Dina Buck

Dina Buck (United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda - UOBDU): Dina’s undergraduate degrees include a BA in Philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a BS in Environmental Policy and Assessment from Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University. In 2010, Dina served as an AP Peace Fellow with the Kampala-based World Peasants/Indigenous Organization (WPIO), now called the East and Central Africa Association for Indigenous Rights (ECAAIR), which advocates for Batwa rights in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the time of her 2011 fellowship, Dina was studying for her Master’s degree in International Human Rights at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at University of Denver, with concentrations in both sustainable development and international administration and law. After her fellowship Dina wrote: “This fellowship has helped me learn more about my capabilities and my handicaps. I also feel I understand better how to sustainably empower people, and work with them in a way that honors their dignity, intelligence, and capabilities.”



LAUNDRY, HONEY, AND YAMS

06 Jul

It’s supposedly the dry season, but we’ve been getting rain and colder overcast weather, as well as windy days, here in Kisoro. Today has been one of the nicest in the two weeks since we’ve been here. One doesn’t typically imagine being chilly on a regular basis in East Africa, but I’ve felt cold more days than not so far! I believe Kisoro’s elevation is around 6,000 feet above sea level, so that helps explain it. Overall, though, I must say I prefer this to hot muggy weather (Kampala right now).

I’ve already noticed how lifestyle changes lead to different observations and feelings about things like the weather. For example, I’m regularly checking the sky in the mornings, to see if it’s a good day to do some washing. If it’s overcast, I feel a strange sense of disappointment that has only partially to do with the fact that the sun might not come out. It’s not a good day for laundry to dry!

But not to sound like I’m slaving away with laundry all the time. We have hired a woman named Bernadette as our “housekeeper.” She comes once a week to clean our place (and do laundry as well) for 10,000 shillings (less than five dollars) for 2-3 hours work. We felt a bit weird about this but were told that the average Ugandan earns around 5,000 shillings per day, so 10,000 shillings for a few hours work is considered quite decent.

On the work front, in this first week, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the Batwa’s hunting and gathering practices before they were strictly barred from the Mgahinga, Bwindi, and Echuya forests here in SW Uganda. Two community representatives and a chairperson (all mutwa, which is singular for Batwa) came and spoke with some of the UOBDU staff about their memories of living and foraging in the forests.

They were asked a lot of questions about resources they consider vital that they can’t access outside the forests, and they talked of wild honey, wild yams, gold, medicinal perfume, weaving materials, material for pot coverings, and fruits and veggies. The wild honey and wild yams seemed to be of particular importance.

The honey, in addition to serving as an offering to their forest Gods, is also a primary form of medicine for them. I have read how certain types of honey can have strong antibacterial properties, and Chris discussed with the group how honey made by bees that have pollinated numerous types plants is going to have greater beneficial properties than honey made by bees that have only pollinated a few.

The Batwa covet the wild yams they can no longer access because, when they used to eat those yams, they could feel sated for 3 days without further food. They also stated the wild yams had medicinal properties as well, and that, in general, the food in the forests is “stronger” than food outside the forest. Those strong foods, they said, kept them healthy, whereas now, they frequently fall sick (though no doubt the greater circumstances they live under also has a lot to do with this).

Their point about food being stronger in the forest made me think of a few things:

-When I was a little girl, my family kept chickens that were fed an organic diet and allowed to scratch around in the yard during the day and eat bugs and things like that. We only ate eggs they laid. I was invited to a friend’s house for breakfast and was served my first store-bought egg. I remember an overwhelming bitter taste of “medicine” when I took my first bite (what I now realize was probably all the hormones the chickens were fed), and I could barely choke the bite down.

-At a farmer’s market, I once bought some salad mix that included arugula. The greens were so spicy and potent, they were almost overwhelming. Now, I know farmer’s market greens are not wild greens, but it opened my eyes to the potency certain types of greens can have that we just don’t get at the store

-I read once that the average piece of fruit grown for the commercial market today has a fraction of the “brix” of sweetness fruits grown for the same purpose some decades ago, when pesticides and things like that were less common. I have no idea how accurate this is, but I found this interesting blog on fruit brix if you’re really curious.

Anyway, the bigger point is that the Batwa, in ways both glaring, and subtle, have lost a lot. One thinks of the sustainable livelihoods they lost when evicted, but even smaller things, like the difference between food inside and outside the forest is also a big deal to them.

What also became clear to me, during the meetings this weekend, is that they are also losing their cultural knowledge. One of them mentioned how the ones that once would have taught them things, like how to worship in the forests, have died. And, not being able to access the forests today, they can’t go in anyway, to do that.

So the mapping project UOBDU is doing, to “map” the Batwa’s remaining knowledge of the forests is very cool. I’ll talk more about it next blog, as this one is getting too long!

Little chameleon in a bush outside the house
Little chameleon in a bush outside the house

Posted By Dina Buck

Posted Jul 6th, 2011

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