Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Paying the Price

Everyone has a price the saying goes.  What is the price of your soul?  Only you really knows the answer to that question. What is the price of giving up devotion to your chosen cause?  For some it is in dollars or shillings and cents.  I found mine in a different place but not that far from hard cash as I would rather have you believe.

 While I spent time on the street struggling for a change that I did not really expect soon; battling forces that I never really understood along with people I never really knew; my family was hurting and I was hurting.  Between 2010 when I left the USA and 2012 when I returned to Florida, I had been so taken up with my cause and ideals that I neglected that which was priceless.  My young girls had first claim to my time for a decade as I struggled to make ends meet and raise them alone in America and then they suddenly found themselves playing second fiddle to my cause.  

As peaceful activism turned into violent clashes with the police, more and more activists ended up in jail and it became obvious that we were not prepared for a long-drawn out struggle.  There were injured people in hospitals, jailed people who needed legal representation, journalists and researchers who wanted information and activists looking for leadership.  Then of course there was food to be put on the table, kids to take to school, a home to run all of which required an income.  I remembered that I was an enrolled advocate with a certificate to practice law and approached my old friend Ladislus Rwakafuzi.  We attended law school together and he had a legal practice that specialized in representing victims of human rights violations.  He gave me an office right away and helped me get a license to practice law at his firm.  I was amused when I got there that I had no inkling what lawyers do.  I was no better than a first year law student and needed to be guided in every aspect of the work.  Ladislus offered me a space to practice, bought me a gown and the paraphernalia that go with the lawyers trade but I could not even help someone obtain letters of administration for an estate without consulting a junior lawyer.  

My main reason for being at the firm was to coordinate legal representation for the hundreds of activists who had been arrested during the walk to work campaign.  So I focused on finding ‘real lawyers’ who could represent activists pro-bono or for expenses only; among them Ladislus himself and his brother Jackson.  So between June 2011 and April 2012 I worked out of their offices on Luwum Street managing crisis after crisis, visiting human rights organizations to find funding for legal representation and advocacy for jailed activists, while also trying to make a bit of money as a regular lawyer.  I spruced up my curriculum vitae for consulting jobs and got lucky with organizations like FIDA (U) and Foundation for Human Rights Initiative both of which were headed by former classmates at law school.  Without them I may never have been able to pay my household bills.  The girls were attending an international school and their father took care of tuition and school related expenses while I struggled to put food on the table.  Knowing that I was in financial distress but would never admit it, John started sending us food from the farm in the village so a person would show up unannounced from Karwera saying the girl’s father had sent them food.  I pretended not to notice but at the back of my mind I knew something had to give.

The first wake up call came from the school.  Joannah who has been a ‘gifted’ student surprising her teachers and peers at her grasp of math showed up with a ‘D’ in math on her report card.  I was in complete denial of her condition by this time yet I knew that she still had seizures from time to time. While I went out to face the police and their tear gas, her seizures worsened because one of their triggers is anxiety.  I was impatient with her and anyone who reminded me of her condition.  We were seeing the right doctors and she was on medication and that I believed was the extent of my responsibility.  Joannah is an introverted responsible soul and puts everyone before herself so she did not complain much.  Around the time that I got really involved in the walk to work campaign in mid 2011 her condition worsened and I could no longer ignore it.  I realized she needed more treatment than I could get in Uganda.   The doctor at her clinic was talking about another MRI scan for her brain and possibly surgery.  He referred me to a hospital in Nairobi admitting that the facilities available at Mulago, the national referral hospital; may not be enough to diagnose the extent of her condition.  I sat up and listened, realizing that I would have to return to the US for Joannah’s sake.  I had no money to take Joannah to a hospital in Kenya.  But in the USA where I was a citizen she could get access to the health facilities for children from poor households.

It was a hard decision to make.  I started panicking each time the phone rang.  It would be another activist asking for help, a teacher calling me to pick Jojo because she had another seizure, an emergency Activists 4 Change meeting to attend, a bill I needed to pay.  When I went to visit Ingrid Turinawe in Luzira prison after she had been arrested for walking, I surprised her and myself when I burst out crying.  Something just snapped and I knew that I was defeated by my circumstances and once again I was about to leave my country and the cause I loved.  I could not explain that to her.  I just sat there crying and sniffling to her utter surprise.  I recall she told the jail warders “I don’t understand, Anne is an activist, why would she cry because am in jail?”  She had no way of knowing all the things that burdened my mind and I was not about to tell an activist in jail that I had more problems than her!  The time to move on to the next thing had arrived.  

I had a price after all.

At 50 I know that when they say that everyone has a price, they do not always mean it in hard cash terms but money or the lack of it can take our focus from the things that are important to us.

— feeling broken.

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