Gay Porn in Church

22 02 2010

Check out this recent article from Associate Press:

Ugandan anti-gay pastor airs gay porn in church

The Associated Press

Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010 | 12:28 a.m.

A Ugandan pastor is showing gay pornography at church to try to garner support for a proposed law that would impose the death penalty for some gays.

Martin Ssempa showed the videos to some 100 adults during a church service Wednesday in Uganda’s capital.

He says he plans to show the films regularly to educate churchgoers on gay sex and also plans to show the videos to parliamentarians. He says some churchgoers cried after watching the videos, which he said he downloaded from the Internet.

Ugandan gay rights activist Julian Peppe condemned Ssempa’s decision to show pornography in church, saying he should be arrested and needs mental rehabilitation.

The proposed bill has sparked protests in London, New York and Washington.

I have been accused of having a sometimes sick sense of humor, but I just think this is beautiful.  Ssempa is one of the biggest campaigners here for the proposed law that would provide the death penalty for “serial homosexuals.”  He thinks that showing these videos in church will awaken people to the horrors of what is in store for Uganda if gay people are allowed to live.

But what if it doesn’t work that way?  What if the people who watch these videos become…well…turned on?  What if showing these videos ignites some latent homosexual tendencies in people who have never had the opportunity to explore that side of themselves?  Studies have shown that about 1 in 7 people are homosexual to one extent or another.  That means that, statistically, in Ssempa’s crowd of 100, about 14 people might enjoy those videos even more than the rest.  I would say that most homosexuals in Uganda are deeply closeted, for obvious reasons, but what if watching these videos makes them curious about exploring their homosexuality?

I have a feeling that Ssempa’s efforts will backfire.  In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I have to leave for church.


Crackdown in Kampala

15 02 2010

Boda-bodas impounded at Jinja Circle

Last week the Uganda Police impounded over 1,400 boda-bodas, and the number is rising.  Bodas are the ubiquitous motorcycle taxis that are able to weave between the rest of traffic, providing efficiency in exchange for the occasional near-death experience.  In Rwanda this is an industry that is very closely regulated, with permits, safety helmets (for both driver and passenger), and reflective vests required for every boda. In Uganda the requirements are essentially the same, but the enforcement of them has been, ummm… looser, partly because the 60,000 of them in Kampala represent a significant voting bloc.

The Uganda Police for some reason have decided it is now time to start cracking down, so with no notice they began pulling over boda drivers and confiscating their motorcycles if they did not have all of the requirements.  Now, I will be the first to admit that boda drivers are the rebels of urban Uganda, and I believe many of them take some pride in flaunting laws whenever possible.  At the same time, when you combine the costs of the permits, helmets and vest, the total comes to about 400,000 shillings, or about $200USD.  That is a decent monthly salary here, and significantly more than a teacher or police officer makes in this country.  Not an easy amount to come up with for someone who is hustling rides for 500 or 1,000 shillings each, particularly the week after school started when any of them with children just paid out all of their savings for school fees.  And now the unlucky ones who got caught have just lost their livelihoods.

I’m not saying the enforcement of the regulations is bad. A friend of mine was knocked unconscious in a boda crash a couple of months ago and by the time he woke up his shoes and wallet had been stolen, the driver was gone and he had a nasty headache.  Helmets are good, and permits can be good if the money is used to promote safety and environmental improvements such as reduced emissions from the motorcycles.  Some controls on the industry are necessary.

The issue I see here that cuts across the lives of people living in poverty around the world is the difficulty of coming up with 400,000 shillings (or whatever the currency happens to be) all at one time. People who come to Kampala and take taxis to get around are surprised initially that every time they get in a cab, the first stop is always a gas station.  Your first thought is that it is a coincidence until it happens again, and again, and… and then suddenly you realize they are just putting in enough fuel to get you to your destination and no farther.  They will do the same with their next client if they get one.  The story is repeated with people struggling to get just enough food for the next meal, just enough money to pay the rent this month, just enough school fees to send your most promising son to school.  There is no possibility of having a “buffer” in case something goes wrong.  My mother-in-law, who has spent much of the last six years in Uganda, has a term for this.  She calls it Life by Increments.

This is why it is so difficult to get out of extreme poverty, and it explains the power of microfinance.  You can change a person’s life in the developing world with $50.  Not because they can’t earn $50 on their own, but because they can’t get it all at one time due to the demands of feeding a family, paying school fees, obligations to extended family, buying necessary medicine, etc.  It is difficult for those of us who have never lived in extreme poverty (living on less than $1 per day, and being in a position where you could, potentially, starve to death) to understand this day-by-day existence and the stresses it puts you under, particularly if you have children you need to feed.

There are certainly plenty of boda drivers in Kampala who have just been bucking the rules because they could – because nobody was checking.  And then there are those who can’t quite pull together the amount they need to meet the requirements.  The police should have put the word out three months ago that everyone had to be in compliance by February.  That would have at least given them time to try to save up the money and get into compliance.  By turning it into a sudden sting operation, many are taking even more risks on the road to avoid the police, and Kampala now has at least 1,400 more unemployed young men to deal with.

For more:

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Tapping Into Twilight Mania

9 02 2010

Werewolves are cool.  And by extension, now, Quileutes are cool also.  But it might be time for them to sharpen their claws a bit.  A recent article in the New York Times by Angela Riley exposes the fact that while many people are profiting from Quileute culture right now, the tribe is not.

For those of you who have somehow avoided the Twilight phenomenon, it is a series of four books about vampires and werewolves written by Stephanie Meyers.  The stories are set on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State in the U.S., in the small post-logging town of Forks and the nearby Quileute Indian Reservation town of La Push.

For some reason the books have struck a chord for women of all ages, and Twilight frenzy is at a fever pitch.  Between the books, the two movies that have already been released, and all of the related merchandise, the Twilight Empire is worth something in the neighborhood of a billion dollars.  The towns of Forks and La Push have been inundated by pilgrims, and some people are reaping the rewards by opening Twilight-related retail stores, building Twilight-themed hotel rooms, and leading tours of the main sites in the books.

But not everybody is reaping the rewards.  Riley’s article is titled Sucking the Quileute Dry (a not-so veiled reference to the vampire diet and, in my mind, a vote for Team Jacob).  She talks about the fact that the Quileute community, a small tribe of about 700 people living on an even smaller piece of land perched between the Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, has not benefitted financially from their newfound popularity.  One of the heroes of the story is Jacob, a young Quileute who turns into a werewolf to fight the “bad vampires” (as opposed to the “good vampires” who are the other heroes in the story) along with other members of his generation to fulfill a duty from their fictional (Stephanie-created) creation myth.  According to Riley, this has made all things Quileute very profitable.  Except to the Quileute.

Before Twilight existed, La Push was one of my family’s favorite vacation spots.  We would rent a cabin on the reservation near the beach and spend our days walking the shoreline and hiking in the forest.  We would eat at the one restaurant when it was open, and buy canned beans from the gas station when it wasn’t.  Basically, there wasn’t a whole lot of commerce in La Push, and many of the Quileute continue to struggle to support themselves.

Riley points out that the tribe should have a right to control of their cultural property and that they should be benefitting from this economic explosion while it lasts.  What surprised me are the suggestions she made as to how they should benefit.  She talked about “profit-sharing” with those who are using the Quileute name or designs.  She said they should “play a role in decisions regarding their cultural property.”  And in referring to the tours and merchandise, she stated that “The tribe has received no payment for this commercial activity.”

There was no mention of them opening up their own store with Quileute merchandise to sell so that they could keep all of the profits.  No mention of them running their own tours so that they could correct some of the misinformation about their tribe that comes out in the books and show the Olympic Peninsula from their view and their history.  No mention of them opening their own cultural heritage center that could genuinely educate visitors about their culture and generate revenue and jobs for the community.  They could even play off the brilliant marketing ploy of “Team Edward” vs. “Team Jacob” by advertising the fact that true members of Team Jacob would only take a tour that originates in La Push or buy from a Quileute-owned store.

Why should the Quileute be negotiating for the scraps of the huge profits that are being made off their culture?  And for that matter, they don’t even just need to focus on their culture – they can show Forks High School, where Bella and the Vampires met, just as well as any white tour guide.  Why shouldn’t they be tapping into this opportunity at every level?

Which brings me to another question:  Of the 700 members of the Quileute tribe, did none of them see the potential here?  Did any of them think to capitalize on this?  If they have, then it didn’t make it into Riley’s article.  If they haven’t, then why not?  Is it a problem with the tribal school?  I don’t believe it is an issue of not wanting to sell cultural items – the place where I used to rent the cabin had a small shop that sold sweatshirts, mugs, etc with Quileute designs on them.  Have they scaled up?  While I don’t think the Quileute should be negotiating for the scraps, I also don’t think they should be waiting for the scraps.

I am not a business person, and I don’t see business as the answer to every problem as some people do.  However, you have a very poor community here that has millions of dollars swirling around it, and it seems like a shame for them not to grab some of it.  Angela Riley, the author of the article, states that she “has informally advised the Quileute tribe on a voluntary basis.”  I hope that she has advised them to go beyond “profit sharing” with Nordstrom and to develop their own businesses to bring in much-needed income and jobs to their community.

Avatar – More of the Same

23 01 2010

It seems like almost a requirement for anybody with an environmental blog to write something about Avatar, and it is probably sacrilegious for me to suggest that there is nothing new about it.

Obviously I am not talking about the technology or the special effects.  Those are amazing, and I can now rank as one of the biggest challenges of living in Uganda the fact that I can’t see it in 3D here.

What I am referring to is Einstein’s assertion that we can’t solve a problem from the same level of thinking that caused the problem in the first place.  I am always happy to see a movie where “people” who are lovers of nature are the good guys.  However, once again, we are told that the only way for “good” to win is to be just as violent and bloody as the “enemy.”

Another thing we are taught is that it is the outsider who must come in with the inspiration and the answers to protect the indigenous people’s rights and lands.  There are parallels to this all over the aid and development world, with the “white savior” complex running rampant.

Am I wrong?  Is violent conflict the only solution in any situation where there is a conflict of values or two different groups competing for a single resource?

Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. both seemed to believe that there is another way.  I would like to think that both of their movements were incredibly successful and changed the level of thinking around human rights.  Maybe things are different today, the “bad” people have more guns, and it is necessary to fight fire with fire. 

But I hope not.  I hope that someday the environmental movement will have leaders with the same courage and wisdom that Ghandi and MLK had in abundance.

In the meantime, let’s not be deceived into thinking that Avatar is transformative in any substantive way beyond the technical.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala