The ‘Real’ Junior Fellow

A powerful post about a hidden dialogue perpetuated for a long time

Beyond Complicated

I am a Junior Fellow. After a rigorous application and interview process, I was selected for my outstanding leadership qualities, my extreme intellect, and my exceptional ability to connect and empathize with people. After months of carefully directed personal growth, I arrived in a developing African country and immediately dove into the complexities of creating systemic change. Within a week, I had settled in with a host family in an impoverished, isolated village that remains untouched by Western influence. I was deeply moved by the kindness, nobility, and strength of these people who remain cheerful in the face of extreme poverty and institutionalized injustice. I was consumed by a deep, insatiable curiosity about my new community, so I immersed myself in the culture by becoming fluent in the local language, acquiring a wardrobe of traditional clothing, and helping everyone with their daily chores (like washing clothes by hand, cooking over…

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The Last Supper

The past week and a half has been a whirlwind. I have often found myself without clear thoughts or a clear head and on a kind of autopilot trying to make it through the next few hours let alone the next few days. Yesterday marked the end of my official placement as I completed “the final presentation” to the Ag- Inputs team although in many ways the placement has been more about the process. The last presentation did not really mark the end of everything for me, but rather just the official passing of knowledge that has been happening throughout. To be honest, I have not really been able to come to terms with the idea of leaving Gulu let alone leaving Uganda. In so many ways Uganda has become my home. A place of familiarity, a place of comfort, but most of all a place that inhabits people I love. It has also been a place of challenge, of discomfort, and a place that encompasses certain things I will never become accustomed to just like other places I have lived. Due to feeling strange about not sharing with you my last few days in Gulu and my thoughts over the past week I thought I would take this time to fill you in.

When August 7th arrived I knew I had exactly one week left before I would be leaving Gulu for good. Although in many ways this was an unfathomable thought, I would be lying if I also did not feel ready for the next few weeks to come. As I tried to figure out what I wanted from my last week I committed to two things; one, to stay curious, and two, to not think too much; to just let thoughts come and go without feeling the need to grasp onto them. As I found myself travelling to Lira (a nearby distinct) for work and to my friend Santo’s community for the last time, I began to accept the day for what it was. Whether it meant walking around to random shops in search of someone willing to talk or doing yoga on a rock face in a nearby field, I found myself feeling at ease.  I spent the majority of my last few days with people I loved doing things that I enjoyed. Things like making g-nut paste, learning how to cook a few of the meals I had failed to learn, reading under my favorite tree, engaging in challenging conversations and taking the time to stop and embrace the beauty of the day and the conversations that could unfold. However, along with the beautiful moments came anxiety, fear, discomfort and the unknown. I found myself trying to fight off ideas surrounding what “I should” be doing, how “I should” be feeling and what was “right”. As I woke up on August 13th, I realized that it was my last morning at home with Sarah. Although I was not leaving Gulu until the 14th in the morning, I had decided it was best to sleep in town due to the severity of the rains disrupting the roads where I lived and needing a bug free zone to get rid of the pesky critters that had set up residence in my bag. I tried to embrace that last time I would walk to the small store in the nearby town center to buy breakfast,  embrace fetching water from the borehole for the last time to bathe, and hearing the sounds of yelling children and busy people starting off their day.

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(The shop where I would buy our breakfast, you can see some of the bags of different types of breads)

I spent most of my day venturing around Gulu town and nearby area’s saying goodbye to friends and people that had impacted my time in Gulu. I remembered the previous night as it was my “last supper” with my friend Santo who I had met in Canada prior to coming to Gulu and the conversations that unfolded. I recalled moments of happiness and distress in the places that I returned to and generally tried to be as present as I could be, for I do not think it was really possible for me to come to terms with leaving until I was forced to. At around 5pm I began to walk back home knowing that it would be my last dinner with Sarah. Sarah had made my favorite meal, beans and rice with cabbage (her beans are unbelievable) as we chatted about her business, life, love and the moments that had shaped our relationship. In many ways I feel as though my relationship with Sarah has taken on many forms, all of which has brought challenge and beauty to my life. As the hours flew by and 9 o’clock approached, I knew I had to head back to town before it got too late and no boda’s were around. As I gathered my last few things and put Joven to bed, I was hit by the fact that this was goodbye, for now. As I said goodbye to the others in our compound while fighting off tears and the reality of the situation, Sarah took my hand and started to pull me in the direction of the road. We walked hand in hand until we reached the town center and had to say goodbye. As I hugged her one last time and hopped on the boda, I realized that although I was sad I also felt at peace; I knew that although Sarah and I were saying goodbye to each other physically, we would still be in touch.

Since leaving Gulu I have been in Kampala working with Julia and Ellen on our final presentation while simultaneously trying to figure out my thoughts. Although I do not have much to show for the amount of gears that have been turning in my brain, I have come to realize this.

Most of what I have been struggling with these past few weeks does not entail others validating my experience or my value add to the AVC team, but myself coming to terms with what I have done and the experiences I have had. I think in a lot of ways the “I should” mantra has and continues to plague much of my thoughts and although I am trying to fight it off there still lies a valuable challenge within it; trying to determine when it is existing in my mind because at my core I believe it is something I should/ want to do versus if it is something I have created as a result of what others or society is dictating “I should” do.

(Read this blog post for some context to these thoughts: http://annahopkinsblogs.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/shouldingallovermyself/)

Additionally, I have been trying to figure out what this question (posed by Julia in a recent blog post) means to me as it has been a continual thought over the past three and a half months.

How can I move forward in a way that escapes old thought- patterns and flaws and is rooted in a desire to serve something greater than myself, but allows for self- love and personal growth?

 

With three days left in Uganda and many moments to experience until my departure, I wanted to leave you with a few words.

 

Although in many ways many of my blogs were perhaps too long, not as informative as I would have liked, and randomized to say the least, I have come to like the fact that this medium has been more about letting you into my heart and mind rather than the things around me. So, for those of you who have read all, many, or just this post, thank you for being up for the journey with me. 

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Josephine and I 

ImageSome of my friends walking to the market to sell, I decided to snap a shot as I walked to town 

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I was walking through the market to get some pinapple and some women were dancing! Yes… I did join in 

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With Barbra and Santo, Santo took the shot when I was trying to get the camera back 

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With Santo at Fort Patiko, also known as Baker’s Fort. It was a military fort built by Samuel Baker and was completed in 1872

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Moses, one of the Agro -dealers in Gulu town and me

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Some of the boda drivers near Layibi, Tito is in the mix too

ImageA view from the 2nd floor of Jojo’s palace of part of Gulu town

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Ronald, Josephine, Ellen, Lawrence, Julia, me and Ronald together for our last night

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The family (Me, Joven, Sarah) 

 

 

Working hard… or hardly working?

For the past few days I have been in Kampala working with Ellen and Julia on the final report and presentation we will be carrying out on Monday. Although I have many thoughts surrounding my departure in Gulu, and to be honest many undetermined and confused idea’s fighting for attention at the walls of my mind, I have decided to share these with you in my next post. However, I have decided to share with you some pictures of the places that we have been working in. Image

 

Julia getting a Cappuccino in “Cafe Java” while we start our work day

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What you see of the outside part of “Cafe Java”

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Julia did not want me to take her photo.. but I did so here is us last night having Mexican food in what you can see is a very Mexican restaurant! 

(Apparently I choose Julia as my model) 

Participant and Researcher

I have been thinking of writing this post for a while and have mentioned it to you often, so I am glad to say that got the chance to sit down and share my thoughts with you.

Throughout my time in Gulu something that has plagued my mind is the power that exists between the participant and the interviewer. After doing many farmer interviews, conversations with agro- dealers and conversations with hidden goals in mind, I have found and continuously grappled with the power that exists between someone conducting and interview or discussion and those participating. Despite my efforts to level the playing field and to instil the idea that I am the student and the farmers are my teachers, final words surrounding “thank you for the wise words and insight” or “knowledge” were still relayed to me. After leaving conversations and meetings frustrated and often upset by these final comments due to my attempt to break down these notions and ideas clearly failing, I began to recall familiar thoughts.  

“Are these comments being made because of my perceived higher knowledge from being a researcher?”

“Do they exist because of the colour of my skin and the ingrained social hierarchical stereotypes surrounding it?”

 “Is it due to the power that I hold that I am unaware of?”

 Although in many of the cases I realized that I could not always alter the perceptions people had in a short 4 hour interaction, I decided to delve deeper into these dynamics and see if they could be altered or changed, even in the slightest by how I conducted myself and the space around me.  Thanks to a very wonderful teacher last semester named Victoria Kannen and her class on qualitative methods, I already felt a bit equipped.

One of the first things I did was pull up the notes I had jotted down throughout the class to recall the realizations I had and the different elements that lead to social constructs surrounding the participant and researcher relationship:

  • Idea’s of self
  • “The Other”
  • Privilege
  • Oppression
  • Power

 As I wrote these down I also remembered the task that the researcher has to self- consciously carry no voice, body, race, class or gender and tried to figure out how I could embody this while simultaneously trying to respect and understand a different cultural context that I only understand on the surface. As I began to skim through old notes and readings that I had done in the class, I was also reminded of ways in which one can alter the dynamics by changing the space in which you are in and the power that is held in certain spaces. In this way, I tried to figure out how I could make the space favourable to giving power back to the farmers, while still trying to respect the ways farmers often wanted the meeting to be structured.

Notes I jotted down:

  • The way the seating is arranged
  • The way I stand
  • Where we talk
  • Are we moving, sitting?
  • Where would the farmers be most conformable?
    • Giving the option the farmers

Ways the interview was always set up for me that challenged this:

  • Within farmer group interviews  I am always asked to sit on a chair due to being the guest but others often sit on the floor (Cultural way in which you treat your guest)
  • Women will sit on mats on the floor while men will often sit on chairs (cultural practice)
  • Struggles surrounding what people think I need due to being white (Just my perception?)

 Following different uses of space, different ways of asking questions, alternative ways of battling dynamics of social stratification and stigma, I was left with this final thought that I recalled after rereading the following article: Researching black parents: Making sense of the role of research and the researcher (If you want to read it, I would definitely suggest it!)

A key aspect of Croziers analysis on the researcher’s role within research is the power they have to determine what is heard. Not only can they choose to leave out vital information, but they also have the ability to alter the information itself. This power thus forces the researcher to examine the role they play in depicting their informant. One of the problems lies in the fact that it is the researcher who sets the agenda – who defines the research problem and identifies the questions to be answered.  This ability to invent the other, especially when portraying their stories brings to question the very nature of the study. 

Should there be a commonality between the researcher and the informant in relation to background, ethnicity and social status?

Is it enough to simply posses “good intentions” despite the potential of creating negative outcomes for your informant? 

The ability that the researcher – in this case me – has to create an illusion of identity for their informant is endless. Without a common background or understanding of where the individual is coming from, this illusion can be very far from how the informant views themselves. This can be extremely problematic when it furthers “single stories” that demean and undervalue populations.

Despite the overwhelming factors to consider when conducting research and interacting with various different cultures and ethnicities, I cannot help but question if the complete segregation of two groups is beneficial. To what extent does the role of the interconnection between living beings in addition to the commonality of being human play within research? It is vital to recognize one’s race and the privileges one receives as a result, but when does this recognition actively further the notion of Othering once more. When does the connection of being human outweigh the stereotypes and power relations that exist within society, can this ever happen? Are the current hierarchal structures in place due to a current breakdown of communication for fear of negative outcomes?

Crozier, J. (2003). Researching black parents: Making sense of the role of research and the researcher. In Qualitative Research, 3(1), 79-94. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

“Authentic”?

A great post by Ellen I think you should read- the dialogue surrounding authenticity has been persisent and interesting to say the least

A lot of stories

When I first moved into my new host family, I was uneasy.

I sat there in the living room of our house for the first time, backpack at my feet, while my host sister Aliyyah prepared my room. I looked around – it was a room lined with plush couches and a big-screen TV and the time was displayed from a digital clock on the dvd player.  A quick glance into my bedroom-to-be revealed that it had not one, but two double beds in it and a mirror on the wall. These raised some red flags right away…I shouldn’t be living with a rich family. I didn’t want to, either: I wanted to experience life a little closer to the roots for a couple reasons, we’ll call that ‘authentic’ for this post, and a family that owned smart-phones did not fall under that category I had. This setup was far…

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Collection of Stories: Part two

1. Every morning after my normal routine (which has not changed too much since the last time I told you about it) Sarah, Joven, Apeyo and I sit down and eat breakfast together. Due to their being no Chapatti made around our new home, I just head to the local town center to buy some rolls of bread that we normally eat with Sarah’s homemade g-nut paste. Yes, it is delicious. One morning when we were all sitting down eating, Betty, our pet chicken come over to see what was happening. She loves g-nuts and g-nut paste. After about a few seconds of looking around, Betty decided that she wanted the bread that Joevn was eating. This was a bad idea. Within a period of two seconds, Joven had picked up two cups of tea beside him, poured them all over Betty, and began to crawl away from her. After realizing what had just happened Sarah, Apeyo and I burst out laughing while the rest of our compound simply signed and said “Betty”. I love how everyone calls her Betty now.

2. My coach Robbie was in Gulu last week to visit. After doing some work and having some good chats we headed to my home to have dinner with the family. After settling down and eating, Sarah began to explain to me that all the boda’s that work around the small shopping center (about a 3 min walk from where I stay) were “warming up to me”. After she explain to me that it simply meant that they were all interested in getting my number so they could call me, I think she could tell I was a bit nervous. She then went on to explain that the other day one of them had approached her asking for “her friends” number. Although Sarah knew that he was talking about me, she played it off as she had no idea who he was talking about and that he should clarify. It turns out that he really did not want to say who it was and just kept saying “you know, your friend”. After a few more similar conversations Sarah deemed that they were now “x- friends” and that if he wanted my number he would have to ask me for it himself because there was no way that she would give my number to someone I did not know. Good to know Sarah has my back!

3. One of my favorite times of the day is when I get the chance to walk back home. Most of the time it is around 6 and the sun’s heat is starting to fade so the air has a nice softness to it. Normally my walks home consist of some thinking about work, thinking about life, looking around at all the big trees and the blue sky and sometimes singing if I am in a “I don’t care about all the looks I am getting” mood. On Tuesday when I was walking home singing the classic wonder wall (it is one of the few songs I remember all the lyrics too) I head a little voice starting to sing beside me. A little boy named Emma (a common male name here) knew the song and happened to be heading the same way as me because he lives a few houses away from me. We ended up walking back together singing wonder wall. It was a very strange but nice moment.

4. Buses. I happen to spend a lot of time on buses due to the fact that I live in the Northern part of Uganda and most of our team meetings happen in central Uganda. Normally I get up around 5:30, get picked up by Tito at 6 so that we can boda into town to the post bus station so that I will get a seat. Along the ride I always seem to meet really wonderful people and often get a lot of delicious food. Because I get up so early I normally do not get a chance to eat breakfast at home. This means that along the way I normally pick up a Chapatti. Although there is normally a gas station stop along the journey where you can pick up food, there are also vendors along the way that sell so many different things. Banana’s, pineapples, chapatti, mandazi’s, roasted maize (one of my favorites) and the list goes on. Depending on where you are traveling too, the selection also changes. This past weekend I headed to a district in the “West Nile” part of Uganda called Arua to meet my friend Josephine’s family and see where she grew up. Along the way there were so many different kinds of foods that I had never seen before. One being fish (because we were so close to the Nile) that was a shocker for me.

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Here is a picture of one of the stops 

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Just eating some fish

5. Recently I have been getting a lot of date proposals that leave me feeling, well, very awkward. I never really know how to approach it. Here is an example; it happened to be the boda boda that Sarah had talked down just a few days before. He is called Ronald.

“Hannah, how are you?”

“I am fine, how are you?”

“I am fine. I want to take you out tonight.”

“um.. well… I already have a boyfriend.. sorry”

“Where does he live?”

“Canada”

“Ah, you see he does not live in Uganda. You need someone to in Uganda”

“I think that he would be pretty upset if I started dating another person.”

“I want to take you out, let me take you out”

“Um… Ah, I have to go to work and then I promised Sarah that we would cook together tonight”

“Okay, tomorrow night”

“umm… uh… I just.. I am flattered but I don’t…”

And this is when I ran away to hop on a boda that would take me to town; no walking that day. 

The Development Sector: Part Three

(NOTE: I am going to discuss a wide range of things in very general terms, but I definitely promote looking further into these theories/ concepts. Additionally, I do apologize for the vagueness within this post and potential negative ways of conveying some of the concepts found below. Also, development in this case is not geared towards so much physical structural development as social systems, although I feel as though infrastructure is intertwined. I feel as though I will leave that up to you to think about)

As I discussed in one of my blog posts earlier, a question that I find myself pondering a lot is the idea of who dictates development, what is “development” and why one needs to “develop”. Although these questions and thoughts are still unanswered, they are a part of my development journey so I thought I would share. I do apologize for the heavy theory context in advance; this is just a key part to how my relationship to development and the development sector has been formed.

            In my second year at Guelph I decided to add another major to my degree; anthropology. Although I knew it would take me longer than 4 years to finish my undergraduate, I felt as though anthropology offered me a different perspective and new insights into the world of development. Although the journey since has caused many existential crises that, to be honest, I still find myself trying to figure out, it has been interesting to say the least. Before I jump into a bit more anthropological thought, I wanted to first challenge the notion of “developed” and “underdeveloped” countries. In many ways, the separation of countries into such categories passes the idea that countries that are deemed “developed” have completed their development, and thus are now waiting for “underdeveloped” countries to catch up. This not only suggests that there is one way to “develop” but also that those who are deemed “developed” nations have nothing to develop further on despite the massive social inequalities and injustices that still exist within their borders. I do understand that in order to carry conversations humans have adapted to generalizing and categorizing things to make points, but due to my dislike of the terms above I will use the terms the global south and the global north.

One of the largest concepts in anthropology is called cultural relativism. Cultural relativism put simply is a concept founded in the belief that one cannot judge another culture by one’s own culture due to it being an ethnocentric judgment; Ethnocentric meaning what occurs when one judges another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture. As discussed by philosopher John Cook, cultural relativism “is aimed at getting people to admit that although it may seem to them that their moral principles are self-evidently true, and hence seem to be grounds for passing judgement on other peoples, in fact, the self-evidence of these principles is a kind of illusion”. Although there is debate about his ability to fully grasp the concept within this statement, relativism does not mean that one’s views are false, rather that it is false to claim that one’s views are self-evident (feel free to call, comment or email me at any time if you want to talk this through- it is something that I enjoy although it gets my mind turned upside down). In this regard, one must understand that the judgments they pass are based on their own cultural understanding of what is good, bad etc and not moral absolutes that can be applied cross culturally.

            From this understanding of cultural relativism, development for me not only became much more complex but also questionable. In many ways, development is about cross- cultural interaction and potentially, to put it intensely, cultural imperialism; with imperialism in this context referring to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations favoring the more powerful civilization. For example, throughout history events such as colonization have occurred in the name of “civilization” although the notion of what being “civilized” looked like to begin with was formed from the colonizers lens and not those of the cultures they were imposing the doctrine on. In Canada’s case, colonization of Aboriginal people (sorry for the general term use in this situation- for the sake of the point I will combine different bands into one category while recognizing that each band has its own unique culture) throughout the country was often in the name of converting those that are believed to be “savage” and “unruly” to be “civilized” and “better” although that was just the colonizers perceptive of aboriginal culture and how they understood the word “civilized”. Although one cannot argue the injustice that Aboriginal people in Canada faced and currently face, I begin to question cultural relativism when discussing human rights and human rights violations. Although the Declaration of Human Rights is highly contested when discussing cultural relativism due to it being based on the concept of individualism while this is not a cultural universal, certain cultural practises seem questionable. Although the judgement passed ignores the foundation that one must not judge another culture based off of their own due to it being inherently ethnocentric, I question if it thus is a justified reason to not act or simply a way to remove ones self from facing the moral discomfort that such questions create.

Additionally, when discussing cultural relations and interaction, I also feel that bringing up globalization is important. Although globalization is the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture, I am only going to be discussing it in regards to cultural globalization. Cultural globalization, as defined by Wikipedia, refers to the transmission of ideas, meanings and values across national borders. The circulation of cultures enables individuals to partake in extended social relations outside the borders. Cultural globalization involves the formation of shared norms and knowledge with which people associate their individual and collective cultural identities, and increasing interconnectedness among different populations and cultures. As I am sure you know, globalization, in this case cultural globalization, is also debated. On one side of the argument you have those that view cultural globalization as a process of transforming all cultures into that of the westernized consumer culture. This, in term implies that the entire world will ultimately result in the end of cultural diversity and the beauty that it holds. Alternatively, the other side of the spectrum views this exchange and fusion of traditional practises as a process of hybridization on which cultural mixture and adaptation continuously transform and renew cultural forms. Although I value cultural diversity deeply due to the importance of respecting other beings way of life, I also see so much value in the interaction and interconnection that our current society operates in. Although cultural integration can lead to a loss of certain cultural traditions and practises, there is so much beauty and power in understanding who the “other” is. When a lack of communication and connection occurs, misunderstanding and misrepresentation of cultures can become problematic thus leading me to question if the complete segregation of two groups is beneficial. To what extent does the role of the interconnection between living beings in addition to the commonality of being human play a role within the importance of understanding the “other” as simply another form of self? Are the current hierarchal structures in place due to a current breakdown of communication for fear of negative outcomes? Will the threat of Othering and cultural loss within our societies lead to individuals and cultures becoming so consumed by fear that further separation will ensue? Or will it simply allow our society to move beyond generalization and misrepresentation as a result of new understanding.

As all of these debates and topics float around in my brain, I often find myself overwhelmed and paralyzed. Although these debates and discussions are important to me and challenge my understandings, inequalities and injustices still run rampant in our social systems, political systems, cultural systems, education systems etc that I cannot ignore. This, in many ways, is what has made me question who dictates development and the power that the question holds. Although it can be debated that the desire for “development” is a result of the global power system influencing individual’s choices and mind frames, I do hold value to individual agency and ability to challenge the doctrines and messages that get thrust upon us at every moment of everyday. As such, when the dictation and desire for “development”, in whatever context it implies, is brought up by the people who the change will be affecting, I ask who am I to decide that you are unable to desire such things. Who am I to dictate what is a result of cultural imperialism and what is a result of individual desire and choice?

Thoughts? Questions? Huge dislike for what I have discussed? Leave them in the comment section, send me an email at hannahbatten@ewb.ca or give me a call at +256793660417