Day one back in Jinja, Uganda. We took the long ride from Kampala to Jinja. Taking in all the sights, smells, and sounds that are oh so familiar, it felt like no time had passed. It has been over 2 years since my last journey but the memories, feelings and emotions all came rushing back. This trip would be a bit different than the ones in the past, more patient to the slower pace and more understanding of organic change, I am going into this trip with a different mindset. Not all problems will be solved, not all products will be developed, and not all change should come quickly.
My first meeting took place in Akello Betty’s compound. After wondering around the town of Walukuba, waiting for someone to recognize me and push me in the right direction of the meeting, I was spotted and pulled into a different Betty’s home. Preforming the traditional back and forth greeting is one of the cultural aspects I miss about Uganda the most. One hug on each side of the body and if they miss you dearly the process repeats. Lastly, a handshake and if there is only one person to greet maybe holding hands for the next 15 mins or so. The feeling of connection, love, and respect is immediate.
Luckily, there were only 10 women at the first meeting so greeting only took about 10 mins. The greeting continued with asking about Mummy and Daddy and of course my sister and business partner. It felt like we were picking up right where we left off. The meeting continued with discussing the order I had placed about 1 month back, the largest order yet. The problem was supply. Not enough recycled straps to finish the order. After discussing our multiple supply sources, it seems a conversation that had not been had openly until now, we decided I would go flirt with the men at Nytil Factory. Our plastic packing straps which we make the bags from are smuggled out of the factory by workers. Normally, the factory burns them. We had tried once before to charm the owners into selling us there straps but were unsuccessful. Another option was to scour Kampala and lastly raid the Congo. We were getting desperate.
Towards the end of the meeting I offered my assistance in helping the group better organize themselves. Once upon a time we used to live in Uganda and met with the women many times a week. We would instruct them on new designs, organize the payment system, and dictate when we would have elections, meeting, and other group business but for the past 3 years they have been on their own. Self governing is difficult and had resulted in many issues in the beginning but now there seemed to be peace and unity within the group. Reluctant to meddle I proceeded with caution. So often us head strong, independent, western women move into a situation and want to “run shit.” This needing to make things better comes from a place of love but often causes great divide that was not there before. I let the group know I was there to help mediate any conflicts, help problem solve their strap sourcing issues, and overall provide guidance in any business structure way but at the end of the day I would keep my big nose out of it they thought that was best. We decided to pick up the conversation Friday when we met to do buying. Stay tuned.