I am a fast walker. I walk fast to avoid wasting time. How American of me. Why waste time walking, when I could be enjoying the destination I am heading towards instead?
Unfortunately, that is not how justice systems work. There is no destination to arrive at without the very slow walk of jurisprudence to pave a way. And it is a very slow walk indeed.
A few weeks ago, I was heading back to the office after a lunch break at my house. I was under no time crunch, nevertheless, I was walking full speed back towards the office. Mall walk style. As I turned the last corner of my walk to work, I spotted a group of my Ugandan co-workers in front of me returning from lunch as well. They were about 100 yards ahead and after 30 seconds of speed walking, I realized how quickly I was gaining on them.
I (along with the majority of Americans) am programmed for efficiency, and rushing from place to place was a sign of that.
Ugandans walk slow. Very slow. When I first discovered this cultural norm, I immediately attributed it to the self-convoluted idea that Ugandans had nothing better to do, so they killed time by walking slow. I would see a woman walking slow along the street and I assumed she was likely jobless and aimlessly wandering, or a group of men walking at a glacial pace down a path and I automatically figured they were just intentionally wasting time.
But that is not the case at all. Ugandans are not lazy or full of time to kill, they are smart, intuitive and patient people. Ugandans are exceptional at enjoying moments walking with others or spending time in thought while simply enjoying the afternoon air. They live in a beautiful place, and they are careful and intentional in enjoying its beauty. And unlike Americans, they are not robotically programmed to strive for unattainable efficiency.
So, as I turned the corner and began gaining on my colleagues like a high-speed train hauling itself towards the station, I suddenly hit the brakes. My body didn’t know what had hit it, I am surprised my mind had the strength to force my legs to stand still. As an act of experimental curiosity, I challenged myself to move at the same speed that they were moving in front of me. Then I began to walk, slowly, matching my coworkers, step for step. My feet felt like they were stuck in a thick syrup. Each slow step was more painful that the last. My legs felt frustrated that I was forcing them to walk in such a manner.
I eventually couldn’t take it much longer and I ended up speeding my pace back to the half run speed which I normally walk. My coworkers and I made it to the office gate at the same time and exchanged pleasantries, but the experience left an impact on me.
Fast forward to last week. I am at my desk furiously racing to meet my deadline for a research paper.
After months of research regarding the topic of marital rape in Uganda, I had come to the conclusion in my two-years-of-law-school-educated mind that the marital defense to rape was ripe for overruling.
Boiled down, I had learned that in Uganda, there is impunity within the home. This means that the home is essentially lawless. There are few acts of violence done in a home, between a husband and wife, which could render legal repercussion. In addition to that, the societal norms have desensitized Ugandan women. 70% of Ugandan woman agree with the practice of wife beating. 44.5% of Ugandan women over the age of 15 have been victimized by domestic violence at some point in their lives. Marriage is a defense to the crime of rape both legally, with common law roots tracing back to an English Barrister in 1736, and socially. Women have socially accepted the fact that with marriage comes giving up their right to consent, whether they are feeling tired, whether they had a baby 8 days prior or whether their spouse is HIV positive, they gave up their right to consent the day they were married.
So, when I discussed my research with my female Ugandan co-workers, excited to hear their thoughts about abolishing the marital defense to rape, I was shocked when they disagreed with me.
They did not think the defense was ready to be overruled. “Not yet”, they told me. Our organization was not ready, we have only just begun our new program protecting women and children from violence. Baby steps are necessary, “we must tread lightly”. Infiltrating the societal norms of the home is a process that would take years. The church was not ready, because it would look like we were tearing families apart. And most importantly, Ugandan society was not ready. If a woman reported her husband, where would she go? How would she afford food for her children if her husband was in jail? How would she pay school fees if they got a divorce?
I was utterly defeated. I spent a lot of time dwelling upon those conversations, and dragging my feet. Frustrated and confused and discouraged.
A few days later, while walking (fast as usual) to work, I found some encouragement.
Almost every morning on the road to my office I walk past a mom with three little boys, all three in matching red starched school uniforms. I would approximate their ages all about 11 months apart, in Ugandan style. While Ugandans are good at leisurely walking, they waste no time in having children. Every morning I tell the little family good morning, as they slowly walk past me. The youngest boy still giggles at the sight of my white face. The mom always politely and quietly says good morning back, only shifting her gaze up at me for a split second, before returning it to the red dirt below.
On this particular morning the youngest boy, maybe 4 years old, decided that he would rather follow me in the wrong direction than continue walking towards school with his brothers.
“Come on, keep walking forward,” his mother said to him, “keep walking forward”, she repeated, in a thick Luganda accent.
There it is. There is my hope.
They aren’t walking fast, but they are walking forward. It might not seem like much, but it is something.
While I hope Ugandans never match Americans in our rushed nature or excessive busyness, I am hopeful. Because I hear a mom tell her three boys to keep moving forward. Movement is progress and movement is happening.
Uganda is making progress, Uganda is moving forward. While not as quickly as my American mind desires, it is quick enough to not be overlooked. While I am shocked by the statistics and the societal norms, they are in fact improving. Things are slowly getting better.
Women are lawyers now in this country, I work alongside some of the best every day. Women have equal education opportunities, and while that doesn’t seem like much to our American minds, twenty years ago, I could not have said the same. So yes, its shocking, and yes, change needs to happen, but change is happening. Just because it is happening slower than we like does not mean that it is not happening.
Working in Uganda is the strangest blend of inspiration and defeat. My task is not to get to the finish line while I am here, but rather I should enjoy the scenery and help in any way I can to keep walking forward.
My job is to be faithful, one day at a time, to move forward and to walk alongside my coworkers as they carry this country forward. One step at a time. That is all of our tasks, to be faithful, one (sometimes slow) step forward at a time.
Yes, it can be heartbreaking. Yes, I wish I could change it. Yes, I want to help these women, to know their value and to know their rights. But I have to be faithful even in the baby steps. It is in the slow walk of justice, that the road is paved for lasting change.
WEEKLY UPDATE JUNE 14th, 2019
Days left in the Field: 183
Today was my last day in the IJM Ugandan Field Office. I will spend all of next week in the Ugandan Prisons again, helping clear backlog so innocent prisoners can have their day in court. Please say prayers for safe travels as we head to Northern Uganda. I am looking forward to spending my last week and a half in Uganda seeking the beautiful country side and spending time with my coworkers before I head to the Romania Office to begin work combating human trafficking in Eastern Europe. It is going to be a big adjustment, and I am feeling all sort of emotions, but mainly awe, because God is so good and he has blessed me in so many ways. Thank you for continuing to follow along on this journey, I am so grateful for your support and encouragement. I could not do it without each one of you.