OTA Volunteer Gina Efstathio in Bristol, Quebec Canada
As a Canadian, I can relate to the frustration of silly stereotypes. Contrary to popular belief, Canada’s people do not all live in igloos, drive dog sleds, or eat mountains of Tim Horton’s donuts (ok, that one might be true). The narratives of polite, peace loving, moose hunting, parka wearing folks, who end every sentence with “eh”, are silly, and sometimes annoying.
While I admit I may say “eh” on occasion, and it is true that it does snow in winter, it is also true that many parts of Canada enjoy long summers, which can be very sunny and hot. The interior of British Columbia enjoys both a climate and landscape that are world renowned. Unfortunately, the province is also known for its marijuana trade. That does not mean that if you travel to Canada you will be caught up in a drug war, just as travel to Uganda doesn’t mean you will be kidnapped or at risk. The notion that Canadians are all snow shoeing around, hugging our health care cards, playing hockey, and drinking maple syrup is not only ridiculous, but drives most Canadians nuts(there goes the theory that we are ALL easy going).
After many trips to Uganda, I laugh at how crazy some of the preconceived notions I had before my first visit were. All I had to go by were the stories of the Idi Amn years, the war in the north, the HIV crisis, the scams and corruption. I now know that Uganda is so much more than the incomplete picture I had because of those stereotypes. It is not that these things did not happen, but they do not define the country, or its people.
Most Ugandans I have come to know are gracious and lovely. I have learned that while it is true that Idi Amin was a brutal dictator, there were so many other Ugandans during that time who stood up for what was honorable and just; I want to hear those stories. These were brilliant men and women, who loved their country, and would not stand silently by during that terrible time.
I do not know what it is like to live in extreme poverty, to be truly hungry, to live in exile, or be a victim of war and violence. But, I do want to listen and learn from those who have lived those realities. I know that like Canada, or any other place in the world, Uganda is so much more than the stories we read and the labels it has been assigned. I suspect that the hardships many have suffered in Uganda are worse than I could ever imagine. However, I believe that the intrinsic beauty of the land and its people are best seen and felt through the heart, not the western media.
Check out the link below for some comic relief about African stereotypes.