I stand at the edge of a busy two lane road. Cars zipping past me in both directions, boda boda motorcycle taxis zipping past even quicker. The poorly paved road, named after my neighborhood, is the main road in this part of Kampala, Uganda. This busy road full of cars and bodas, stands between me and the local produce market. The setting African sun tells me I am in a hurry. My head on a swivel, I look both ways, cars zip by too quickly for me to cross. Head still on a swivel, I notice a man walking on my side of the road. I switch my bag to the opposite shoulder and cover it with my arm, it is an empty bag to fill with produce, but the instinctual habit is too deeply engrained. Head on a swivel, a boda zips past me, only a foot from my face with four people on board. The man to my right looks both ways and begins to cross. The same man who just instilled fear in me is now instilling confidence in my street crossing abilities. I look to see traffic letting up on the left and follow his lead. Cars still zipping on the right, one slows to make a turn, holding the rest up and I manage to cross safely. I take a deep breath.
Walking into the bustling Kampala market I find produce at my usual stall, peppers, mango, onion and tomato. I buy eggs, which the stall worker gently stacks in a black plastic bag. I slip out of the market, the sky is a dark orange now, the sun no longer visible. My head back on a swivel, I have to cross all over again—and this time not only my life, but 18 fresh eggs are at stake.
The concept of yielding to pedestrians is unheard of in this postcolonial country. Minimal amounts of law enforcement or traffic police make Uganda’s road some of the deadliest in the world. British colonization began in 1890, when the continent of Africa was divided up by white men, and Uganda was declared a country. Within this new country lived 56 tribes and 9 indigenous communities, none of whom desired unification. The result was chaos. While the British ruled, there was some small semblance of order, due to an abuse of violence and force, but upon independence from British Rule in 1962, chaos consumed the law enforcement sector of Uganda. Lack of funding, understaffing, and corruption continue to keep law and order from fully establishing. Uganda is currently the 15thpoorest country in the world, colonialism and its chaotic effects still linger after more than 55 years.
Two months later and I now stand on the side of the road in Bucharest, Romania. The paved road is lacking pot holes and speed bumps, which often slowed down drivers in Kampala, so cars fly past me faster than before. The road is impassable, but down the block 50 meters there appears to be a cross walk. I make my way down the street towards the passing point. With no stop lights nearby, I am still confused how I will ever manage crossing. As I wait on the side of the road by the cross walk, an intoxicated homeless man stumbles towards me. I switch my bag to the opposite shoulder on the same instinct instilled in me in Uganda. I step out of his path. He is walking straight towards the cross walk. The tiny European cars continue to fly past. There is no break in the traffic, but the man does not waiver his stumbling stride. As he steps out onto the street, the cars come to a screeching halt. Stopping four lanes of traffic, he crosses safely. After him, a young woman dressed professionally and an elderly woman with a scarf tied around her head also cross. I stand still on the side of the road, staring at the cars in confusion. None of the drivers seemed impatient or bothered, they all just yielded and then continued on. I dared to try it now, stepping out wide and hesitating, but then the first tiny car came to a halt, followed by the next, and the next, and soon enough I am safely on the other side of the road.
Unlike Uganda, laws are rigid and widely enforced in Romania. Penalties are high, and police presence is as well. The fear of law enforcement is in many ways an aftereffect of communism. Romania was under communist rule from 1948 until 1989. Thirty years later and even with its rule following society, Romania is the tenth poorest country in Europe.
Post-communism juxtaposed with postcolonialism reveals the societal differences and similarities that remain as aftereffects of the two distinct political concepts. While the countries lie at opposite ends of the spectrum in regards to law and order, they both similarly struggle with corruption, exploitation and poverty.
The children begging in the streets, both in Uganda and in Romania, are likely being forced to beg by pimps who keep the money the children earn. The battered wife, on the run, that blends in with the homeless on the street, is the same. Legal systems in Ugandan and Romania both do not protect married women from violent acts being committed against them by their husbands (on paper they both do, but neither actually do in practice). Job agencies in Uganda and Romania, which promise a better life working in a foreign country, are often schemes set up to traffic and exploit the poor. And in both countries, poverty can be so bad that some women choose or are coerced in to working in the sex industry just to feed themselves and their children.
The countries are different. One lived under communism, one lived under British rule. One is tropical and warm year-round, the other has four extreme seasons. Romania’s proximity to the western world has its advantages. My transition from postcolonial Uganda to the post-communist Romania has been enjoyable in regards to having some of my western comforts back. My main example-- I can now cross the street without fear of being run over. I can also eat a salad that won’t give me food poisoning, and I can go to Starbucks for an afternoon pick me up.
And while there are many benefits of living in Europe as compared to Africa, I pray that those benefits do not blind me from seeing the tragedies that still lay all around me. I pray that the differences do not keep me from seeing the similarities.
Pray with me. Pray for this mission. Pray for all God is doing in Romania and in Uganda and all over the world. Pray for the woman who feels like there is no other option, for the child who is force to beg, for the man who is promised a better life, then tricked into servitude. Pray for the poor and the oppressed, of Romania, of Uganda, and of the world. God is doing big things, and He is good, no matter the continent.
AUGUST 13 UPDATE:
IJM Romania is official!! Last week we received official foundation status from the Romanian government. We have been working to attain this status for over six months. This is good news for visa purposes and work purposes and even wifi purposes (yes, we could not get wifi for the office until we were registered officially). Praise God for this news!
In regards to my legality of stay, it is still a complicated situation and nothing is certain, but our attorneys have a solid plan and as long as everything goes smoothly, I should have no problem staying here for the amount of time I was originally supposed to. Please be praying that everything goes as planned!
Unfortunately, I do have to leave Romania for a few weeks to avoid overstaying my visa, then I can come back and apply for an extension. I will be working from the IJM UK office for a few weeks at the end of September/ beginning of October. While this was very unplanned, and an unexpected cost, I am excited for the opportunity to spread the word of what IJM is doing in Romania with our advancement office in London and with some key fundraising partners/government partners in the UK. I will still be working full time doing all of my normal research as a legal clerk for my boss in Romania, just remotely from the UK office until I can return.
God is so good and he has answered so many prayers. Thank you for following along and continuing to pray for me and the IJM teams globally. Your support means so much to me.
Days left in the field: 106