Dignity in Women’s Development

One of the most important things I learned at CSW is the empowerment of rural women is not just about putting food on the table, it’s also about dignity; listening to her voice, her decisions, and her leadership. When organizations create women’s development projects, yet control the way money is spent, the projects, even the teaching, it does not actually empower rural women.  Talking with a friend, we decided the best analogy is that of a street dance.  We gather in a circle, one person steps to the middle to dance, that person joins the circle and another person steps to the center to dance. Rural women must have the opportunity to lead the dance! The power does not lie within the US or other first world countries to “save” or “develop” a group of people. The answers for rural women were not in NYC, but in the rural areas where women are working, living, laughing, crying, and loving everyday.

People doing development work usually have good intentions, but we must evaluate how our actions are hurting a group of people. A perfect example is the Kony 2012 Campaign, which went viral recently on Facebook and Twitter.  Invisible Children’s intentions were good, but they did not see the damage they are doing by “sensationalizing” of a conflict in a whole group of people and denying dignity.

This is the voice of Rosebell Kagumire, a woman working in Uganda for peace, talking about the KONY 2012 campaign: “How do you tell the stories of Africans? You shouldn’t be telling my story if you also don’t believe I have the power to change what is going on!  This 6.5 minute video says it best:
Rosebell Kagumire YouTube

Constructive Theology Reflections

We write short reflections on the readings for my constructive theology class… this reflection is on chapter 8 in The Spirit of Life by Jürgen Moltmann:

The society in which I operate, tells their successful stories through the lens of individualism and achievement.  The successful woman is the one who, through no help of anyone else, rises to the top through education, status, and achievement, in addition to having a loving and adoring family.  Moltmann states that Wesley’s message was to an “industrial society is: ‘produce more – consume more’. But today the cost incurred by this maxim is greater than the profit.”  I do not see any examples in my own society of any “cost incurred” being too great for the “profit” of success.  Even elementary students berate themselves and destroy their bodies through the volition of their parents to “get ahead.”

Moltmann demands a new metaphor for today’s Christians.  He proposes connecting humans to the “web of life” writing against our individualism.  Many of his metaphor maintains their relevance for today, but I do not agree with the idea that we must start with the problems of our society and discover a Christian message that will solve, fix, or even heal them.  Western society is individualistic, violent, and suffering from death, but we hear enough about destruction in political campaigns, do we need to hear it from our pulpits!?  The Holy Spirit is a creative energy, which gives freedom from fear.  Creative energy occurs when people gather to create, like a play or movie; each person works on their particular role in community to put on a production for a gathered community.  The Holy Spirit is not like a political campaign that targets an enemy and rallies people through fear to take a side.

Like Jesus, the church must name hurt and oppression in the world, but healing comes through naming people who are suffering as blessed (Matthew 5:1-11).  I propose we reverse the question: “For what sicknesses of our time will the Christian life prove to be healing?” and begin with “How do we share healing in Christ?”

I continue to reflect on how to share love instead of fear in our churches, speaking for instead of against something.  There is not an easy fix to my ponderings… but I will like digging a little through Bart:

“That man is against God is important and must be taken seriously. But what is far more important and must be taken far more seriously is that in Jesus Christ God is for man. And it is *only* in light of the second fact that the importance and seriousness of the first can be seen.”  – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2, 154.

Musungu Challenges

I am in my fifth week here and I finally hit a wall… I must be honest about some of my external and internal challenges.  I feel like African mission work is extremely glorified in the States, but it is difficult for me.

I am always outside of my comfort zone.  People are welcoming me and receptive to my presence; however, the culture is SO DIFFERENT that I feel frustrated about many of the events that happen. I’m not sure where to begin.  I’ll start with the fact that EVERY plan is subject to change. If they say I’ll pick you up at 8:00am they might show up before 10:00am.  But, if I am scheduled to meet people at 9:00am they may or may not arrive sometime between 10 and 11 and just because people have arrived doesn’t mean the workshop will actually start before 12:00pm.  I am constantly wondering the right thing to do when I am just sitting waiting for the program to start is it rude to read a book? Should I continue to try and communicate with more slow English words with hand and facial gestures to the one woman who is seated with me waiting for the others to gather?  Should I get up and ask the head woman or man pastor to gather the women who clearly see that I am seated and ready to go?

Also, if someone says, let’s meet on Saturday at 3:00pm.  It actually means, “I have the intention of meeting with you, but I have no idea when or where that time will be.”

OK, I know what you’re thinking: Nancy, chill out and realize that things will never start on time or just plan for time to be flexible but when I am coordinating meetings with people and I leave my house at 7:00am because everyone knows that people from the States are on-time and I end up searching for a place in town to sit or stand for an hour or two it can get frustrating.

Also, EVERYWHERE I GO I am seen as a money tree.  Kids on the street scream, “Jambo Musungu” and if I give them attention they frequently ask me to buy them something. Waters and waitresses will ask me for my phone number or email to contact me later.  Students at schools will ask me if I can find them a sponsor.  I had to get my phone fixed the other day and the guy that fixed it texted me yesterday: “Hi. Don’t fear this text but it’s me who help u 2 solve e problem in your phone 2 start sending text messages. NOTE always remember me since it was my 1 time 2 u Repply it and remember me even if you back to home $ Send your Email were I can chat with u when your back. Night u.  SERIOUSLY?!!! (I obviously ignored it).

The stereotype of ignorant people in the States of all Africans is that they are all starving and living in hut.  There is a stereotype of ignorant people here that everyone in the States is rich. No joke, when I tell some Ugandans that there are poor people in the US, they are shocked and they wonder why the States gives Uganda aid.

Something else that gets to me is that there is a “real” price for things and there is a “musungu” price.  I have to pay twice as much for much of my transportation, accommodation, services, food, you name it because I have white skin.

I basically live off of rice, pineapples, bananas, sodas, and wafer cookies.  Most of the food that is cooked makes my stomach upset and the majority of it is fried!  People also assume that I want to eat “chips” (aka French fries) for every meal.

Everything is constantly dirty. When I wash my hair the water that comes out is literally orange with dirt. The majority of the population does not wear deodorant.

This week I was in a taxi stuffed on the side with four other people in my little row and the girl in front of me didn’t want the window open and I told her I wanted it open but she closed it and I just gave up. I threw a temper tantrum in my head and I thought to myself:  I hate Africa!  However, it didn’t take me long to realize that I don’t hate Africa, I hate myself and the fact that I was born in a country and lifestyle where I never have to be truly uncomfortable!

People live like this — stuffed into a taxi every day.  They have to pump their water and carry it for miles to just have a sponge bath, cook, and boil it to drink.  They walk for miles in the dust and dirt to get to a job that may or may not pay them what was agreed.  They sell crackers, roasted corn, and tomatoes on the street to SURVIVE.  They wash all their cloths by hand and hang them to dry.  They cook everything from scratch including slaughtering the animal.  Western toilets are a novelty they mostly use a simple hole in the ground.

Henri Nouwen helped me process my self loathing this week through the words of Jean Vanier. Often I go off in dreams about living and being with the poor, but what the poor need are not my dreams, my beautiful thoughts, my inner reflections, but my concrete presence.  There is always the temptation to replace real presence with lovely thoughts about being present.

Jean also said, Poverty is neither nice nor pleasant.  Nobody truly wants to be poor.  We all want to move away from poverty.  And still God loves the poor in a special way.

OK! I’m thinking: I feel enough love by God that I can go back to my “inner reflections” and keep my presence to myself.  Phew, it would be terrible to put myself in uncomfortable situations for the rest of my life!

But Jean goes on to say, Jesus did not say, “Happy are those who serve the poor, but — happy are the poor.  Being poor is what Jesus invites us to, and that is much, much harder than serving the poor.  The unnoticed, unspectacular, upraised life in solidarity with people who cannot give anything that makes us feel important is far from attractive.  It is the way to poverty.  Not an easy way, but God’s way that the way of the cross.”

Here I am complaining because I have the ability pay twice as much for something, I have a lot to learn.

America will be!

The United States began its war in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.  That was nine years, three months and a week ago.  The war continues to expand and deepen and we were recently told that we won’t be leaving that country until 2014.

In light of celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr., America’s greatest non-violent freedom fighter, I would like to quote from his speech “Beyond Vietnam” in April 4, 1967 (one year before he was murdered):

  • We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!

  • Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

I know a lot of folks that are concerned with the “integrity and life of America.”  But, my generation does not seem to care about the current war.  I brought up why my generation is silent about the “War on Terror” in comparison to my parents generation which was so ardently against Vietnam over dinner during holiday break.  My dad mentioned that most people are not personally affected by death in this war where as many knew someone who died in Vietnam. I looked up the death toll in the war on terror and it’s approaching 5000 US soldier lives, not including the lives of those in Afghanistan.  Mom mentioned the lessened media coverage. I wonder if my generation traded our backbone for facebook?

I must be honest, I don’t know all the logistics of the war in Afghanistan… However, one need not be interested in politics to understand the loss this un-winnable, INSANELY (for there is no other word for it) expensive, immoral, and fought for corporate profit war is causing, and the immeasurably steep cost it will impose upon our country, when all is said and done.

So what do I do?!  Well, I am writing a blog post about it.  Discussing it with my friends and family and hoping to join what will one day be a “critical mass,” or what my generation calls the tipping point, forcing the government to change direction.

Parts of this post were tweaked quotes from conversations with my friend and colleague Dr. M. David Hoch.  Thanks David for your activism.

Unrelistic Expectations of Lasik Surgery

I read my last post and laugh… then I want to cry.  I’m done crying about it, even though the moisture is good for my eyes.  I am wearing contacts right now and I can still barely see to drive after 7:00pm.

I didn’t actually have Lasik, I had a surgery called PRK.  The difference is the beginning steps, instead of cutting a flap in your eye they take of the top layer of cells that will quickly grow back.  It’s a bit more painful, but my doctor said it was better for my eyes.

I healed wonderfully from the PRK surgery, it’s just that the correction part of the surgery didn’t take so well.  The morning is the best and I can see without contacts to drive on my way to work.  It’s not 20/20 but it’s good enough.  As the day goes on my eye sight gets worse and worse.  For the first week I was petrified to drive home, but now I think it’s over-rated to see when you drive.  My contact prescription is 1.5 in my left eye and 1.25 in my right, but that was taken at 12:00pm and by the time 7:00pm rolls around, lights that were once the size of apples have become bales of hay.

I know that eventually, as months go by, I will be able to see better and 6 months from now I can have “enhancement” surgery.  However, I am disappointed.  My expectations were so high and now after thousands of dollars, I am putting dry eye prescription in my eyes and wearing contacts.

If you are thinking, this is why I have never had Lasik surgery.  Don’t kid yourself, you haven’t had the surgery because you don’t want to spend the money, haven’t found a doctor, don’t have a high enough prescription to make it worth while, or the audacity to do elective surgery… your issues have very little to do with my sob story.


I feel this blog is my room on the internet. Much like my actual room, there are not a lot of people who come and spend time there besides dear friends or roomies. But yesterday there was a big, bad internet bully that hacked into the server and put a Portuguese political rant up and destroyed my room. It’s a good think that the “guy in the computer” worked his magic and fixed everything back. Regardless, it felt like someone vandalized my little world in cyberspace.

Rant Rant YMCA Rant Rant

As most of you know, I work at the YMCA as a lifeguard to supplement my income. I was recently “re-hired” at the Maryland Farms YMCA (MFY). They have come up with a new policy that everyone hired must take a staff tour of the facilities. This is a reasonable requirement, as the MFY is one of the largest and most confusing gym facilities in the United States (I have not been in a gym outside of the US), it has a plethora of split levels and hallways that lead to nowhere. The pools are quite remarkable. There is an 50 yard pool outside with 2 slides, a 0 entry kids pool equipped with slides, water sprays, and water falling from huge and small buckets and a 25 yard indoor pool. All very impressive.

After a year of working in a gym, no matter how confusing, impressive, or large, one learns their way around, therefore as a re-hire I found it surprising that I needed to take the facilities tour.

The tours are offered: Wednesdays at 11am, Thursdays at 3pm, and Tuesdays at 6pm

The only option for myself with a 9-5 job is Tuesdays at 6pm. This is still not a wonderful option because I work in Goodlettsville, TN (north of Nashville) and I will be driving through the WORST traffic that Nashville has to offer. This Tuesday I arrive for my tour at 6:06. When I got there the Center Administrator (aka MFY staff tour guide) told me that I was late and need to reschedule. Fighting back tears of anger I told her my name and manager and left the staff room for the tour to commence.

After I worked out for a bit (I wasn’t going to waste a trip to the YMCA), I came home and wrote this e-mail:

Dear MFY Tour Guide (names changed to protect the guilty),
We met this afternoon when I was late for the staff facilities tour.
I wanted to let you know that I was coming from another job across
town and was caught in afternoon traffic. Except for the 6:00 Tuesday
tour, the tours are offered during regular business hours. An
employee like myself, who has another full time job, has a hard time
attending these tours.
I understand that one of the core values of the YMCA is responsibility
and being on-time is apart of my responsibility to the YMCA family. I
apologize for my punctuality. I enjoy working on the aquatics team
and take much pride in the mission and vision of the YMCA. I hope
that in the future you will take in consideration the diverse
backgrounds of a YMCA employee and work with us to reach the goals of
our organization.
All the Best,
Nancy Hawthorne


This makes me angry.