Global Voices author for Uganda, Rebekah Heacock spent two weeks in the capital city Kampala back in 2006, and decided that she needed to return for a longer period of time. When she did, in addition to teaching at a local orphanage, Rebekah was program coordinator with the Global Youth Partnership for Africa (GYPA). The non-profit organization brings young people from the United States and Uganda together for conferences and activities. This experience provided the opportunity to see different sides of the country and brought many new experiences.
During the extended time in this new country, she began to blog. Her blog is called Jackfruity (read here about a description of the jackfruit). “I started writing about local politics and my experiences there as a way to process what I was doing, and then I started getting comments from Ugandan bloggers and reading their blogs. The diversity of the Ugandan blogs that she read was certainly interesting,” said Rebekah.
I love the blogging scene in Uganda. It's small compared to those in Kenya and Tanzania, which I think affords it a special sense of community. At the same time, it's wildly diverse — on any given day my Google Reader holds posts from an avowed communist, an archbishop, a local journalist, a creative writer, a university student and the wife of a development worker.
Regularly writing and reading other blogs led to starting to write for Global Voices Online in May 2007, when the previous author moved back to the United States. The entire process of finding a topic and discovering different viewpoints is also interesting, “You never really know what you're going to get, which makes writing regular round-ups both entertaining and challenging.”
The virtual exchange between bloggers and their readers would help strengthen the blogosphere, but a desire emerged to meet one another in person. Together with blogger Josh Goldstein, it led to the launch of a successful and regularly scheduled event called the Ugandan Bloggers Happy Hour.
Ugandan Bloggers Happy Hour started in January 2007 with a dozen bloggers, about half-and-half Ugandans and expats. I had no idea who would show up — I had sent invitations to all the bloggers I knew through comments on their blogs and had posted about it on my own blog, but other than that there was no plan.
We drank, talked politics and, if I remember correctly, discussed whether or not Philip Seymour Hoffman would make a good transvestite. I found out most of the Ugandans thought I was a black man, and we took a lot of pictures.
Since then, we've had somewhere between 10 and 25 people each month, plus a couple of lurkers — bloggers who have shown up across the street or in a different corner of the bar to check things out without revealing their identities, then later written about it on their blogs.
It's more like a big group of friends than anything formal; people mingle and move around and push tables together. I've had conversations about the Virginia Tech shootings, democracy, Montell Jordan and bootlegged DVDs. A discussion about hip-hop for social change prompted a field trip to a breakdance class, and a group of Danish documentary filmmakers came once to interview bloggers.
Now as Rebekah is back in the United States working as the web producer for a newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas, she is preparing to begin graduate work in the field of International Affairs at Columbia University in August of this year. Even though the midwest city seems a million miles away from the African capital, being able to continue to blog about Uganda helps Rebekah feel closer to the country where she had connected with so many people.
There's definitely a bit of disconnect, now that I'm back in Kansas. GChat and Facebook have been great ways to stay connected to the blogren, and I'm infinitely grateful to the online editors of the Daily Monitor and New Vision for publishing an RSS feed. Even though I'm less physically connected, writing has kept me intellectually and emotionally in touch with Uganda in a way that wouldn't have happened otherwise.
Living abroad always presents new situations, sights, smells and sounds, and often take awhile to become accustomed to new surroundings, but having a place to express those experiences proved valuable. Rebekah is quite grateful that blogging added another dimension to the unique experience of living abroad.
Blogging in Uganda grounded me in a way that few other things did. It was a familiar act that took place in an unfamiliar world, and it was a way for me to process what I was seeing and how I was living. The interactions I had with Ugandan bloggers gave a context for my thoughts that I couldn't have gotten any other way. The slight anonymity afforded by the Internet allowed me to be more honest than I felt I could be with most of the Ugandans I met through my work, and the equally honest responses I got from many Ugandan bloggers challenged my perceptions and helped me refine my views.
Ugandan blogs provided an entirely different lens than international media or even local newspapers. I was able to see what Ugandans wanted me to see, as opposed to what Invisible Children (an American advocacy organization focused on the war in northern Uganda) or the New York Times wanted me to see. I think this is true of any country, and it's the biggest benefit of Global Voices, in my opinion.
The friends I've made among the Ugandan bloggers are some of the closest I have in the country, and staying in touch with them has kept me actively connected to Uganda.