Posted by: howvoicebegan | 29/08/2013

Looking Back

I’ve been back in the US for about a week now, and two weeks removed removed from Uganda.  My head has been spinning with theories, thoughts, observations, research and notes on all things related to nutrition in Uganda. It was time to step back and think about other things for awhile (“Isn’t life more than food?”) before looking back at what actually happened over the past two months.  Now it is time to do so.

Before I left for Uganda, I wrote out my goals: to uplift what they already know, to discuss barriers of nutrition, and to turn this research into a tool that community leaders could use to raise the nutritional status of the community.  Honestly I thought it was a rather lofty project before I left, but I thought I could at least try it out and see how far it got.

God really pulled together the knowledge of the villagers in a way that I never could have on my own. I asked for wisdom and He gave me ears to hear what they were saying about their health and how food relates to it. Ultimately this allowed me to create a flowchart of their health belief model and explain food and nutrition from their belief system without ever needing to use foreign words like “protein.” And it also helped teach me a few things about nutrition as I started to research particular foods; they had an understanding of how foods relate to health in a way that I hadn’t seen before, even after spending years of studying food myself!

However, just as quickly as a model was created to explain their health beliefs, it became apparent that they were nowhere close to practicing what they believed. The common theme that came out of this was, “I have no choice.” The village is very remote with few opportunities to make money as well as few opportunities to access a variety of foods, especially the ones that they prize as the healthiest.  This confirmed what I believed before stepping foot on that red clay soil: God had already given them wisdom about nutrition and health, and that discrepancies between beliefs and practices were caused by other barriers, not by a lack of knowledge.

However, the third goal was the hardest to achieve.  Although I was able to talk to community leaders, we were unable to get anything solid established due to a lack of time, resources, and language barriers. In some ways this is very disappointing because I didn’t want to walk away with a goldmine of research and knowledge and leave nothing behind.  Yet at the same time I believe God purposed it to end this way.  I believe He has different “next steps” for me regarding my research and other ways that it can be used to empower the villagers and have a positive impact on their lives and health. 

It’s been a good summer.  It started with 5 earthquakes, ended with no water, and in between was rich with blessing, hard work, and an unveiling of God at work around the world.  But I think next time I’ll bring my husband!

Posted by: howvoicebegan | 14/08/2013

Blessings From the Village

It has become the cliché of short-term missions to say, “I went thinking I would have something to give, but I ended up receiving far more.” This has sparked discussion in the short-term missions crowd about who is actually the real beneficiaries from all the time, money, and effort expended on missions trips. Nevertheless, it is easy to see why nearly everyone comes back saying that they gained more than they gave. After all, it is a lot easier to see change in an individual than in a community, so the appearance is that the benefit was to the individual over a harder-to-measure community. 

 
So I want to take this time to accept that the same is true for me, too, and that it is good to reflect on and embrace the blessings I have received during my time in Uganda. I never want to forget the work of The Lord in me during these past 6 weeks. He has used Uganda to speak to me particularly about industriousness and generosity. 
 
There is hardly an idle moment that passes by a Ugandan woman in a village. Between harvesting crops, mothering, food prep and cooking, cleaning, washing, scrubbing, and sweeping, a woman finds her day filled with labor-intensive chores. Everything in the home is immaculate, spotless, and ready for a visitor at any moment. As soon as the chores are done, it is just in time to do them again. Yet when you compliment her on her nonstop energy and hard work, she shrugs it off; this is not because she can’t take the compliment, but because it is so much a part of daily life that it’s like complimenting somebody for dressing themselves. It was deeply convicting to me of the level at which I could work yet choose not to. It also brings new enlightenment on the Bible’s words on work: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, NIV). Nowhere is this more true than where a person’s labor is directly related to the amount they eat. Ugandan women really know what it means to be a Proverbs 31 wife!
 
In addition to being industrious, Ugandans know a secret about God that allows for their endless generosity. Well, it’s not that it is a real secret, as it has been revealed to all of us. Rather, they just get the truth of generosity in a way that we don’t. The secret to generosity is resting in the promise of God’s provision. Jesus told us it is useless to worry about what we will have when God provides for even the lilies and sparrows (Matthew 6:25-34). Instead, having “only my daily bread” (Proverbs 30:8) keeps us in proper relationship with God. We can easily have knowledge about God’s provision, but it is not until you have no food or water that you can give of it even more generously when you do- because it was not by your hands that it came to you. Ugandans know that God’s hand gives out of blessing, not out of obligation. When God is the one putting food on your table, you can easily afford to give more generously; after all, His pockets run far deeper than ours. 
 

God has taught me a lot over the past several weeks, and I have yet more to reflect on in the upcoming weeks as I begin exploring the depths of a thesis paper. I continue to pray that the blessings I have received in Uganda will be evident in my life and will in turn be a blessing to others in the same way. 

Posted by: howvoicebegan | 27/07/2013

Full Circle Food Justice

In the past month that I have been here, I feel as though the theme of food justice has come up in a few different ways. There is evidence in the village and in my life, and implications for both.

The evidence in the village revolves around one central theme of having no options. In listening to the people, I have been hearing a lot about knowledge of health and nutrition, but with the caveat of "I have no option." Part of the reason for this is the cost of food and accessibility for the foods that they don’t grow. Variety, although prized for health, is not a real option as they expressed. I’m not even talking about eating Chinese food tonight and Italian tomorrow, but rather no options–sometimes even for vegetables– beyond beans and a choice starch.

In the village, we have talked about a lack of variety. We’ve talked about it from a health standpoint. We’ve talked about it as a symptom to larger problems of low income and low crop yields. We’ve talked about solutions from many different angles. It’s a great start to a process that will take many seasons to come to fruition, but solutions are being unveiled.

Through all of this, God has been showing me what He thinks about food justice issues and its evidence and implications for my life, too. Proverbs 21:3 says, "To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." In my context this says a lot. I can’t expect to feel good–or excused– from doing what is right because of a sacrifice I have made elsewhere. That is to say, God desires for my food actions to be just and right at home more so than He wants 2 months in Uganda.

There is a lot going on in our deeply broken food system. It is marred by slavery and unfair wages, environmental destruction and homogeneity, and living off excesses of food at the expense of hunger of others. All of these I can easily contribute to with my choices of food.

As I traveled through rural Uganda on a boda-boda (a motorcycle used as a private taxi) I passed many small coffee farms. Farmers and their children waved to me as I passed, either to say hello or goodbye. I wondered how much profit they really see from a 99 cent coffee– or a $5 coffee for that matter. With money necessary for paying distributors, roasters, packers, shippers, tariffs, employee wages at the coffee stand, manager and owner wages, and overhead costs of running a stand, what fraction of a penny represents the payment received by the source of it all, the farmer? The Bible says, "Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen in your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of The Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter" (James 5:4-5, NIV).

Furthermore, the Bible says, "Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies….You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments" (Proverbs 23:6,8, NIV). The food of these stingy men– those who cheat farmers of a decent crop price– is not worth the indulgence.

Israel’s problem in the time of exile was their lavishness for themselves but abandonment of the vulnerable (Isaiah 3:16-23; Isaiah 58; Isaiah 3:14). The faithful city had become a harlot for the world, indulging its pleasures and exploiting the poor!

How are we in the North any different? We are parading around, adorned in our excesses, being gluttons of the hard labor of the underpaid and enslaved who work hard hours only to not be able to afford even the basics of a healthy diet for their family. And we are fattening ourselves on such things, as James spoke of!

We have excess and we have an excess of excess. We purchase, consume, and waste more food than humanity has ever encountered before. And while we have an excess of choice and quantity, the farmers are saying, "I have no option."

"Do what is right and just, for this is more acceptable to The Lord than sacrifice." To me this means thanking God for revealing my wrongs of mindless excess. It means making changes in the home and the way we view food– not as an infinite commodity at our disposal, but as a God-given resource of sustenance both as food and as income. We already know how God feels about injustice– let’s act on His will to "stop doing wrong, learn to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed" (Isaiah 1:16-17, NIV).

Posted by: howvoicebegan | 10/07/2013

You Have Land, I Have Groceries

I have already spent over a week in Uganda and I have much to consider from my time spent thus far. There was one experience in particular that I felt captures quite well the framework I must keep in mind during the remainder of my weeks here.

As is common on trips to Africa, there are "down" days. A typical American might consider them a waste of time, but if properly prepared for they can be true gems used for building relationships, reflecting, or meditating on God’s Word. It was one of those down days when it was announced we were going to go visit someone, and we headed off through the valley separating us from the house of a man named Gabe (name changed).

Working mainly through an interpretor, he asked questions about life in America: do we learn Luganda in school? He was surprised to find out we don’t. Do we have matooke (plantains) in America? Or cassava? After a series of no’s his disbelieving face seemed to ask, "Then what do you eat in America?" He asked how many cows I had and when I said none, he asked, "But you have money? How do you have money without having cows?"

We have a term for this– ethnocentrism, which is looking at the world through the lens of your own culture. Often students and development practitioners are trained that ethnocentrism is bad and must be thrown out in order to use the best practices, as sometimes our cultural lens is used to judge between two cultures and compare that one is superior to another. But ethnocentrism is unavoidable; it is impossible to completely remove yourself from your cultural standpoint, especially because you can’t even see what was culturally bred into your thoughts and actions.

In his view, Gabe cannot imagine a world where Luganda is not spoken or a world where a distant grocery store provides food more than a plantain bunch cut off with a machete. And he is not wrong for his assumptions about the cows I raise or the cassava I harvest from my garden because it is so much a part of his worldview that he can’t see anything outside it.

Instead of it being a hindrance I have realized that local ethnocentrism can be harnessed as a tool for empowerment. The types of views that people hold, whether "How can there not be plantains in America?" or "How can they live without more food variety?" speaks much about what is important to a society. Worldviews can reveal themes and symbols that form identities of people, communities, and societies.

In my work my challenge is to bring out ethnocentrism to better understand the perspectives, beliefs, and identities that people hold regarding food and nutrition. I can then find out why certain foods are so central or valuable to both producers and consumers. If I try to neutralize their ethnocentricity, I may never find the value of food in a community and will be left with unrevealing questions centered on, "Why don’t they do things our way?"

So this will be my focus in the upcoming weeks. My goal is to embrace the lens of the people here as the only lens that can reveal their story. It is the lens that can uplift, empower, and guide. And it is the lens I must use if I want to know what they know.

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