lifers that any reproductive health misfortune (pregnancy, STDs, cervical cancer as a result of HPV, you name it) can easily be attributed to your moral deficiencies. Everyone is also aware of the contrasting image and expectation that American women are gratuitously promiscuous; a flame that is fanned eagerly by the media. Of course, both depictions are insulting, one-sided and unrepresentative of your typical American woman (is typical a fair word to use? probably not). In reality, I think most young women are navigating between these two images and could really benefit from a genuine, honest and open discussion of sexuality and reproductive health that goes beyond abstinence and delves into the real health issues they may or may not face.

That leads me to my second concern: classism. With more money inevitably comes better health care and in most cases, higher education. Both of these things would significantly increase the chance that a young woman would learn about, prevent or conversely seek medical guidance for something like an STD or pregnancy, because of greater access and awareness. Currently, Planned Parenthood serves all populations of women, at every income level, thus doing something to close that gap in access to reproduction health education and services. And let me quickly tie in the population concern: with more unwanted pregnancies and less resources, it's clear that the wealth gap will continue to grow at an equally alarming rate.

So who are the pro-life folks really punishing with their all their moral mightiness? Low income women. Guess they don't care about that vote. (But that being said, it's really an issue that affects everyone in the world).

In any case, it's about time for me to step off my little soapbox and go back to being a brainwashed TV watcher. This isn't quite the "typical day in the life of Libby" post that my dad requested, but at least it's a post at all! Two posts in four months isn't a great record, have to go with whatever I have. Till next time!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

F is for Friends

Ok this is a blog post I'm determined to finish. I've written about a thousand posts in the past two weeks (and by a thousand I mean four), that I've been totally unable to finish. Either I suddenly realized it was past my bedtime (I like to imagine that I have an actual bedtime, unfortunately it is rarely adhered to.... probably because dad is too far away to say "Elizabeth, you're going to be a real pain to wake up tomorrow morning. Go to bed!" and I'm always a pain to wake up...), or (yup, this sentence is continuing, parentheses and all) I find my story turning into a rant, and probably the same old rant I have playing on repeat in my head (and emails to mum and dad) all the time: "what should I do when I grow up? I have no idea." Just to fill you all in on dad's latest response to that one (this was following about a million emails of ideas, suggestions and encouragement) "Lib, seeing as you're mostly grown up, you need to figure it out. Love, Dad." Love you too, Daddy dearest.

Well, I don't think I'll ever really consider myself grown up (ew, I sound like Peter Pan), but I have figured something out: it takes a long time to feel like you know what you're doing in a new setting (school, work, whatever), but if you have fantastic friends (which I always manage to find) then at least it will make the stress/frustration/disappointments more enjoyable... or ignorable.

I think at every point in my life this has been true. I always hated sleep over camps as a kid (I still hate anything resembling sleep over camps... organized activities, days scheduled from dusk till dawn... *shiver*), but there was always something to get you through them (no matter how many tear stained, calligraphy written, cartoon decorated "take me home please" letters were ignored by your parents in the meantime)-- your friends. I never bothered making new friends at camp (puh-lease, that would just be an excuse to send me back), but I always managed to go with some of my usual friends, or at least my sister, and that made it bearable. Nothing cures homesickness like making fun of annoying kids with your friends.

But the key point there is really friends (making fun of people by yourself is boring, if not pointless... oh and I'm not encouraging bullying.... this is the kind of teasing that my dear sister in law subjected me to for whole summers at a time to try to toughen me up a bit... Did it work?). And friends can mean family and vice versa. I feel like the older you get, saying this from my wise old age of 22, the more the line blurs. Your friends can become your family and your family, if you're lucky (and if you're me), can become your friends.

The point is, you should appreciate your friends. They're the people that agree with you that a "tap dance independent study" would be much better than a regular high school class, or stand up for you against French-Canadian boat owners who are sure that "Libbyyy!" made a reservation for their goat. They're the ones that lend you their clothes so you don't look like a middle schooler or redneck when you go out on the town (I really need to go shopping). Then, they make sure that you don't go to work in the morning covered in permanent marker (what? No, that never happened... just a random example). And they're the ones that take the time to read (or at least skim) your ridiculous blog that's not at all what it was supposed to be ("I'll update all about Uganda and what my work is like there!").

So, thus concludes my friends post (sadly, not at all about the show "Friends." But I'm sure I could tie it in here if I tried... I'll spare you). I think I should also mention that the whole time I've been writing this, a stupid Spongebob song has been playing in my head:

"F is for friends we do things together
U is for you and me
N is for anywhere and anytime at all down here in the deep blue sea.*"

-Quoth the Sponge

I think you get the point.

*Marf, that was dedicated to you!

ps- I've learned my lesson about parentheses. They started as literary device (going for the stream of consciousness effect, pretty reflective of how I tell "stories"), and they turned into a crutch. Alas, a complete entry was finally posted after two months of radio silence. (Patting myself on the back).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jingle All The Way..

I've come to the disappointing conclusion that an alarming amount of my brain space has been filled with commercials. Jingles, slogans, catch phrases... Instead of rotting my brain (as my dad claimed it would), the TV was actually building up an impressive arsenal of obnoxious songs and sayings to distract and disrupt my everyday communication abilities.

......................................

Example: I've just completed a task and felt that it was far simpler than anticipated. What do I say to myself? "That was easy!" Then it strikes. Commercials. I freeze momentarily in horror as I realize I have just quoted an awful Staples commercial where they press that stupid red button that says "That was easy!". I shake it off though, just a coincidence, an accident really. I try to forget about it.

Maybe I'll go get an ice cream, I decide, to congratulate myself on completing the aforementioned task. I get my ice cream and I'm really in ice cream heaven. My friend asks me how it is and before I can even open my mouth, it pops into my head... "Bada bah bah bah, I'm lovin' it!" AHH! A McDonalds commercial, really? I stand speechless; grateful that I hadn't actually uttered the deep-fried, dollar menu, golden arches jingle aloud. But I must respond, so I tell my dear friend "it's not good, it's g-r-r-r-eat!". Oh dear God... Commercials have taken over my brain! I quickly say goodbye, trying to hide my shame at having actually quoted Tony the Tiger, and walk away. As I'm leaving my friend shouts to me "well, see you back in the neighborhood for the block party!". Ohh, right, block party today, how could I forget?

So I arrive that evening at the block party and immediately head to the refreshments table. Ah, so much food! Then I look to my friend, calmed by the sight of such delicious treats I hardly even see it coming before it hits me... "Eatin' good in the neighborhood!".... I just sang the Applebees jingle, I think it's time to throw out the TV... or at least buy TiVo.

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Sure, okay, this story was fictitious, but based on true events! Fictional stories aside, when you really break it down--all the commercial inundation that occurred during my childhood--it looks something like this: TV--$100, basic cable--$30/month, money spent on advertising--too much.... my commercially-hijacked brain--priceless.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tell me what you see...

I have fallen into the bad habit of using lyrics as my titles, so I apologize. Although, it's unlikely that I'll stop doing it either. Every time I sit down and think about what I want to write about, I spend a least a few moments (that feel like minutes) thinking about a title, only because there happens to be space for one, so I must. Then, perhaps because I grew up with a dad who has a song for every topic, no matter how random (and feels the need to sing it too, despite, and probably because of the protests from his children), a song always pops into my head and I can't think of any other title than some lyric that doesn't sound as good read as it does sung (and lately they've all been Beatles songs... because they also have a song for everything).

Anyways, to the point (if there really is one, that's always debatable on my blog and with my stories in general). At Educate!, there are a few terms and ideas that come up repeatedly, like empowerment, goals, proactivity, etc. One that has come up quite a bit lately has been "personal vision." We ask all of our mentors to develop their own personal visions for their futures and to share them constantly and inspire others and so on. So, after all this emphasis we've been putting on personal visions, we (myself and the other program coordinators) really shouldn't have been surprised when, at our last meeting, the mentors demanded that we also share our personal vision!

Now I have to think of one... Or choose one rather. The issue is, and I think this applies to a lot of people, my attention span and my imagination are inversely related (oo, look, I remembered a term from high school math!). I have a massive imagination with an awful tendency to change my mind (or never make it up in the first place, which most of my friends would probably attest to)--so there are about a zillion different unresolved personal visions floating around in my head. That's not to say however, that I haven't been completely and utterly serious about each and every one!

When I was 5 I wanted to be in an all girls version of The Beach Boys, but that dream was crushed when I realized that playing the guitar was hard, I didn't have one, and my parents signed me up for piano lessons instead. When I was 11, I asked for a filing cabinet and a Dictionary of Law for my birthday, because I wanted to start early on my path to becoming a lawyer--then I realized I had nothing to file and dictionaries are boring. When I was 15, I planned on moving to London to join the Royal Ballet School and live happily ever after with Billy Elliot--but then my feet started hurting from the pointe shoes and I had to admit to myself that Billy was a fictional character (sigh)...

Now I'm 22 and my ideas for "when I grow up" (let's face it, that's a long ways away) are just as ridiculous as ever, but I'm just as serious about them. I guess the real issue is that I keep thinking of a "personal vision" as a final destination; that at some point, there's an end to all the planning and visioning and imagining. Maybe that's exactly why I can't think of one. I can't imagine a day where I'm not imagining something else. So what if I had become the best ballerina ever, dancing duets with Bill Elliot; who's to say I would've been content doing that forever? I suppose in reality, I have had a lot of personal visions, and I've realized a lot of them, too (the less... remarkable of them, perhaps).

When I was 5, I watched the older kids in school putting on plays and wished I would get the lead one day--then I did when I was 12 (I played a snooty little brat in a local play; a fantastic role). When I was 11, I decided UVM would be the best school for me, and despite some mind changes along the way, I eventually did go there! At 15, I dreamed of traveling all over the world, and I've kind of been doing that. So I suppose personal visions are realized here and there, and they're less of a ending point than they are a starting point. One leads to another, which leads to another and so on.

So what to tell the mentors? I guess I'll just tell them the next stop on the personal vision train. I want to go back to school (International law? Theatre? Development? undecided...). I want to make and save some money (mm, unlikely). I want to live in New York City (see vision #2). I want to travel (vision #2). And my overarching, long-term, very serious and most important personal vision is to be happy and have fun, which quite obviously impacts all the rest of my visions (I've done remarkably well with this one so far).

Alas, perhaps "Tell Me What You See" wasn't the perfect song choice for this topic, but you know... vision, seeing... it makes sense in my mind anyways. I considered "you never give me your money," but thought that perhaps the lyric I was thinking of sort of contradicted my whole story here ("out of college, money spent, see no future, pay no rent/all the money's gone no where to go").

Moral of the story: I need to stop listening to music when I'm trying to write.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Words are flowing out like endless rain

into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe" (guess the song?)

The trouble with writing is, inspiration seems to come at the most inconvenient of times. Yesterday I had a wonderful experience at another graduation (they're endless, I know), and for the whole matatu (small mini bus; public transportation; crowded, remember?) ride back to Kampala I had words and stories and descriptions flowing through my head like water. Driving through bustling market centers on the outskirts of the city, marveling at the hilly, green landscape, reflecting on a day packed with hilarious and memorable moments, it would've inspired those least inclined to reflect to sit down and record it all on paper. Alas, over bumps we went, potholes galore, swerving suddenly to spare the lives of pedestrians and boda drivers, and so crammed in that there was hardly room to reach for my wallet to pay the whole 75 cents for the hour long drive. Writing wasn't exactly feasible. Yet, I was determined to come out of this matatu drive with my narrative in tact, ready to be posted only minutes after arriving home. I had re-written it in my head probably a thousand times (hyperbole, to aid your understanding and evoke your sympathy). Finally, I had made it home. Dark and stumbling over rocks in the road, I walked up the driveway, still determined. I opened the door and the first words I was greeted with... "There's food in the kitchen."

And you can imagine what happened next. I ate, I relaxed, I talked with my friends. I didn't even rush to check my email (I probably only had messages from Barnes & Noble or Amazon anyways), I didn't even open my computer. As my belly got fuller and the conversation grew more interesting, I saw my story, my grand blog post, being pushed out of my mind. I saw it floating off into the distance, never to return. My carefully chosen words and my grand inspiration disappeared as quickly as my food (very quickly). Then I went to bed.

So, friends, forgive me if my blog is updated inconsistently or infrequently--it's not that I'm not thinking about it. It's just that my house isn't quite as thought provoking as my matatu rides.

(But I'll give you a short recap anyways! The inspiration may be gone, but I think I repeated it enough times in my head to give you a brief summary of this over-hyped blog post. But of course, this will be the "I'm late to go do something, chopped up and poorly composed" version).

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I spend most of my days planning what I might do and where I might be a few months from now. My thoughts are perpetually in the future, imagining scenes a few weeks ahead, planning out what is point B and how do I get there. Even on the most exciting days or in the middle of the most intriguing conversations, there's a little bit of my mind dwelling on the past or reaching towards the future; wondering about a distant place or absent party. Even in meeting new people, I find my thoughts instantly turn to comparison, dragging in someone who isn't there. Oh, she reminds me of my sister! But every so often, a moment, a place, a person draws you into the moment, back to present tense, so thoroughly that you can almost physically feel the weight of all those other times, places, and missing people lifting off of you; and I think it's those moments that let you form the most long-lasting connections with a place; or a person, or a time.

Yesterday, I made another long-lasting connection with Africa. This time, quite obviously, it was Uganda. I've fallen in love with places before, of course. I've had these moments in almost every place I've ever been (which doesn't make it any less special!). I've had these all encompassing moments skiing through Hubbard park in the winter, speeding down hills past snow covered branches, feeling more like I was in a scene from Narnia that in my home town. I've had them in Burlington, dancing down Loomis St. at night with my best friends, picking flowers and taking pictures. I've had them at the boathouse, watching fireworks from our VIP section on the docks and being unsure whether to laugh or duck for cover when the firework shrapnel starts raining down on us (I kind of did both).

So, it's wonderful to say that Uganda has given me one of those moments as well. The graduation I went to yesterday was just outside of Kampala, and despite being so close to the city, it appeared very rural. After taking a matatu for an hour, I had to take a 20 minute boda drive to the school. I went over bumpy dirt roads, trying not to get hit with branches and waving at the occasional little kid yelling "how are you mzunguuuu!!!?". When I arrived, I was early, so I offered to help the scholars set up for their party. Although they thought it was hilarious to see a mzungu sweeping with an African broom (straw tied together, basically just a broom-head so you have to awkwardly crouch over to sweep), they let me help. The mentors showed up and as we waited for the party to begin, we laughed and talked about marriage ceremonies and "introductions" in the different tribes in Uganda (if ever in a position to ask about it, ask about introductions rather than marriages. They're like engagement parties and way more entertaining!).

Finally, the event started and then ended (surprisingly quickly given the affinity for speeches) and I left with mentors Hawah and Charlotte. Of course, we were in a pretty rural area, so bodas weren't exactly in high supply, but we managed to flag down one... One. Now, as a quick precursor to this, Ugandan women, especially when wearing skirts, usually ride... mm, side saddle (that's what you say for horses, I guess I can apply it to bodas?). But we saw that rain was approaching and it was a long way to walk back to town! So, after much laughing and contemplation, the boda driver scooted up as far as he could to the front, I jumped on behind, Hawah followed me next, and Charlotte, protests aside, hopped on last ("Eh, but we're sitting like men!"). So over the bumpy dirt roads went the four of us on this little boda. People were looking from their houses, joining us in our laughter and amusement at the sight. The closer we got to town, the more of an attraction we became, before we finally got off, just before the matatu station.

It was this little moment, a fifteen minute boda ride, that made me fall in love with Uganda. Of course you don't fall in love with anything immediately; I've liked Uganda from day one, but it was laughing on a cramped boda that forced me to be totally in the present, not missing anyone from abroad, not waiting for anyone to text or call and not composing any emails in my head. Just one of those times that feels so specific to a place and seems to sum it all up. The hilarity of three people riding on a boda isn't hypothetical, isn't illegal, isn't really anything that out of the ordinary, but it's funny, and no matter how long I live here, or how many times I visit Africa (because I did this in Benin, too), I will always find it amusing to see so many people balancing on a little motorcycle. It just couldn't happen in the States (for good reason, of course. I imagine things could go horribly wrong), and so it becomes a TIA (this is Africa) moment--but the kind that makes you happy to be here (unlike, oh no, the door of my matatu just fell off and there's a goat underneath my seat... TIA...). So, safety concerns, future, thoughts of home aside, it made me pretty happy to be where I am right now. Thanks, Uganda!

So, there's a not-so-shortened version of my story and I don't have time to proofread it (email me if there are any glaring errors), but I hope you took away from my rambling story that I'm having a lovely time over here and I had wonderful day yesterday (don't worry though, I won't stay forever, I'm still planning to come home!). That's all for now!