A little reflection

As I am in my last few days in Uganda, I have decided to return to this blog for a chance to reflect on this journey so far. It has been one of great learning, remarkable highs and some less confident lows, a process of some self-realization and lots of inspiration. For the past couple of months, I have been interviewing several different people about the role of women in natural resource management. This guided me towards a path of learning about women participating in reforestation efforts, which has been especially exciting for me to learn about, as I have been participating in reforestation efforts of a different nature back in Canada. It has been powerful to hear the stories and experiences of some of these women. I am so grateful for those that have assisted me in this learning process, and have been willing to take time out of their busy days to speak with me.

Until this past month, I have done so much reading and writing about the daily lives and processes of rural women farmers but had never actually spoken with a woman and heard her perspective. They have been wonderful and patient teachers, and have reminded me of the humanity behind research, that is too often unrecognized in this world of science in which we strive for objectivity. As much as we like to try, research cannot be removed from this messy web of human hearts and instincts. Throughout this process I have been struggling with this concept of possessiveness with what I am doing here. It is always “my keystone” and “my research”, but there is nothing about it that is really mine. It is a conversation of which I am a part.

One woman I interviewed asked me at the end if I would ever come back after completing this research, looking at me doubtfully, as though she had seen this happen before. A researcher comes in, take what he or she wants, and then leaves never to be heard of again. I have kept her words in the back of my mind as I continue. If this process is a relationship, is it a one sided relationship? Yes, this is a learning experience for me. But to what extent am I only taking, without giving back? It has been interesting to ponder as my time here goes on, and after I come back to the US/Canada. I think one step towards this is to make my best effort to get the finished article translated into Luganda, and try to see that it gets back to the people that have assisted me in this process.

I think my most treasured experience, however, has been the friendships I have found here. People here have welcomed me in a way I have never experienced before. Living in Lyantonde, I always stuck out. I was the one muzungu living here and everyone always noticed me. Every time I walked to the market, without fail, at least 20 people would call out to me, “muzungu muzungu!” Sometimes its tiring to be different, sometimes its overwhelming. But it also gives you the chance to connect with people on a basic human level, aside from shared past experiences, places you both know and go, and other familiarities. It gives you an opportunity to just be you, to share your personality, your essence, and to receive others.

You may not be able to talk about everything and things may take more of an effort to talk about and explain, just as it is sometimes more difficult to get the other person. But through explaining yourself thoroughly, and paying attention to the words that come out of your mouth, you are learning about yourself. And as you take time to listen carefully, you can take time to think about what you do and don’t understand and consider why that may be. You may not understand each other’s jokes all of the time, but you can still both see something like a cow giving you the glare down out of the corner of its eye, look at each other, and burst out laughing. Some of the relationships I have here consisted of the small gestures, consistently receiving a handshake and a smile from someone, day after day. But they were real just the same.

And then sometimes your colliding your worlds together and your entire perception of life is being challenged. Sometimes its scary as hell and frustrating when someone doesn’t understand, doesn’t believe you when you are discussing things you have considered your whole life to be true. But then you realize that they are indeed beliefs. Nothing is set in stone. Yours is one view, not the worldview. And there’s nothing in the world that gives your view priority over another.

You are both human

Your hearts both beat.

You both smile when you see it.

Your standing in a church under a god you don’t believe in,

but the music sends shivers up both of your spines at the exact same time.

It’s the little things that make us human.

Sometimes all I wanted was to disappear as I walked down the street with so many pairs of eyes following me. I wanted to be one of many on a Seattle city street. But then I remember that someone really just wanted to say hello, to greet me. And it was always great them when the invited me inside to share some mangos and some laughs. It was these moments that made my heart leap, and it is this kindness and hospitality that I hope to carry home with me. I have been reminded that It’s ok to be different sometimes. It teaches us about who we are underneath the layers of our everyday. To share what we have with one another no matter where we come from, no matter how old we are or what language we speak.

And Uganda has made me realize now more than ever that smiles are the universal language 🙂

Most of my evenings I would spend at Josephine’s father’s shoe cobbler shop with her and her mom, who has also become my mom. Mom spoke little English, and I only a few Luganda phrases. Our conversations consisted of mostly the same sentences, other than when Josephine helped out. But somehow despite this we became so close. It was her warmth, her welcoming, her constant laughter, and her beautiful sleepy eyes that radiated out towards me, and I felt her. Sometimes I think we depend too much on conversations and “similar interests” to forge friendships. We get caught up in our words and we forget to just feel one another. To look at one another in the eyes and communicate though presence. Sometimes words just aren’t enough. I know that I will continue to call and check in once I get home, and our phone calls will mostly be filled with laughter, but that might be what we need the most.

In the short time that we have known one another, I have found a best friend in Josephine. She has been like a sister to me. Having been removed from many of my usual comforts of home, going through extreme highs and lows, including getting malaria, she has seen the real me and she has been there for me. Although in some ways we are very different and it is sometimes hard to understand one another, I think that has made this relationship all the more meaningful. I feel blessed that I have had someone to have discussions that challenge our entire ways of looking at life in an open and respectful way. But in other respects we are so similar, I felt as though I have known her my whole life. Her sense of humor, laughter, and pure heart has truly made me a better person. And she has also reminded me that we are always becoming, you are always on a journey to being who you are, there is no end. Life is a process, the best you can do is to try and put love and goodness into the world. I know that I have a sister for life.

Although I am leaving this place and these people physically, they have become a part of me and I will carry them with me forever. They have been a beautiful part of this process of becoming, and I hope that I have left behind some goodness in return. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to have an experience such as this, and to have become a part of a family that has reminded me so much of the beauty, complexity, and goodness of humanity.

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”

William James

Seeking the dynamic feminine: A chain of thoughts on women, nature, power, magic and feminist men

During a project planning meeting the other day, we were designating names to different groups of stakeholders. One group was women from the age of 20 to 25. I suggested that we call them young women. However, there was some debate over whether or not this age group would be considered “women”. At the age of 21, I consider myself to be a young woman. But in Uganda, the majority of people consider a girl to enter womanhood once she produces a child. This made me consider just how dynamic the term “woman” is and question how different societies designates who a “woman” is and what this means for those societies and our earth as a whole.

Although I have much to learn, I’ve gathered that generally in the Buganda region of Uganda being a woman is associated with holding a specific role in society. Family life and fertility are integral parts of womanhood. In fact, women that produce twins are highly respected in traditional Bugandan culture. Although women play a diversity of roles in society, the majority of women are pillars in household and family life, especially in rural areas. I have often seen them in the roles of food providers, life bearers, and teachers.

In the Western world, women are strongly associated by the word “feminine”. Gender is primarily based off appearance, and those who are “womanly” often have an appearance that would be considered feminine. In societal roles and on paper, woman and men are generally equal (or at least that is what we are striving for). Since feminism movements emerged in the 19th and early 20th century and Betty Friedman challenged the role of women as housewives in The Feminine Mystique in 1963, women have fought for an equal position in society and have long since abandoned the pie baking apron wearing homemaker role. These days, women often embrace being feminine through their appearance. This can be very empowering for some women. Part of the reason I love being a woman is to get to play the role through my appearance, its actually pretty damn fun! However, these associations with what is “womanly” are generally being dictated by an outside source, a societal expectation of sorts. If these expectations are not being met, well, then you’re outside of the societal norm. For example, it isn’t everyday that you see a woman with a shaved head.

As much as awareness has been raised about this issue, visual media still largely have control over dictating the standards of this appearance. This occurs at different levels and in different forms from body image to material consumption and many women and girls suffer from of eating disorders and depression because of these images. Sometimes I think this phenomenon is becoming less prevalent, and then I realize I just haven’t watched T.V. for a while. Women are still being projected as picture perfect sexual objects time and time again. I consider myself to be fairly aware of these things, and yet I still find this influence creeping up on me in subtle, almost unnoticeable ways. But it is there. This isn’t to say that media is the big bad wolf, because it is a two way street: visual media projects images and ideas to which society conforms, but it also tailors those images to the current culture. In this way, visual media provides a very informative lens on society. Nevertheless, in the creation of the societal standard of a “woman”, women themselves have little control. So, what does it mean when women don’t have control over what makes them women in society?

In a study titled “Babes and the woods: Women’s objectification and the feminine beauty ideal as ecological hazards” Britain Scott examines what the Western standard of femininity means for the environment. The Western beauty ideal disconnects women from nature, because it alienates women from their natural bodies, which can be harmful both to women’s bodies (such is the case of eating disorders) and the natural environment. Much of the practices that women partake in the attainment of this feminine image are damaging to both. In order to appear “feminine” women must engage in ecologically unfriendly practices—wasteful consumerism, beauty products, silicone breasts, cancer containing chemicals etc. These practices often take women’s bodies further from what is natural, in pursuit of an image that is created by the airbrush tool on an advanced photo-editing program in an office. It is an image that reflects the increasingly industrialized and technologically based growth that we experience in much of the Western world. What is considered feminine in our society has grown farther and farther away from what is natural. Although I advocate for women being able to do whatever they wish with their own bodies, it saddens and disgusts me that this unattainable image is too often the standard for being a woman, and that the results of pursuing this standard are often devastating for women’s bodies, psyches, and the environment.

In Uganda, rape is common and women often lack of family planning in both services and decision-making capability. Women often do not control of with who, where, when, and how they have sex. This means that women also often do not have control over how many children they produce, one of the primary associations with womanhood in Uganda. In terms of environmental degradation and food security, population growth is one of the major issues that Uganda, sub-Saharan Africa, and the world are facing. The earth is becoming parched, the forests are disappearing, the dry seasons are increasing in intensity and length, and land is scarce. This is especially bad news for communities that base their livelihoods off agriculture and pastoralism. As a result, food is becoming increasingly scarce and malnourishment is common in a place where women are the primary food providers and agricultural laborers. In Uganda, the agricultural workforce is around 80% female. However, women, particularly in rural settings, often lack the capacity to access family planning services, education, and hold negotiating power to make informed choices about how many children their lifestyle or environment can handle sustainably. On a more disturbing level, women and young girls are raped frequently. Rape is one of the most blatant forms of expressing domination and power over women. It is one of the most common crimes towards women in India as well, where population growth is one of the main causes of environmental degradation. Women lack control, both directly and indirectly while the natural environment is being exhausted.

Having said this, it is common to find patterns of control aimed at both women and the land. Much of ecofeminist theory argues that the despoiling of the earth and the subjugation of women are intimately connected in this sense. It acknowledges the historical similarities between the oppression of women and the oppression of the land and challenges the system of dominance and subordination that is causing both women and the natural environment to be held as inferior on different levels worldwide. Both our women and our environment are suffering, yet we are dependent on both for survival as humans.

In Ecopsychology, Mare E. Gommes and Allen D. Kanner discuss the theory of domination and dependence from a Western perspective. They argue that masculine attributes are associated with independence and disconnection, because from early life men are told that to be respected and admired as men they must be separate from others. These masculine attributes are seen as a route to success and status are more valued in our culture than those considered feminine. Thus, radical autonomy, or absolute separation, is the cultural ideal. Of course, this is an illusion. It is impossible not to interact with and depend on the people and wildlife around us, for it is the air we breathe. So those who wish to separate are faced with a double bind: living in a world that values worth in terms of autonomy, but the world they live in this an impossible feat. One of the ways of dealing with this is to create a false sense of independence through a form of domination characterized as “engulfing the Other”. They point out that this dynamic can be seen both in extreme acts of sexism, such as rape and domestic violence. However, it can also be observed through the myriad of every day activities such as a wife taking care of a husband’s physical needs such as preparing food. Instead of experiencing this failure to be autonomous as humiliating, he incorporates his wife into his ever-expanding self. In other words, domination becomes a way to deny dependence.

They argue that this same process can be seen in the relationship between humans and the earth. We depend on the Earth for life, yet much of our civilizations have been centered on denying this truth. Instead of acknowledging this total and complete dependence, by dominating the biosphere we can maintain the illusion of being autonomous. We have engulfed the living system of which we are a part and made it into our servant. Instead of acknowledging dependence and creating a relationship of gratitude and reciprocity, we deny our dependence. And when we deny dependence, we can feed on the other’s supplies and energy without returning anything. This constant feeding can exhaust the source, causing a breakdown of ecosystems, both nonhuman and human.

I understand this is theoretical and of course not all men are “bad”, all women aren’t connected to nature, and not all humans are on a quest of separation and radical autonomy. We all know living examples that this is not true, and it is very dangerous to make these assumptions. It diminishes our responsibility and roles in the earth as human beings, regardless of gender. In fact, designating qualities to all women such as associating them with nature could be considered patriarchal itself, another way of trapping women in a certain definition. And women, too, participate in sexist and oppressive behavior. In this sense, it is more the philosophy of domination and oppression that is deeply embedded in our culture rather than a dichotomy of the “oppressor” and the “oppressed”. On this note, the term feminine does not necessarily refer to women as a sex, but rather a set of qualities that are devalued in a patriarchal system. This set of values are what Jungian theorist Gareth Hill calls the dynamic feminine, beyond the notion of feminine as nurturing and motherly qualities which he calls the “static feminine.” The dynamic feminine represents,
Undirected movement towards the new, the non-rational, the playful. It is the flow of experiences, vital, spontaneous, open to the unexpected, yielding and responsive to being acted upon…Its effects are the uplifting, ecstatic experience that comes from the experience of transformed awareness…The dynamic feminine is perhaps most simply symbolized by a spiral, representing the disorienting and transforming experience of new awareness. This is the realm of the wild imagination, of chaos erupting out of predictability
In this sense, the dynamic feminine is not restricted to women. To me, it is more associated with restoring the balance to our earth. It is about acknowledging dependence and instilling a system of reciprocity. I believe that the patriarchal system that is dominant in our world isn’t inherently bad: it just lacks balance. Too much of anything can be harmful to an extent.

In a world built on knowledge, I believe that to embrace the dynamic feminine is to confront mystery, wildness, and danger and to accept that we do not know everything there is to know despite our highly valued system of Western science. In her book Staying Alive, Indian ecofeminist and physicist Vandana Shiva criticizes this type of science saying that is has “reduced the capacity of humans to know nature both by excluding other knowers and other ways of knowing, and it reduced the capacity of nature to creatively regenerate and renew itself.” She argues that the witch burnings occurred much in part to the threat that the collective knowledge women and wisdom that women had of healing and plants posed to this dominant system of knowledge. The same goes for the marginalization of traditional midwifery by Western medicine. This is not to say that science is “bad” it is not. But science itself is just one way of knowing, although it is the dominant one. Where there is domination, there is also a lack of balance.

So what is the missing balance of the dynamic feminine? It is hard to define. It comes glimpses, in moments, and feelings. I perceive it as a rhythm of sorts. I think of circles, roundness, and reciprocity. Something that comes to mind is a paragraph one of my favorite feminist authors Tom Robbins wrote in his book Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
The Power of the World always works in circles and everything tries to be round. You should know that there are no squares in nature, not in the microcosm, the small things, nor in the macrocosm, the big things. Nature creates in circles and moves in circles. The atom is circular. Galaxies are circular and most organic things are circular in nature. The earth is round, the wind whirls, the womb is no shoebox. Where are the corners of the sky? Where are the corners of the egg? The nests that cranes make are they square? No. My friend, the square is the product of rationality and logic. The square was invented by civilized man.”
In our society, squares and rectangles are often used for maximization of space. When we design a city we do so in blocks. Our houses are made of walls with four straight sides. When we pack trucks we pack them with boxes. When we cut down forests, we give them edges. It is this mentality of maximization that is exhausting the earth. These types of structures are indeed important, much like the hexagons of a honeycomb, but they can also easily overwhelm. Maybe the extra space that a circle or a curve provides, leaves a little room to breathe, to think, and to step outside and look within from a different perspective every once and a while. There is a little room to play around, a little room for the future, and a little room for magic. I believe that our world needs this extra room, this balance, to flourish and to grow.

And this growth I speak of is not in terms of the current ideal of development. In fact I believe that this development is sorely missing the element of the dynamic feminine. The current development, which Vandana Shiva terms “mal-development”, that is being carried out currently focuses greatly on the product of growth in terms of production, such as GDP and physical structures to have tangible evidence that “growth” is actually occurring. However, this type of growth is only one part of a whole system, the rest of which is being ignored by our current definition of development. These other branches often will not produce tangible proof of their existence like a new road does, but they are greatly important, such as the healthy mental and physical development of the individual, or the enhancement of water retention in soil. The constant focus on the product of growth results in a lack of attention towards the system that supports that growth. We are stockpiling, stacking, and gorging on fruit without taking care of the tree. And little do we acknowledge that we cannot continue to feast for much longer without a healthy tree. As Sufi poet Rumi said, “maybe we are searching among the branches, for what only appears in the roots.”

Could it be that the balance that the world now lacks is that missing feminine? I believe that the dynamic feminine does exist in our world: it is not dead. But in order for it to be strong it needs constant exercise and attention. We have to begin to nurture it on an a collective and individual basis, and that experience will differ from person to person. For me, it starts with accessing the dynamic feminine in myself. By exploring the unknown, the mysterious, sometimes the dark, and not being afraid of it. It means asking questions about the world and myself even if they don’t seem to fit into the box, while being comfortable with leaving some things unknown. It means channeling playfulness, acknowledging interconnectedness, dependence, and creating and participating in new dialogues. It means standing up against domination and oppression in all forms. I think one of the reasons that I have such a love for the Oregon Country Fair is that I believe that it is, in a way, a celebration of the dynamic feminine. Women have a very sacred presence there that you have to experience to know what I am talking about. But it is there, it is alive, and it thrives. But beyond just women, it is the playfulness, the creativity, the communication, the challenging of norms, the rhythm, and most of all the magic. This magic isn’t the kind we know as in magicians, spells, and magic wands but more of a shifting of consciousness of sorts, both individually and collectively. This magic can occur unexpectedly and in all sorts of places. It can come from the simplest mediums and we all know it at one time or another, but the result is more complex than we can begin to communicate. Like when you listen to or write a poem that shifts everything inside of you and afterwards the world becomes a different place, even in just the slightest bit. It is the creation of a new reality.

But making magic takes inspiration and listeners. In accessing and creating the dynamic feminine, I believe that solidarity is critical, particularly between women. I say this because I believe the lack of solidarity between women is a result of the patriarchal system being the dominant one. To an extent, our society is very uncomfortable with women gathering and organizing. I notice this often, sometimes with the apparent distaste someone has when the word “feminist” escapes through their teeth, to the discomfort many people have with women’s circles. These activities are often belittled and feminism is still associated with the “man-hating bra burning bitch” image. I believe this is because women joining, gathering, and organizing creates a strong power, which is seen as a threat. This power is not in terms of domination, such as the gun or the bomb, but a different kind of power. Starhawk, a key author in ecofeminist thought and feminist politics, makes this distinction. “The power we sense in a seed, in the growth of a child, the power we feel writing, working, creating, making choices, has nothing to do with threats of annihilation. It has to do with the root meaning of the word power, from the (late popular) Latin, podere (to be able). It is the power that comes from within.” This power is much stronger than “power-over” in that it is regenerative, dynamic, and limitless while “power-over” ends with domination. Maybe the threat that this power poses is why society so enjoys watching women pitted against each other in “The Bad Girls Club” and young girls are taught to compete with and hate one another from a young age.

Although connecting women is critical, nourishing the dynamic feminine does not exclude men. In fact men are equally key players in this process as women are. Men, too can harness the feminine in themselves, just as women can the masculine. We all have a flow of masculine and feminine within us as human beings. It is time to step away from the association of feminine being restricted to females, and especially from feminine qualities as being less valued than masculine qualities. Because in order for the dynamic feminine to grow strong, everyone must nurture it: men, women, and everywhere in between. A man cultivating and expressing the feminine within himself does not make him less of a “man”. Rather, it can open up a new world of freedoms by breaking apart the constructs of a societal norm. Having said this, I challenge the notion of the feminist movement being a “woman’s movement,” but rather it is an anti-oppression movement. It is a movement that challenges domination and subjugation, and advocates for a balanced and reciprocal way of life. It acknowledges interconnectedness, mutual dependence, and understanding. It is a way of life that accepts other ways of knowing and the unknown. This cuts across gender, species, race, religion, age, and sexuality. And it concerns everyone because it is our future.

I strongly believe that in restoring our earth, we must restore the feminine. And in restoring the feminine, we will also restore the earth. In order to do this we must break down cultural conceptions of masculine and feminine that place limits on the potential of a human being and cause us to value one gender over others. Let’s create a world where women are valued as human beings above all else and are no longer trapped by a societal notion of what a woman is and is not. It is up to use to restore this balance, to create a relationship of complement instead of competition and to return the care towards the system that supports us. Lets put an end to domination and oppression. To do so, we must begin to look deeper, to look within our roots. To quote one of my favorite parts of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues:

Sissy: You really don’t believe in political solutions do you?

The Chink: I believe in political solutions to political problems. But man’s primary problems aren’t political; they’re philosophical. Until humans can solve their philosophical problems, they’re condemned to solve their political problems over and over and over again. It’s a cruel, repetitious bore.

Sissy: Well, then, what are the philosophical solutions?

The Chink: Ha ha ho ho and hee hee. That’s for you to find out. I’ll say this much and no more: there’s got to be poetry. And magic. At every level. If civilization is ever going to be anything but a grandiose pratfall, anything more than a can of deodorizer in the shithouse of existence, then statesmen are going to have to concern themselves with magic and poetry. Bankers are going to have to concern themselves with magic and poetry. Time magazine is going to have to write about magic and poetry. Factory workers and housewives are going to have to get their lives entangled in magic and poetry.

Sissy: Do you think such a thing can ever happen?

The Chink: If you understood poetry and magic, you’d know that it doesn’t matter.

So let us begin. Let us embrace balance, mystery, transformation, curves, rhythm and the glimpses in between. And most of all let us create the magic: the power is within us.

I have made an awesome friend who works at the Lyantonde District Environment Office. Her name is a Joweria and she is a Forest Field Officer for the Distirct, meaning she is in charge of the growth and distribution of tree seedlings for the district. Her vision: a green Lyantonde. Like many countries in East Africa, In recent years Lyantonde has been experiencing increasing dry seasons, both in intensity and length, which is bad news on a region that is heavily dependent on agriculture for subsistence. Part of the problem, Joweria has told me, is the rampant deforestation that occurs in the district.

Yesterday she took me out on a field trip to meet some of the women to whom she has distributed seedlings in the past. I met her at the district offices in the morning with a bodaboda driver (motorbike drivers that are very common in the area—much like taxis) and she hopped on behind me holding her pregnant belly. “I was in a meeting,” she said. “I told them I was going to the field and they said to me, ‘your going to the field with that stomach?!’ ” She laughed and told me that her baby has to know that her mama is a field officer. On our ride there, she told me botanical names of the tree species and shrubs we passed.

The first person we met was a woman named Nora, who owned two tree lots: one pine and one eucalyptus. When we arrived, Nora was deep in her garden weeding and Joweria had to call her several times before she came out. When she came out, she pointed me towards the two lots behind her home. Her hands were coated with a greyish layer of earth. Joweria explained that she had planted these trees in 2008 with the help of her children. Through Joweria, I asked Nora some questions about the effect that the tree lots have had on her land, especially conserving the close proximity of her large garden. She said that since she had planted the trees, she has noticed less soil erosion and better microclimates. She uses some of trees as firewood but most of it she would sell when the trees were ready to harvest. She said that if the district were to give her more seedlings, she would plant more trees after harvesting the current lots.

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Nora’s situation, though, is different than the majority of women in Lyantonde; she owns her land. Tradition places men as landowners in this region, and therefore it is the man’s decision what will and will not be planted. When women do not have property rights, they also do not have rights over the crops they spend most of their time cultivating, so men often end up selling the crops and pocketing the money for their own use. “Most of the what the men in the villages do is drinking,” said the District Environment Officer. “So the woman must take care of the family gets their food, she provides almost everything. Even the little she plants like for agriculture, the man will come and sell and spend it on drinking.” Whether it is taking care of their family, or taking care of the land that provides the family’s sustenance, women have little power to make decisions due to traditional land tenure.
Land is becoming an increasing issue in Lyantonde as well, as resources become depleted and people begin to maximize on space and access to these resources. As we rolled by on the bodaboda, much of the space was taken up by banana plantations, housing, or grazing area for cows, as this region is traditionally pastoralist. Population increase is one of the major causes of this scramble for land, which relates back to women’s access to health service and education. If women are not able to receive these services, they are more likely to have more children than their household, or the environment, can support.

In the general discussion on deforestation, we usually refer to the relationship between forests and people, assuming humans are a homogenous mass. This does not take into account that in many cultures, women and men interact with the forest in very different ways. Women have been known to participate in more sustainable interactions with the forest, such as gathering edible fruits, medicinal plants, and fallen branches for firewood, whereas men are more likely to participate in logging or charcoal burning. However, in the global discussion on deforestation, these differences have little recognition.

In the case of Lyantonde, where much of the forests have been cut down, I am wondering if women and men are participating in reforestation efforts for different reasons and in different ways. In my conversations with Joweria and the District Environment Officer, I have gathered that women are generally much more interested in participating in reforestation efforts. Because the lack of forest resources is affecting their daily lives, causing them to walk to extra kilometer per day to gather firewood, when someone offers them an alternative they are more likely to inquire.

“The effect is more felt by them. When men come in town, they do their welding, they do their business like driving taxis, bodabodas, they forget about where the firewood comes from, where the food comes from. They forget that the soil can be degraded. Generally women are more active in management of natural resources,” said the District Environment Officer.

As we left Noras property, Joweria grabbed a handful of leaves from a small bush and a couple of unripe mangos, stuffing them into her purse. She motioned to her round belly and told me that they helped her pregnancy.

I am looking forward to spending some more time with women like Nora and Joweria, to learn more about what women think about natural resource management efforts and how they see themselves playing a role in reforestation efforts.

Rape, Space, and Natural Places

As my friend Josephine and I were walking across town, we took a shortcut through a large uninhabited natural area. It was beautiful. You could see the rolling hills and the town beyond. Foot trails weaved in and out of clumps of flowering bushes and small trees, frequented by goats and cows that were left to graze there in the afternoons. Quiet, peaceful, still: a place to escape the sights and smells of town. I imagined myself going for a run there some morning. When I told Josephine this, she told me it was too dangerous. She said that men and adolescents sometimes come here to drink and do drugs, and that rape is common in Uganda. This is not a place where women come alone.

I thought back to our home in Squamish, to the sanctuary of the forest behind Quest. It is a place where I feel extremely safe. A space where I can run, sweat, breathe, and think clearly. It is a space where I often go with other women to talk. It is a sacred space. Sure, there are cougars. But honestly, I would rather be in a situation where it is cougars amidst the trees that I am on the look out for than a rapist.

Here in Uganda, and many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Women and young girls are often subject to sexual assault on their trips to collect firewood and water from the bush. As these natural resource become increasingly depleted, they’re trips grow longer and the risks greater. However, it is not just in Uganda where women are threatened in natural spaces. You often hear of women getting attacked in city parks in the evenings and nights in the U.S. I have been warned from a young age not to go to the park a few blocks from my home in Seattle alone at night. I have even been told that hiking in national parks can be unsafe for women to do alone.

Whether there is real danger or not, the fear instilled by the potential attack can be just as oppressive to a woman’s psyche. This fear, this predator, is something that all women are familiar with. I would be very surprised to find a woman that has not experienced a moment by the age of 25 in which she was walking alone and began to run through the scenario of being raped or assaulted, causing her to quicken her pace and check behind her as her heart beat grew so loud in her head that no other thoughts could be heard. Or has had a moment in which all of her thinking becomes dominated by the trapping sensation of intrusive eyes slinking up and down her body, leaving her feeling utterly alone in the room. She is standing in the middle, but she is cornered.

Natural spaces are where I feel the strongest, the most beautiful, the most capable, and the most alive. I strongly believe that time spent outside, beginning from when I was a young girl, has given me the confidence and awareness of myself as a woman. It was watching the leaves change and fall, seeing the dandelions bloom and then blow away, and feeling the cool rain and softness of the moss that I learned about and my own growth, changes, and instincts. Those spaces were there for me as a child, and they were there to help me to return to my voice and ground me after I was silent and on fire. It is a time in which I can escape from the influences of society, of any projected images, and truly be myself. I can explore ideas, urges, and memories without judgment, or let them all float away. I can stink, grunt, and howl at the moon. Wild and instinctual, I am more in tune with the larger cycle in which I live, and the cycle within myself. Rooted to the umbilical cord of the earth, I have grown into a young woman much in part to the raw teachings of the land.

Although different women can find this place and state of being in many different ways, and natural spaces is only one of millions of spaces where we can deepen our roots and flourish, it saddens me that some do not have the option to do so in natural spaces for fear of being raped. It would break my heart for our daughters not to have the opportunity to grow and learn in the forest, whether it be it fear of attack or the forest having been cut down. Even if the shadows lingering behind the bushes on her walk home from work or her evening trip to collect firewood are, indeed only shadows, the oppressive weight of fear on her psyche can smother out what could be nurturing creativity and ambition. And the nurturing of these sacred areas of the mind, this fuel, is necessary to thrive. The water and sun needed for germination of new positive thoughts and their healthy growth.

Just as these psychological and spiritual spaces are being threatened, so are the physical natural places. I can clearly recall the sinking feeling when I first saw the destruction of part of my favorite running path through the forest behind Quest, a place that had healed and energized me since the first week of school. I felt extremely powerless as I watched large machines pick up the stripped logs one by one, placing them into neat piles on the side of the road. Although the demolished areas have been growing back quickly and I still run there frequently, the path is now a different space. It is critical that women can access these spaces that allow them to spread their roots and to explore their existence as women, whatever the space may be, and that those spaces are there for them when they are needed. This includes all women, whether it is firewood they seek, a place to exercise after work, or peace of mind as they return to their car after going out for a drink. They are the soil in which we spread our roots, which must be full of nutrients as those roots stretch farther and deeper.

We must strive to allow our souls to grow in their natural ways and their natural depths. The wildish nature does not require a women to be a certain color, a certain education, a certain lifestyle or economic class…in fact, it cannot thrive in an atmosphere of enforced political correctness, or by being bent into old burnt-out paradigms. It thrives on fresh sight and self-integrity. It thrives on its own nature.

So, whether you are an introvert or extrovert, a woman-loving women, a man-loving woman, or a God-loving woman, or all of the above: Whether you are possessed of a simple heart or the ambitions of an Amazon, whether you are trying to make it to the top or just make it through tomorrow, whether you be spicy or somber, regal or roughshod—the Wild Woman belongs to you. She belongs to all women” –Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run with the Wolves)

I am lucky that I can come home to a place where I can go for run without the danger of rape. That path within the hills is one place where I cannot go alone. However it is not only the physical spaces that women are prevented from accessing from encroaching fear and destruction, but it is also that space within the women that is being stolen, the space that belongs to us. All women carry that sacred seed inside of them, but they also need healthy conditions to cultivate their growth. And it is up to us to protect those places and spaces for each other, because if one species is threatened the resilience of the whole system is compromised. Yes, much has already been destructed. At times, the task may seem insurmountable. But what is destroyed always grows back, slowly but strongly. It is up to us to fuel the re-growth process, to create the right conditions.

Some magical plants around the office!

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Azadirachta indica (Neem tree)

Medicinal uses:

Neem products are known to be anthelmintic, antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral, contraceptive and sedative.

Neem tree oils are used to improve liver function, balance blood sugar levels, detoxify blood, and improve health of hair and skin.

Locally, the leaves are boiled and people drink the water to cure malaria

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Moringa oleifera (Moringa tree)

Nutritional content:

100g of fresh Moringa leaves have 8.3 g protein, 434 mg calcium, 404 mg potassium, 738 ug vitamin A, and 164 mg vitamin C.

Used to battle malnutrition due to its high protein and nutritional content.