Category Archives: New York

The First Decade: From Long Island to Kampala to Brooklyn

At the Source of the Nile River in Jinja, Uganda, where some of Gandhi's ashes are scattered.

Hey all, whether you are in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, Uganda, or Kenya, I really wish you a blessed new year in 2010!

This year was one of the most challenging of my life– but also the most rewarding.  Many times I felt as if I had slammed my head
or fell over my feet (both metaphorically and in the real sense!), and other times I prayed for a crystal ball that would let me go back in time.
Do things differently.

I can’t say this enough- Hindsight is 20/20.  Hindsight is 20/20.  But mistakes offer the most powerful lessons of all.  In many ways, I entered 2010 with
a gigantic blindfold over my eyes, and had to let reality be my teacher.  I realized I was scrappier than I ever imagined, but simultaneously blessed
in more ways than I could fathom.

I enjoyed writing at New Vision this year.

2009 was a year of writing for Women’s eNews, Saturday/New Vision, and the New York Post.  It was a year I began in Jackson Heights, Queens, shifted to Brooklyn, moved to Kampala, returned for respite in Long Island, and relocated back to Brooklyn.  It was my first year that I was not in school.  Where my interview subjects ranged from the president of the Kampala ghetto (with a cabinet, no less!) to Felix Kulayigye, Manhattan garage owners, NYPD officers, bicyclists, colon cleansing patients near the Old Taxi Park (I kid you not), and a woman who survived living with HIV, a white blood cell count of 0, poverty, and cancer– but now weighs 80 kilograms, runs a support group for discordant couples at Mulago Hospital’s Infectious Disease Unite, and has reunited with her husband.  Her name is Zam.

It was a year of launching the Ugandans Abroad website and social networking site, and making our first e-commerce store at our Africa Connections ebay website.  I used all sorts of proxy sites to access Facebook at New Vision, tweeted quite a bit, started this blog, and temped at Iconix.

I got horrific food poisoning at Shell Club, was cheated dramatically Abii Clinic in Wandegaya, and attacked by bugs in New York’s Central and Highbridge Park.  When I would cough in Uganda, people feared I had swine flu.  I began paying back my students loans in June.  I skyped a bit, but mainly used gmail chat
as my favorite form of communication.

My father gave me a red Blackberry Curve for Christmas, allowing me to file from the field.  It was definitely an upgrade from my kiboko phone.  Or is it a
kikumi phone? I can’t remember.

To go further back… I spent New Year’s 1998/9, ten years ago, in Sayville.  I was 13 years old, and went to an awful laser show with my then step-brothers.
I was in eight grade (S2 for my Ugandan readers!), and had glasses, stringy brown hair, and pants that were too short for my rapidly growing legs.  My favorite past times were chatting on AOL instant messenger, drinking Mountain Dew, playing Mario Kart and Sim City 2, as well as Grand Theft Auto.

In 2000, I moved back to Oyster Bay, where I enjoyed history lessons, diatribes about Hillary Clinton (haha well maybe not that part! My family and I are lifelong Democrats), and learning about ancient Greece & Rome from Mr. Levorchick.  During a world history moment on Africa (an afternoon’s worth of coverage in 4 years of high school), I nearly blew off the assignment, disinterested in ancient Mali.  I lived in Karen Court, and did spring track with Grace and Stephanie.  I was awful at the 200 meter, but at least I got in pretty good shape.  I took my first and only photography class with Mrs. Crowley, who was terrified of peanut butter but loved my photos and writing.  The key quote from her is- “Has anyone seen a lens cap?” It was when Mrs. DiMaggio was Mrs. Scudieri, and I tried to get through Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.

My city of ruin...

In 2001, there was 9-11.  My biology teacher, Mr. Billelo (spelling?) told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and we turned on the radio.  I figured it was an awful accident, then saw my best friend Stephanie in the hall.  I told her, and she gave me a startled look.  Mr. Rose, our history teacher,

told us that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, and the White House was on fire, the Pentagon attacked.  We thought he was kidding.  Mark Mitchell burst into stunned laughter.  Classmates began calling their parents who worked in the New York City.  I came home to my teary father, who hugged me and paced around the living room, devastated.  We went with a friend of his he had been seeing to a temple the next day to grieve.  On September 12th, there was a terrible smell of decay.  Only a week before, my friends and I had attended a boat tour of the NYC skyline for my friend Lisa’s sweet 16– the last time we would ever see the city whole.  I was writing for my high school newspaper, and we debated what to put in the next issue.  What should be our focus? Our teachers refused to turn on the televisions to keep calm, but students went to computer labs that week to download images of the crumbled towers.

In 2002, I took the PSAT, AP exams, and had my first boyfriend (no comment, but tragically, he loved anime, a type of Japanese animation).  He fetishized East Asian women (I hate the idea of racial/ethnic fetishes- shudder!), and dumped me for a Korean girl, hoping she would be “submissive.”  Glad that relationship didn’t survive! I looked him up on facebook, and found him overweight with long, greasy brown hair to his waist, working in IT.

Joshing Around in College

In 2003, I proudly served as my school newspaper’s features editor, and applied to colleges, a mess of anxiety.  I was accepted early decision into Sarah Lawrence, and felt more dread than excitement about university life.  In 2004, I finished up my freshman year in a difficult semester, full of drama and disappointment.  I joined facebook– back when just a few universities could participate! That summer, I interned at the Anti-Violence Project, and was fired from IHOP for being a shitty waitress.  I handed out copies of my poetry chapbook to my office coworkers.

In 2005, I took economics, history, and had a difficult summer at home.  The following year, in 2006, I spent the summer interning at the U.N.  I lived in the Columbia dorms (hey- where Barack Obama went to college! yay), and hung out with my friends who lived nearby in International house.  In 2007, I traveled to Uganda and Rwanda for the first time for a study abroad program with Makerere University, living with Ugandan host families in Kampala (Kanyanya) and Busia.  My life has never been the same since then.

Studying Abroad in Uganda, 2007...

That fall, I began my master’s in journalism.  While I had been in Uganda, I debated whether to go into international relations, development studies or journalism after getting accepted into three different master’s programs.  My heart was in journalism, so for better or worse (I didn’t realize the extent of problems in the industry), I began my new, exciting life at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism– community board meetings in Queens, living at International House with Adeola, Nadia, and other amazing friends, and (not) doing ballroom dancing or salsa (I have two left feet, to put it mildly!).

24 and with a master's degree in journalism! Graduation- Me, Jeff Jarvis.

Through CUNY, I got a grant from the Knight Foundation to intern at New Vision, and ended up going back to the English daily to work after graduation.  I also got a grant from CUNY to start my Ugandans Abroad website and Africa Connections company, which launched at the end of November.

I have no idea what the next decade will bring.  Journalism? Marriage? East Africa? New York? Someplace entirely new? Children?

God, I am staying tuned… please love and protect me in these years ahead.
Surround me in your love, and help me to grow as a person, writer, journalist, daughter and friend.

Love,

Becky

Where I will be for my 25th birthday?

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Happy Thanksgiving

The olden days, a.k.a. last summer in Kla

Hey everyone, how are you doing? Well, the site I am doing with Emmanuel is almost ready to go up, though our hosting site is being a bit difficult. Thanks for all your encouragement and support as we transition to our new web presence. This project was definitely a labor of love… and it will be live next Monday at http://www.ugandansabroad.org.

There has been all sorts of interesting/disturbing/fascinating stuff going on in Uganda and her neighbors…

-The U.N. released a damning report to some media houses (still haven’t been able to access the real thing) that said two Rwandan rebel groups, including the FDLR (composed largely of the former Interahamwe, which commited the Rwandan genocide), were recruiting in two refugees camps in Uganda– one of which I even visited in 2007, Nakivale, when I was with SIT. It also said that Uganda and Burundi were smuggling $1.2 billion in gold out of the DR Congo, purchasing gold from FDLR-controlled mines, and reselling it in the United Arab Emirates.
As a reporter, as sick it is, my first impulse was– whoa, what a story! I could imagine eight or nine follow-up stories coming from this report, and stories that would come from the follow-up story. Immediately, I began imagining commodity chains (it’s the Joshua Muldavin in me!). And this report had one hell of a commodity chain, from Spanish NGOs giving funds to the FDLR to recruiting in the camps that are repatriating their Rwandan refugees as we speak (I got to cover this for Women’s eNews!).  If you somehow can find a copy of this report, please let me know– I am dying to see it, and I don’t get why the UN leaked it so many press organizations, then didn’t share it with the public.

In eastern Congo, the mineral trade fuels and funds war-- at the expense of millions of people.

Other things that I have been paying attention to…

-If you want a good story, there’s always the General James Kazini murder saga (and see, this actually is a nice segway from the UN report, since Kazini spent a great deal of time looting minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo).  This famous general, who has led troops against all sorts of insurgencies in the Great Lakes region, was allegedly bludgeoned to death by his lover in Namuwongo, in one of the strangest stories I’ve heard in awhile.  Andrew Mwenda had a great take on it. Whether Lydia Draru, his 28-year-old lover, really killed this top general, I have no idea…

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A New Life in an Old Place… Home

It’s funny, but all Ugandans seem to have this one phrase memorized. “East or West, home is best.” At so many different times, Ugandans from all walks of life have told me that.  In fact, my Ugandan mom tellls me that all the time.  I never knew what to make of that– was it a not-so-subtle hint for me to go home? Or, were they just right? Is home really the best? Americans always say “you can never go home again.” But that may not be accurate…

Thousands of miles away from Kampala, I’m in Brooklyn, an hour’s drive from my childhood home.  I’d still have to hop on a plane to visit my birthplace, but I grew up in New York.  So who is right– Ugandans? Or can you never go home again?

Well, my Ugandan friends and family weren’t kidding.  You can go home again, and it’s fantastic.  Uganda is my home in reverse, and where much of my heart lies, but there is no place that seems to fit me as well as New York.  The first few weeks I was here, I would just look around and burst into tears. Not because I was sad, but because I felt ecstatic.

All those small things that I missed while I was away are here… seeing my parents on the weekend (a train ride away on the LIRR), buying coffee at bodegas, my editors at Women’s eNews (I just feel good stepping into their office! What a fantastic place!), and of course, the subway! After being jostled and smacked around Kampala in the city’s taxis (their word for buses, or public transport), the MTA seems almost delightful.  And of course– the Gray Lady on my doorstep! Nothing like reading the newspaper on the train to feel like home.

The best part is that the next time I am in East Africa, I’ll feel just as good! I’ll trade in my cereal for rolex, a cup of wine for a tot of banana gin, and the NYT for some of my favorite Ugandan reporters.  Whether I am heading home or to Uganda, I feel like I am going home either way.  No matter the direction, I feel so safe and loved.  Blessed, in every sense.

And it all feels very Wizard & Oz to me.  “Now Dorothy, you knew how to get home, all along…” My life is intertwined with Uganda, my other home.  But for this moment in time, I am clicking my heels three times…

Royalty Free
The City of My Dreams: Home
vincent and becky
Vincent Kasozi and me, in my last day at New Vision

Life in New York  has been full of all sorts of pleasant surprises and moments.  I am doing a bunch of interesting things… first, I’ve been working on a website for the Ugandan diaspora (we go live on Nov. 30!) with the support of CUNY and the Ugandan Association of New York (UGAANY), and my fantastic business partner, Emmanuel.

Emmanuel and I have started a web company called Africa Connections, which finances independent journalism in our readers’ home countries through diaspora services.  We are starting off with Uganda as a model group for our project, which makes sense, given our backgrounds.  I’ve been to Uganda four times, most recently writing for New Vision, but for a variety of adventures/endeavors over the years, such as a four-month study abroad program in college, where I lived with an urban and rural host family in Kampala and Busia (an agricultural town on the Ugandan/Kenyan border).

Emmanuel is a Ugandan who seems to have lived my life in reverse.  He grew up in Busia, which is how we connected– I wrote a travel piece for New Vision about my time spent in eastern Uganda, and he was able to find my e-mail through this blog.  For college, he moved to Kampala, and studied at the same university where I did for study abroad.  (FYI: I was reading the Ugandan news today, and apparently Makerere University, one of the best on the African continent, can’t pay their light bill!)He did the social sciences (I did too, with a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence, and a concentration in Africana studies), then moved to NYC for a CUNY program, and lived at -yes- Ihouse!!

ihouse
Valentine’s Day at Ihouse: Min, Jackie and me

I also stayed at International House (its full name), a fantastic grad dorm where a thousand students from 100 different countries (Really!) live together for up to three years.  (I did one year there, at their historic building in Morningside Heights, for fall 2007-spring 2008.)  He went back to Uganda, then came back to study web design at John Hopkin’s University, and is now doing an MBA at the University of Maryland.

We became friends when I was in Uganda through one of my potent addictions: gmail! (Coffee and gmail run my life.  Or do I run them? It’s a toss-up.) While I battled homesickness and work stress (writing for a Ugandan daily was like boot camp, except for the fact that staff served us ginger tea every 2-3 hours), Emmanuel would encourage me, laugh at the way Ugandan sub-editors would ‘Ugandanize’ my copy and writing style, and generally cheer me on.  We met up in Baltimore where he lives, and decided to go into business together.

So, look out for our website on Nov. 30. ! It will go live at http://www.ugandansabroad.org.  Ugandans Abroad (the parent companyis AfricaConnections) will feature a ton of content (most written by me!), bloggers, video, loads of thoughtful news aggregation so you can get your latest Ugandafix, and helpful diaspora services.  These include a store to get Ugandan products, a wire transfer service cheaper than Western Union and Money Gram to send cash to Kampala, and a delivery service to sends gifts to relatives in Uganda using pay pal.

You can follow us on twitter and facebook, and this will help me stay in touch with you (the audience that lifted me up when I was abroad).  Friend UgandansAbroad, or check out some of our twitter feeds at: BugandaKingdom (latest tweets about Buganda), HealthyUganda (latest health news, such as the recent plague threat in Nebbi, and a cancer that interacts with malaria, killing Ugandan kids), and UgandaBusiness.

Suggestions and ideas? Let me know.  E-mail me at rebecca.jane.harshbarger@gmail.com.