This is Also Africa

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When you hear the word “Uganda” what do you think about? When you think about Africa, what pictures pop into your head? While some of us have been to the African continent and experienced it’s nations first hand, many of us have formulated ideas and notions of what we think Africa is like.

Our Ember Arts jewelry designer Emily lives in the Uganda’s capital Kampala. She is always sharing with us about her adventures and experiences living and working in Uganda. Recently she has been posting pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #africaisalsothis revealing the upscale, glamorous, modern and artistic side of Uganda.

Today we asked her to share on the blog some of her experiences with the other side of life in Uganda.

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A couple of weeks ago, I met my roommates at a little cafe after work, where I ordered a couscous, grilled vegetable, and halloumi cheese salad. While we waited for the food, I logged into their free wifi and Instagrammed a photo of their cool rustic wood wall with a map of the world painted on it.

 

Bistro, Kampala

After dinner, we walked across the road to the mall, which houses a two-story 3D movie theater. A European style restaurant and bakery shares its outdoor dining space with the theater entrance, and to enter is like passing through an olifactory gauntlet. Fresh breads, croissants, and cakes filled the air with a buttery warmth, mixing with the candied sweetness of fresh gelato and bitter earthiness of expresso.

Up the escalator and past a boutique featuring the work of internationally recognized local fashion designers, the lights of the theater shine brightly, advertising newly released Hollywood films. Tickets cost only $4 for the Monday matinee, and a small line is already forming in the lobby. A young woman with bright red lipstick leans lazily across the counter next to the popcorn machine, waiting for customers.

Acacia Mall, Kampala

I don’t go to the theater very often, but for some, that’s just a typical Monday night in Uganda.

Judging by the western world’s panicked response to Ebola, most of us have a very incomplete picture of life on the African continent. It is true that there are small towns and villages with poor access to sanitation, information, and medical care, where outbreaks spread easily due to misinformation and poor resources. But here in Uganda, the airport quickly instituted a health screening for arriving passengers, and everyone carried on with life as usual.

Uganda has its fair share of slums and poverty, and much of the population still lives in remote villages, depending on rain and soil for the fields of corn and plantains that build their diet. But things are rapidly changing. More and more of those farmers get crop price updates via text message or an app, and pay one another with a few presses of a button through mobile money on their phones. In the cities, government workers and wealthy business owners dine in the hotel gardens and discuss the latest Tom Brown novel. Young people work their way through law school, arrange TEDx events and performance art pieces, and meet their friends for happy hour at a trendy new wine bar after a busy day at work. They speak three or four languages, and slip easily back-and-forth between English, Luganda, and their own tribal tongues.

It’s this latter Uganda that represents the future of the nation, as technology closes the gaps of geography and information. Though we may tend to idealize grass roofed huts and village farms, many contemporary Ugandans are choosing modern technology and lifestyles for themselves, blended with the best and most vibrant parts of their own culture. They envision their country competing well on an international level, and many, especially the youth, have the ideas and the drive to take it there.

A couple of years ago, Ember Arts brought a few of the women from our partner co-op to visit one of the malls as part of the preparation for a photoshoot. Most hadn’t realized they were allowed to go inside and walk around any time they wanted to, and had never seen such clean and bright shops before.

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Living on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital city, our artisans are often on the outskirts of these changes as well. Their children, though, have grown up with cell phones and Facebook just like American youth. In partnering with these women, we hope that the money they spend on educating their kids gives those children the resources they need to participate as equals in a changing world.

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Uganda is a beautiful nation, it’s people progressive, creative, tenacious and full of hope. We at Ember Arts are privileged to live in, work from, and partner with such a place as Uganda. #africaisalsothis

Read more about Emily’s story here.

Shop jewelry handmade by our Ugandan artisans here.

Lindsay Branham Helps Child Soldiers Find Home Again

 We’re giving 50% of our online sales for one month to Lindsay’s Mobile Cinema project. Shop here.Lindsay Branham, Ember Hero

Shooting was stalled, and Lindsay Branham and her team of New York filmmakers were stuck in a village in the struggling and beautiful Republic of South Sudan. Their production schedule demanded action, but local government officers were threatening to shut them down completely. They had come to film a story about an abducted child soldier returning home, not for Sundance or box office glory, but as a tool to help people in Central Africa recover from the very real abductions and violence they had endured at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

“In the shadowlands of pain and despair we find slow, dark beauty,” wrote Irish Poet John O’Donohue, in a quote Lindsay shared with me by email. “Beauty,” he continued, “triumphs over the suffering inherent in life.” In the LRA’s ongoing brutality in Central Africa, Lindsay found staggering depths of pain. She brought the film crew to capture the triumph of reconciliation and healing, of beauty, and to help it along.

The LRA is notorious for abducting children and forcing them to commit violent acts against their own families and communities. Lindsay and her partners, including the Congolese organization SAIPED, create beautiful short films that capture these traumas, and that illustrate a path to recovery. Together with techniques like role playing and community discussion, these films help people, families, and communities navigate the emotional minefield of losing their children and, sometimes, seeing theme escape and return home. She calls it the Mobile Cinema project, and she created it as part of her work with Discover the Journey, a non-profit network of media makers and storytellers that works to change the lives of children in conflict.

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“After the very last meeting, when we were told we would not be able to continue the project, I walked out to our car and finally just cried,” said Lindsay. They had already cast villagers for the film, and she felt that she was letting them down, along with their whole community.

When she got back to the village she called a community meeting with the cast to break the news. One by one, cast members expressed their sadness. Samson, the young teenage boy who’d been cast in the lead role, started to cry. His brother had been abducted by the LRA and was still missing, he said. He saw his role in the film as a way to honor his brother by helping others who’d been through his trauma.

“To make meaning from [pain] was something sacred,” said Lindsay, “and I hadn’t seen that or predicted how deeply people would want that until we were there sitting in the grass saying we were leaving.”

They had eleven days left for a shoot that needed three weeks. The next morning they flew from South Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo and started auditions that afternoon. “Thankfully,” said Lindsay, “the actors we ended up working with in Congo showed the same level of zeal and excitement for the vision. And it only communicated to me just how much people want to be agents in their own healing process.” They shot into early mornings and, with the help of a heroic Congolese producer and translator, finished a film about a child soldier’s tumultuous return to the home he’d been ripped away from, a film that will promote healing throughout the region.

In a conversation that spanned a number of emails and a rainy-day interview in Uganda, I asked Lindsay why it’s worth it to her to engage with such painful stories, to really care about these people and so to take on an element of their suffering.

I keep myself open to pain, and beauty in pain, because I loose my own humanity if I don’t,” said Lindsay. “If it’s the natural rhythm of life to die and live and die and live and die and live—our cells are constantly dying and being regenerated, plants are dying and being regenerated, that seems to be the cycle, the way our world functions—do we not also have to have our own souls and hearts die in order to fully live?

Shop our brand new products by December 11 and we’ll donate 50% of your purchase to support Lindsay’s work. And see Lindsay’s first Mobile Cinema film here.