Words For Things For Which Words Can’t Suffice

April 3, 2012

This guy. This guy just embodies all that is wonderful and disconcertingly beautiful about the children here, in Kampala. He is all round cheeks and soft skin and tiny chubby hands and a pout – the pout that is, I think, universal to toddlers – but, too, he is solemn, and proud, and his eyes have an age that you can’t measure in months and years.

To look at him is to have one’s breath taken away. It’s also to laugh, awkwardly, in that way that you laugh when you feel a little ridiculous, because seriously: how often do you look into the eyes of a toddler who seems wiser than you?


Writing about the things that you see and the people that meet on a trip like this is difficult, because it’s so hard to do so without coming off as precious, and, of course, privileged. It’s difficult to not adopt that tone, you know the one, the one that says I am touched I am moved I am humbled I am so aware of my privilege I am so fortunate so fortunate. It’s difficult to avoid because you do feel those things, you do, and even as you push back at yourself and strain to be self-reflective, it’s ultimately a recursive self-reflectivity, a self-reflectivity that loops back in on itself, a self-reflectivity that is itself precious and privileged.

Still. One must try. Why else have these platforms, if not to share these stories, and start conversations about them? Don’t we have an obligation, almost, given our technological privilege, to use these platforms – our blogs, our social networks, our Instagram feeds – for some good?

I have stories to tell. I met two women, yesterday. Both have lived through civil war, have suffered at the hands of the LRA, have undergone atrocities that you or I could not even begin to comprehend. Both are HIV positive. Both are mothers. Both are changing the lives of their children by changing the life of their community by changing their own lives, by reaching for the stars and grabbing on and taking hold. Star-grabbing here looks like starting their own businesses – making beads, jewellry; selling water, food – and taking charge of their own reproductive health, and so it could seem, on the face it, so very ordinary, but it is so very not ordinary, and I am in awe of them.

I just have to figure out how to write that awe, without that awe being diminished by the act of translation and transcription. How do you put into words the words that I described above – awed amazed humbled – and just have them land as they are? (And, for that matter, how do you integrate those words with other words, words about politics and justice and empowerment and world-changing?)

I’ll find those words. Maybe once the jet-lag and soul-exhaustion has worn off.

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    Jeanne Garbarino April 3, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Hi Catherine –
    Thanks for sharing this, and I look forward reading more about your trip.
    I’ve been very interested in the empowerment of women and girls in underdeveloped nations such as Uganda and am happy to hear about the two mothers making a difference for their communities. It is known that the success of the matriarch and her ability to empower herself often dictates the success of her children. I hope that we see more initiatives to help facilitate this empowerment, as it can make such a huge difference.
    Good luck to you and I’ll be watching out for more updates.

    kelly @kellynaturally April 3, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I’m so glad you’re there & sharing your observations with your readers… bringing awareness. <3

    Maija @ Maija's Mommy Moments April 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    If anyone can find the words it is definitely you!

    Janet April 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Great change comes from humble beginnings.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Jen @WorldMomsBlog April 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Do you have any video? That would be a really impactful addition to your words. If not, I’m sure you will ace preserving the character and emotions of the women you met, regardless!

    I once did a tour of the townships in Capetown, South Africa. It was a really tough thing to do on our vacation, but was the best thing we ever did. It is one thing to read about how people are living and another to actually see, hear, smell and taste it. The women I met on the tour, the barefoot runny-nosed children I let swing in my arms and hug me, the babies I held and rocked — they will be with me forever. I felt really motivated to want to do more to help in the world.

    Jen :)

    Her Bad Mother April 9, 2012 at 9:30 am

    We did get video – I look forward to being able to share it :)

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