Famous Canadian poet, environmentalist, and novelist Farley Mowat once said: “never let the facts get in the way of the truth”. Farley is also the name of my grandfather’s late dog; RIP. My roommate hates this quote; I love it – and it is the notion that one can despise something while the other admires it that proves the point Farley is trying to make. Adrienne Clarkson says it best:
“Facts are noticed and catalogued by even the most unimaginative observer; the truth goes beyond the facts and reaches the essence of what facts only illustrate… Anybody can eat a mouse [as Farley depicted in Never Cry Wolf], but not many people can make us feel what it is like.”
Similar to Clarkson, the way I see it the facts are something objective, empirical and somewhat exogenously given. The truth, on the other hand, is something much less tangible. Simply, humans collectively create the truth based on subjective interpretations of experiences and interactions. Although the truth is informed by facts, facts are certainly not a necessary condition for a truth’s existence. As of late, Farley’s quote has become somewhat of a mantra of mine. In fact, it applies quite nicely to the case of Uganda.
Here are the facts:
Uganda is a landlocked country located in East Africa, just north of Lake Victoria. It neighbours South Sudan (North), Kenya (East), Tanzania (South East), Rwanda (South West), and the DRC (West). Although Uganda is a fairly small country in terms of territory, its population sits at just over 36 million people. Uganda has had a difficult political history. It finally gained colonial independence from our friend Liz on October 9, 1962 and was ruled by a number of tyrants until around 30 years ago. Uganda’s current president, Yoweri Museveni is democratically elected and has been in office since the 1980s. In terms of economic wealth, Uganda is a poor country with its nominal GDP per capita sitting just below $600. Further, it is ranked 164th out of roughly 200 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). Based on these facts, one might believe that Uganda is not such a great place. The truth, on the other hand paints a different picture.
Here is the truth:
Uganda is a country like no other. As I stepped off the plane last night, the first thought that ran through my head was: “we’re not in Kansas anymore”. Good thing I don’t really like Kansas; or the Wizard of Oz for that matter. To be honest, I am still a little scared from West Kildonan Collegiate’s 2009 attempt at the production. Anyway, Uganda. After getting off the plane, going through customs and obtaining my visa, my two other travel companions (Rachel and Shelby) and I were met with smiles and waves by a close colleague of a Dalhousie professor. For his privacy, I will simply refer to him as “nicest man in Uganda #1”. That part is not a fact, it’s the truth – nicest man in Uganda #1 is really the nicest man in Uganda. Nicest man in Uganda #1 drove us from the Entebbe airport to the Visitor’s Village guest house, a beautiful villa located in a quiet nook of Kampala. Visitor’s Village is run by nicest man in Uganda #1 and his colleague, nicest man in Uganda #2 and will be our home until Sunday.
The next morning, after a breakfast complete with omelettes, the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted in my life, and mint-leaf tea, nicest man in Uganda #1 took us around town to do some errands. It was during our day out and about that I realized the facts could not be farther from the truth. Kampala has a pulse. It is a sensory overload in every sense of the word. People are everywhere – working, laughing, walking, cooking, selling bed frames (I kid you not there was a bed frame vendor on the side of the road). While driving down the street I also realized that the “vibe” was strangely happy. The facts would lead me to believe that Kampala would be an unsafe place filled with poverty and crime. The truth, however, is that Kampala is the most joyous and energetic palace I have ever been to. Some people might be poor, yes; but many (albeit, not all) of these people have managed to live prima facie happy and fulfilling lives. From what I have seen so far, Ugandans kick Canadians’ asses when it comes to being happy. In fact, there was multiple times where I noticed that my face hurt from smiling, simply because everyone was smiling back at me so hard. A quick walk around the neighbourhood before dinner reaffirmed the notion that Ugandans have created a truth for themselves notwithstanding the facts. Children were playing soccer, vendors were vending, and people were actually interacting in a peaceful and civilized manner. Shocking, I know. Thanks for painting such an accurate picture, media.
Our neighbourhood walk also got me thinking about how people in the ‘Global North’ perceive those in the ‘Global South’. Based on my experiences, most think that the ‘North’ and ‘South’ are two different worlds with no parallels or shared practices. However, after spending only 24 hours in the ‘South’ I realize that common perceptions are way off. WAY OFF. In fact, my day in Kampala reminded me a lot of a day at my cottage in Winnipeg Beach, MB. We woke up and had breakfast on the deck; we went to town; we had a late afternoon siesta followed by a ‘happy hour’ featuring lemon grass tea; went for a walk; and finally ate dinner on the veranda. It is hard to describe, but things just felt right. The smells and sights, although far away, were quite familiar. I think that just about anybody who has been to Winnipeg Beach knows what a dirt road on a humid day smells like, what getting in a car that’s been sitting in the sun all day feels like, or what fresh fruit on the deck tastes like. Yes the facts that govern Canadian and Uganda life are different, but the truths are quite the same.
Now, time to briefly address the elephant in the savannah. Ha get it? Instead of saying elephant in the room I said elephant in the savannah… because I am in Africa… get it? No? Okay. I am white; most people in Uganda are not. Given this, some might classify me as a ‘racial’ minority. I do not classify myself as that and here’s why. It is 2015 and about time that we stop using skin colour as an indicator of selfhood. This goes for everyone – white, black, purple, etc. The idea that ‘race’ is a primary indicator of personality and human capability is antiquated and should cease to exist. The fact is that I should not have been told by people in Canada that I am going to be a white person in a sea of black when I arrive in Uganda. Similarly, I should not be called a ‘mozungu’ (or white man) by people in Uganda. The fact is that I am a Jeremy in a sea of Emmanuels, Jennifers, Ricks, Jerrys, Sophies… you get the point. The truth that we have built, however, is a little different – and I understand that. But the nice thing about truths is that they are not set in stone and adapt according to how we choose to view ourselves in relation to each other.
Well, my belly is full of matoka (that’s definitely not how it’s spelled) and I have a big day tomorrow.
Over and out,