This is Also Africa

fair trade jewelry

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.

Partner Update: Gladies’ New Business

Join our contest on Pinterest to win a Mabira Necklace!gladies_portraitGladies is one of our first partners, which means she’s been working with us for the last five years. We affectionately refer to her as ‘Special Teams’ because she’s smart, dependable, and can get just about anything done. Recently she made a big step towards her dreams by starting her own small business.

Gladies fled from her family home in Amuru, an area in northern Uganda, about a decade ago during the civil war. When she first arrived in the Acholi Quarters community of Uganda’s capital city it was only a collection of mud huts around a stone quarry, where men, women, and children could do hard labor for about $1 per day. That’s what Gladies did to pull her family through.

These days Acholi Quarters is looking a lot better, and so is Gladies’ family. She has three children, and she’s paying for all of them to attend good local schools, an expensive feat in Uganda’s capital.

cover_gladies_smallAnd now Gladies is using her earnings from Ember Arts to expand her earning potential, too. She recently traveled back to Amuru and bought a rice milling machine, and rented a place in a big trading center to collect, mill, and sell rice. Farmers come for miles around to sell their harvest to her.

She partnered with her brother in the business, so now his family is benefiting, too. And they have big plans for the future.

Gladies and her brother plan to put up their own commercial building in the trading center, a place where they can process and store not just rice, but other crops, too. Building, she says, will start in December.

Like most of our partners here in Uganda, Gladies wants to eventually move back to her family home. With the money she’s earned and skills she’s learned as an Ember partner, she’s well on her way to accomplishing that dream.