Walking into the workforce means leaving your bubble

The differences between experiencing student life and working life

Being a 40-year-old university student has its ups and downs. The downside is that it can be difficult to build relationships with your classmates due to the age gap—in the last three years of school, I have been older than at least three of my professors. The advantage, however, is that I am here because I want to be, and that helps with applying myself to the work. Before university, I was a warehouse manager in Winnipeg for five years, and before that, a long-haul truck driver for 10 years. I am here because I was tired of using my back rather than my brain.

Now that I am in my fourth year of studies, I sometimes—but only sometimes—look forward to one day rejoining the workforce. I say this because I really like school, and I enjoy the cocoon I have constructed for myself. My friends and acquaintances are people with whom I generally agree, both politically or otherwise, and my peers are usually like-minded in that we all attend the same university and, more often than not, the same program and even the same classes.

This is a far cry from the work life I opted out of in order to “retrain” for a new direction in life. Now, when I am brooding over a looming due date for yet another dull paper topic or one more obligation-infused group project, I try to keep in mind how much more appeasing and flexible student life is.

In the workforce, for me at least, the contents of my surroundings were a lottery—I was exposed to people from all walks of life. Don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of great people, some of whom I still keep in touch with. But I was also exposed to a mix of ideas I did not always find appealing, some of which I found downright distasteful.

If we all have a right to a particular workplace environment, then there will need to be some compromises. Yes, it is highly unlikely in certain workplaces that one would be exposed to extremist thought (be it left- or right-wing) in any workplace, but it’s not unlikely that one will be obliged to work with someone who is outspoken about their hatred of cyclists or denies climate change or, heaven forbid, is a Trump supporter. We all have the right to a certain kind of workplace, but this means the people we do not agree with do as well.

At school, when we are confronted with uncomfortable ideas or issues, we often have the choice to seek higher ground. We are encouraged to treat each other with respect, and that is often the case. However, in the workplace, we are exposed to a much more colourful array of ideas, perspectives, backgrounds and opinions that we have no control over. Add to that the fact that workplaces are seldom democratic spaces; concerns and comments may not necessarily be met with open arms (or minds).

My reason for bringing all this up is the recollection I have of a classmate who, at 24, was accustomed to academic life and wondered aloud if the working world would be a shock. They questioned whether or not they were simply living in a bubble. I did not take the opportunity to answer at the time, but I will respond to them now: Yes. You do live in a bubble, but that’s okay. We all do to some degree, and for good reason.

We live in bubbles that help us make sense of our surroundings and are constructed so that we don’t need to constantly fend off discomforting ideologies. When outside of these bubbles, we are exposed to a broad range of new and sometimes exciting, sometimes frightening, ideas.

In the world today, we are all exposed to a lot; a lot of news, a lot of information, and a lot of opinions. So build that bubble. Show me a person who exposes themselves needlessly to cognitive dissonance, and I’ll show you a masochist.

Graphic by @spooky_soda


Conversations and the cultural stereotypes within them

One student’s observations about the “French” and “Canadian” ways of discussing

Have you ever heard the phrase “the British are too polite to be honest and the Germans are too honest to be polite?” I really get a kick out of cultural stereotypes. Not the nasty ones that pigeon-hole people into a category to exclude or ostracise them. Quite the opposite. I enjoy cultural stereotypes that bring us together by showing us there are patterns in human behaviour and many of us are creatures of habit. These cultural habits provide some humour to the process of being human and give us something to relate to each other with. Unless those generalities don’t work well together—then there can be trouble.

All that just to ask, which culture doesn’t like to chat? I know that, growing up in rural Manitoba, the kitchen table is the centre of discussion in the home, and as a Française, my partner will agree. But that’s where our similarities on the topic end. I often get the impression that I don’t “discuss” the way she expects me to, and my partner’s method of discussion is one that invariably leads to a fight. So, I am wondering about the whole process of discussion because I’m sure most of us enjoy sitting with friends and gossiping about work or even the banal observations from the day. This is what makes us people; this is what we do, and this is how we exchange our thoughts and ideas. But I’ve noticed I may be going about it wrong. So, what does this have to do with how people exchange ideas? I think it depends who you ask.

As someone from the countryside, this is how I discuss: I make a statement of observation within a group of friends, and it’s either accepted without much pause or it is received in silence. Obviously, the former is the most desired outcome, and this essentially means your observation was met with no real opposition and requires no further discussion. The latter means it was not agreed with, but the other participants feel no need to take it any further nor create a big stink over it. Nice and neat. It doesn’t require the barrage of questioning and scrutinizing that my partner expects from her listeners. Perhaps this is why I get corralled into being called passive or even naïve.

From my observations, this is the “French way” of discussing: Propose an idea and let it be subjected to a hammering of questions and critiques by all within earshot, whether they’re at the table, standing nearby, or even just walking past the café where the “discussion” is taking place.

The end goal being that, even if your observational statement is not true, it has survived countless rounds of interrogation, and you can rest easily knowing you have convinced everyone involved that this is just one perspective of many available to the situation.

Despite my way of discussing and hers, I cannot help but be attracted to those with strong opinions who challenge every goddamn thing I say. As much as it pisses me off, I respect that. I respect people who balk at a theory and take things to task to see just who’s who and what’s what. I love her very much but, even after nearly seven years of “discussing” with her, my Canadian-ness still struggles to adapt.

At the same time, I know that Canadians are not innocent, and we have our assumptions. We are just as guilty of possessing our own silly stereotypes about others. And for that, I’d like to apologize.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 


Mental illness is as serious as physical illness

The stigma around mental illness needs to end, and the conversations need to start

Full disclosure: I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). If I’m not medicated, it will take me 20 minutes or more just to get out of my apartment in the morning. I will check to make sure the back door is locked several times over. I will check repeatedly that the stove and oven are off, despite having eaten cold cereal for breakfast.

Then I need to verify that nothing near the heaters could start a fire, even in the summer when I know the heaters are off. Finally, and most importantly, if I cannot see the cat when I close the front door to leave, I assume that he has escaped and is lost somewhere outside. All the while, I keep my right hand on the pocket where my keys go to make sure I haven’t left them inside (and won’t be subsequently locked out).

I know a lot of people have morning routines, and they may even have similar rituals themselves. However, in my daily life, I must do these things. It’s not just a habit—it’s something that releases a pressure inside me and satisfies a seemingly physical need. Now, keep in mind, this is just my attempt to leave home. None of this says anything of the day-long struggle to keep everything and everyone doing what I need them to do in a way that appeases these compulsions. That is the most exhausting part.

This is my everyday experience if I am not medicated. It is a pain in the ass, but my symptoms are mild compared to many others who suffer from OCD. I take medication for these symptoms, and I am not ashamed of that because they tell my brain that many of these silly rituals are unnecessary. Therefore, medication gives me the option to focus on what’s really important, like going to school and doing reasonably well. So, am I crazy? Am I a lunatic not worthy of anything more than a life of seclusion and shame?

I’m not embarrassed about having OCD, nor should I be. Just as someone with a physical disability shouldn’t be embarrassed either. This is how we need to start thinking about mental illness. The stigma of “weakness” or “lunacy” are old and outdated, just as the terms “invalid” or “cripple” are. The time has come to talk about mental illness in a constructive manner. And so, I am putting myself out there to say that I am not crazy—my brain just works in a different capacity than others, and I will not apologize for that. I am not responsible for the position I have been put in, yet, I’m responsible for managing it.

So, why are some people scared to talk about mental illness? Perhaps it’s because they cannot see it. Or perhaps they simply fear the unknown. Well, I’ve got news for you: it is visible and we can see it all around us. Unfortunately, though, it will remain unknown until we talk about it.

You know some of those folks living on our city streets, right near Concordia’s downtown campus, talking to garbage bins and yelling at shadows? That’s mental illness. And until we educate ourselves, they will continue to be marginalized by society. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, nearly 40 per cent of the homeless population in Montreal suffer from various forms of severe mental illness. They are not evil, they are not crazy, nor are they possessed (by anything other than the socially-constructed prejudices of others). They are examples of what happens when people fear you or don’t understand you.

Perhaps I could be one of them. Luckily, I have a network of understanding people around me and access to healthcare that keeps me in school and possibly off the streets. This is not afforded to everyone, but it needs to be. You can help just by talking about it. I want to talk about this, and I want to talk about it now. My hope is that this will get things started.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, please seek help. It is worth the effort. You can contact the Canadian Mental Health Association, Action on Mental Illness (AMI) Quebec or Mouvement Santé Mentale Québec for help or to get more information.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Student Life

Elephanté: Where hospitality meets knowledge

Understanding the potential behind teaching someone something new

Elephanté is no more than a two or three-minute walk away from the compound, down the road and around the corner. This is why I go.

It certainly isn’t because the beer is cheap. In fact, a bottle of Tusker Lager is 4,000 Ugandan shillings, nearly $1.50 CAD, which is about 1,000 shillings more than anywhere else. No, I go there because it’s close—but that’s not the only reason to go. Elephanté makes a great pizza and, in this part of the world, for people like me who are accustomed to certain things in life, that is a big sell.

I am in Gulu, Uganda, for the summer. As a communications intern, I am tasked with creating a radio program using the voices and ideas of local young people to empower and inspire others in the community.

As part of my mandate, I’m encouraged to get comfortable and make myself at home. For the most part, that is precisely what I have done. I wouldn’t say I’m a regular at Elephanté, by any means, but I stop by often enough that the staff feel a need to reassure me there is more Tusker Lager on order when I walk through the door. I’m quite a fan of the beer, and the concern the staff at Elephanté show is an expression of their inherent hospitality.

Life is short, so drink the wine, eat the food and get the dessert. – A quote written on the walls of Elephanté

When I walk through the gate and into the open air of the restaurant’s courtyard, my eyes are immediately drawn to the café counter. This is where the light seems to focus and there are usually three or four employees waving at me and smiling. From what I understand, this is normal and, frankly, rather inviting.

With this distraction, by the time I get to the bar to order a drink or pick up a menu, I have walked past and completely ignored any guests sitting in the row of seats that face the courtyard. To be fair, the people seated there often intend to go unnoticed. They’re usually NGO workers catching up on paperwork or volunteers from overseas Skyping someone back home.

Ronald (left) and Dennis behind the service counter at Elephanté Café on Onono
Road in Gulu, Uganda. Photo by Travis Sanderson

Sometimes, they are people just trying to take shelter from the sun. Occasionally, though, they are staff members keeping a keen yet quiet eye on things. This was where Agong Jesse was sitting the first time I noticed him.

My first impression of Jesse was that he was shy and timid—a wallflower. On the contrary, Jesse likes to be surrounded by people and thrives on hospitality. He admitted he is fond of people and said his job is a great opportunity for him to meet and speak with a wide range of people from all over the world.

On the day we met, it was Jesse who spoke first. He knew I was an intern with CEED and was curious to know what project I was working on. After I explained my goal of finding young voices of strength and inspiration in the community, I asked him if he knew anyone who fit that description who I could talk to. He flatly said that perhaps I already was.

Though his tone was soft and his smile pleasant, there was a determined look in Jesse’s eyes as we spoke. I knew there was something he wanted to say. The graceful way he talked with his hands showed me he was confident about his ideas. This was clearly not the first time he had given thought to empowering youth.

“I want to show young people how to bake,” he said, adding that he was passionate about passing along knowledge to others. When I asked him why he was so adamant about the transfer of skills, he said it was because he feels he is in a privileged position. I was impressed—I mean, you don’t really hear that in northern Uganda.

Photo by Travis Sanderson

I did not have to press him as he explained that this attitude was largely due to the generosity of an American man. When Jesse was young, a man named Brian Davis, who worked with the faith-based charity Samaritan’s Purse, sponsored Jesse’s tuition fees so that he could attend a trade school to learn how to bake. I agreed that that is a fortunate position to find one’s self in, but asked him whether that was the only reason for his attitude. “No,” he replied. “My mother helped with that, too.”

His mother, Veronica, owned a restaurant when he was young. Watching her dole out hospitality to anyone who crossed the threshold, he explained, had a significant impact on him. Jesse was basically born into the hospitality business, and it wasn’t long before he was helping his mother set up her restaurant in the early mornings before school.

In fact, his mother would go so far as to invite hungry neighbourhood children to eat at the restaurant, with no expectation of payment. Jesse said this was mostly because she was someone who would rather find solutions than simply identify problems and hope they go away. At one point, his mother even took it upon herself to feed and house a handful of children from a nearby tribe that had sent them out to fend for themselves.

It was Jesse’s mother who took it upon herself to speak to the director of the local school to convince him to eliminate the school fees for the poorer children who had to leave school if they could not pay. Her persuasion worked, and the fees were waived. Now, the children could complete their secondary education for free.

Under the shade in the daytime or under the stars at night; the courtyard seating
area at Elephanté. Photo by Travis Sanderson

Thanks to his mother and Davis, Jesse became a pragmatic person. He said he feels the most important thing he can do with his life is help change somebody else’s for the better, even if it is just one person. He said it’s the least he can do. This philosophy extends to his work life—he said he would rather train someone to do a job rather than hire someone already qualified for the position.

I like the way Jesse looks at the world. He sees that everyone has potential if exposed to the right opportunities, and he wants those skills to be fostered. He said he also thinks each of us has the power to perform and the ability to learn if given the chance.

This is Jesse’s teach-a-man-to-fish approach to life, and he leaves me with one last remark: “Do something. Pass along your knowledge to others so that they, too, can learn.”


Community, Empowerment, Education, Developmentor CEEDis a non-profit organization based in both Montreal and Gulu, Uganda. It works to empower youth to be agents of change in their communities through cross-cultural skills development and information sharing.

Each year, students from Concordia University travel to Uganda and work alongside Ugandan interns on various community projects that aim to benefit the youth of Gulu.

Travis Sanderson spent three months working as a communications intern in Uganda this summer. He has produced both written material and radio documentaries that reflect his experiences with the people of Uganda.

Photos by Travis Sanderson

Student Life

Getting around on two wheels

Bicycles Against Poverty simplifies transportation in Uganda at an affordable cost

Bicycles Against Poverty is only about a 10-minute walk down Eden Road, but as I arrived, I wondered why I did not take a bicycle.

The small handmade sign at the entrance was just a bit off the road —enough that, if you were not looking for it, you might miss it. A yellow dog was lying lazily in the sun next to a sun-faded green gate. Peering through the slats, I could see a modest house and a yard full of tall trees. It reminded me of a farmstead from back home, only filled with mango and palm trees.

Men wearing coveralls were working on a few bicycles at the far end of the yard. Next to me,  the dog yawned, and I assumed he was not their guard dog. Or at least not a very good one.

I let myself in through the gate. In front of the house, I was greeted by a young man standing in the shade. He introduced himself as Nicholas Ogaba, the credit officer for Bicycles Against Poverty, or BAP. He told me he had been working there for almost five years. The first few were spent as a community-based trainer, acting as a liaison with the community, then as an intern. He came aboard full-time three years ago.

Credit Officer at Bicycles Against Poverty, Nicholas Ogaba. Photo by Travis Sanderson

Based in northern Uganda, BAP is a microfinance organization that helps people with modest incomes in need of credit loans. BAP was created in 2009 to assist with the rebuilding of northern Uganda after a brutal, 20-year civil war between Joseph Kony’s militia and government troops. With a significant number of people displaced and many livelihoods drastically altered, the conflict had subsequently left the region struggling to adapt to a whole new way of life.

In the wake of this social disruption, a man named Muyambi Muyambi ventured up to Gulu from the south of the country so that he could better understand what had happened and assess the situation in-person to see what he could do to help.

Since access to reliable and affordable transportation was one of the main concerns in Uganda, both before and after the war, Muyambi explored various ideas that might offer transportation solutions to those who needed it most. Eventually, he thought of the idea that eventually became BAP. It was simple: provide transportation to everyone who needed it by combining modest and reasonable loans with a mode of transportation that would be easy to use and easy to maintain. And so Bicycles Against Poverty (BAP) was born.

According to the numerous people I had spoken with in Uganda, wheeled transportation is not only more convenient than walking, it can also mean access to cleaner water, to improved healthcare and to better education. More importantly, for agriculturally-based communities, it also provides access to better profit margins for produce by allowing small-holdings farmers to access more markets and buyers.

When a simple bicycle is fitted with a sturdy rear rack, it becomes more than just a bicycle. It becomes a sort of truck capable of carrying sacks of grain, bunches of bananas or, in many cases, live chickens. (I even had the opportunity to witness bicycles transporting live pigs and goats.) During my initial meeting at BAP in late June, Ogaba even told me a farmer living outside Gulu had found his wife collapsed and unconscious on the floor of their home, but was able to ferry her to the local healthcare facility on his bicycle. Think about that—a bicycle ambulance.

The Avon Five Star bicycle manufactured in India, but assembled in Gulu. Photo by Travis Sanderson

But why the bicycle? Based on my three months in Uganda, motorcycles, which Ugandans referred to as “bodas,” appeared to be fairly ubiquitous across the country. They filled the streets everywhere I went. However, as many of the boda men told me, these vehicles, which cost more than four million shillings (about $1,400 CAD), are often out of reach for many Ugandans. Not to mention they are expensive to maintain and, of course, the cost of fuel is another expense to factor in. In comparison, a bicycle is affordable, relatively easy to maintain and doesn’t require any fuel.

The total cost of one of these bicycles is 270,000 Ugandan shillings (about $90 CAD). When purchased through BAP, there is no interest charged and, to keep the logistics and associated costs simplified and efficient, groups of 15 people or more are encouraged to apply under a united “village savings and loan association.” Through these associations, individuals agree to a minimum and maximum weekly savings commitment, say between 1,000 and 5,000 shillings. As a group, this fosters a savings pool which can further increase the performance of those savings as well as their purchasing power. Once approved for participation in the program, an initial payment of 40,000 shillings is required to guarantee delivery of a bicycle while the remaining balance is then paid off by the participants at a rate of 24,000 shillings per month for 10 months.

As Ogaba explained to me, the bicycles BAP uses, which are manufactured by an Indian company called Avon, are not only affordable but also noted for their robust construction. This makes them more suited for the rough roads of the Ugandan countryside. The bicycles arrive in Gulu disassembled and in cardboard boxes, but a team of four workmen from BAP can  assemble the bikes at a rate of one every two hours per worker, or a total of 12 per day collectively. The bicycles are then distributed on predetermined days to rural communities by loading all the bikes on a transport truck. Ogaba estimated that more than 1,000 bicycles have been distributed since he’s begun working with the company, and BAP’s bicycles are now distributed anywhere within about 100 kilometres of Gulu to communities such as Amoro and Anaka.

Lead mechanic at BAP, Peko Innocent and operations director, Brian Facet make final adjustments on the delivered bicycles. Photo by Travis Sanderson

Although Muyambi is no longer involved with BAP at the ground level—he’s pursuing his MBA at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business in New Hampshire—he is still an active board member based in the United States.

The organization is now also working to address the transportation needs of participating groups, especially small-holdings farmers who may be more vulnerable with respect to access to markets, water points, healthcare and schooling because of their increased isolation from these resources.

Ogaba said he is confident in his team’s ability to achieve their new goals, and I given no reason to argue. What BAP is doing appears to me to be a well-run and well-thought-out approach to empowerment.

I noticed Ogaba check his watch, and I realised I had taken enough of his time. After all, there were still many bikes to assemble, and delivery day fast approaching. So, with the local customary handshake—a traditional clasp of hands with an added grasp of each other’s thumbs, then back to the clasp—I bade my new friends farewell and made my way back to the sun-faded green gate. As I closed it behind me, my wave goodbye was reciprocated by all inside but went completely unnoticed by the lazy dog, still basking in the sun.

Community, Empowerment, Education, Development—or CEED—is a non-profit organization based in both Montreal and Gulu, Uganda. It works to empower youth to be agents of change in their communities through cross-cultural skills development and information sharing.

Each year, students from Concordia University travel to Uganda and work alongside Ugandan interns on various community projects that aim to benefit the youth of Gulu.

Travis Sanderson spent three months working as a communications intern in Uganda this summer. He has produced both written material and radio documentaries that reflect his experiences with the people of Uganda.

Student Life

The value of a motorbike

Against the odds, Aber Diana is a single mother thriving in a male-dominated industry

We turned right off the main highway that runs through the city of Gulu onto a rough, stony road that jostled the motorcycle enough to remind me to tightly grip the rear of the seat.

After only a few hundred metres, the driver pulled over beside a cluster of seven small, circular huts with thatched straw roofs, typical of northern Uganda. These modest homes, with their short cement walls, measured only a few metres across and two metres tall at the peak of their conical roofs.

As we dismounted the motorcycle—called a “boda”—and I took in my surroundings, the boda driver began to walk amongst the huts towards one at the back, furthest from the road. I was fumbling with my recorder when it occurred to me that I was finally about to meet Aber Diana.

Three boda drivers, or “boda men,” on their motorbikes while they wait for customers outside the Elephanté Café in Gulu, Uganda. Photo by Travis Sanderson

I first heard about Diana in a 2012 article from a local newspaper called The Daily Monitor. As a communications intern tasked with finding people in the community between the ages of 18 and 35 who have overcome tremendous odds, I knew I needed to find out more about this woman.

Diana is unique, not only because she works in an industry dominated by men, but because she works at night in an industry dominated by men. By day, Gulu, the commercial centre of northern Uganda, is generally a safe and friendly city of about 150,000 people. At night, things change. As interns from Canada, we were discouraged from venturing out at night. It made me curious about what lay beyond the front gate of our compound on Onono Road. The list of reasons we were given varied, but mostly we were warned about running into the mysterious, aggressive “Iron Bar Men.”

In this city, Diana is a boda driver by night. It is important to note that people tend to become boda drivers as a last resort, often because they are uneducated or cannot find another type of work. The job demands long hours for little pay, not to mention the higher-than-usual overhead costs in the form of fuel and boda maintenance. There is also a significant level of stress that comes with navigating the chaotic roads of Uganda where no one really obeys traffic regulations and police are more concerned with taking bribes than enforcing the law. Finally, keep in mind that it is a very male-dominated industry—Diana is one of only three female boda drivers in all of Gulu.

Your security is your brain, and you should not rely on anyone to take care for you during the day or at night.

This is the reason I find Diana so interesting. Why would a 27-year-old single mother of five boys risk working such a dangerous and stressful job, let alone at night? After speaking with what seemed like half of the boda drivers in Gulu—many of whom gave no indication of knowing Diana—I was finally standing at her doorstep thanks to the help of a boda driver I met at the city’s main market.

Diana was outside hanging laundry as we approached her hut. When she noticed us, she was quick to smile, as if she already knew why we were there. Perhaps she did—I had been asking about her for a few days, and it would make sense that the boda driver community talks. Diana is tall and stocky; a solid woman who looks like she can take care of herself. Yet her soft, kind face and gentle smile give her away as a lamb dressed as a lion. Her delicate handshake, light and timid, twined my fingers with hers, and I knew this female boda driver was not being reckless or rebellious. Rather, she was a woman doing what she needed to for her children.

My friend, colleague and translator, Nyeko Geoffrey Augustine, explained the purpose of our visit, and we were immediately ushered into the small hut that was Diana’s home.

The white lace drapery that kept the entrance to her house private got tangled around my arm when I entered. As I tried to sort myself out, a stream of Diana’s family members, including a small child, made their way past me as they exited the hut, barely noticing my graceless entrance.

Typical bodas parked outside the Elephanté Café in Gulu. Photo by Travis Sanderson

Once inside, I realized the space was much larger than it looked from the outside. A pole in the middle of the room appeared to hold up the peak of the roof, and the short cement walls supported its base. The ground was covered with an old, circular sheet of linoleum. The whole space felt like a cozy farm house and instantly made me feel at home. To my right, the blanket that divided the space in half was a bit worn, but clean and in keeping with the atmosphere of  the home—lived-in, but not the least bit run down.

I soon learned that Diana has seldom had the dice roll in her favour. She was born into a poor family in a village called Anaka, in the Alero region of northern Uganda. Her childhood was darkened by a brutal civil war that raged from 1987 to 2007 between President Yoweri Museveni’s government troops and the guerilla group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by  Joseph Kony. At the age of 14, Diana was orphaned when LRA soldiers stormed her village, killing many of the residents, including her parents.

She was afforded a bit of good fortune when an elderly woman from her village took her in. She was able to feed and clothe her, but just barely. The ongoing civil war and the old woman’s financial situation prevented Diana from attending school. When she became pregnant at 14 with twin boys shortly after going to live with the old woman, getting an education was next to impossible. Two years later, pregnant again with another set of twins, Diana said she just decided to accept that she would never receive a proper education.

Now, with a fifth child and the father absent, Diana is left with a lot of responsibility and few options for supporting herself and her children. Yet she refuses to be seen as a victim.

“I do this so that my children forget the meaning of poverty.

The old woman, now 105, still lives in Anaka, and Diana speaks of her as if she were her mother. Diana’s only expressed regret about her upbringing is that she was not able to attend school.

When asked why she chooses to ride at night, Diana got straight to the point. A ride that costs 1000 Ugandan shillings (about 34 cents Canadian) during the day earns twice as much at night. Therefore, she can double her money if she rides at night.

“People often ask me why, being a lady, I would ride at night. And they ask if it is not very dangerous. One thing I tell them is that your security is your brain, and you should not rely on anyone to take care for you during the day or at night,” she said. “You must protect yourself. These words help me to always be careful whenever I ride a boda at night.” After many years of experience, one way she has learned to stay safe is by carrying people she knows whenever possible.

Through Geoffrey, I asked her how she gets along with all the men. I expected her to tell us it is like the Wild West, and that she is ostracised because of her gender. Yet she responded with positivity. “The only way is to live with each other the way you would live with your brothers and sisters at home,” she said.

Diana started riding a boda in 2006, and in her words, learned how to ride a motorcycle “a long time ago … from some men who teach people motorcycle riding at only 200 shillings.” She referred to herself as “a stubborn kid” who would “use part of the money that I got from selling fruits for learning to ride the motorcycle and take the rest back home.”

By the time she had her first set of twins, Diana had at least some knowledge about riding motorcycles, but this was not an instant solution. She still needed to earn enough to support her children. “I then prayed to God to at least help me use this little bit of knowledge that I had to feed my children, at the minimum,” she said. “When I realised that this job really fed my children, I give a big thanks to God.”

Diana’s three-year-old son, Pius, and a neighbourhood friend giggle at their reflections in the camera lens. Photo by Travis Sanderson

Although Diana does not have a motorcycle of her own, she is able to borrow one from a fellow driver for a fee, which she pays every morning after work. “The rest of the money, I use it to feed my children and other things,” she said. The extra money she makes riding at night helps her pay the boda owner with enough left to support her children.

However, riding at night while raising a family is not without its challenges. First, she requires the help of a neighbour, who agrees to stay with the children after Diana leaves for work around 6 p.m. Then, Diana must return home in time to get four of her five children ready for school each morning. She said she sleeps from the time the children leave for school until about 11 a.m. when her youngest son wakes up for the day. After that, she has household chores and three-year-old Pius to care for.

“I do all these things so that my children can live like the other children in their school and neighbourhood,” Diana said. “I also do this so that my children forget the meaning of poverty. And there are some times that I don’t have money, but I make sure they don’t know about it because I want my children to always be with a clear mind of having everything they need.”

I didn’t know how to respond, probably because I am fortunate enough to have never been in such circumstances. She continued, “So if [my children] ask me why I ride a boda and being the woman among the men who rides a boda, I always tell them to not worry. All they must think of is that I do all these things for them.”

As I began to wonder if Diana was the kind of person who has the power and potential to inspire the masses, I asked her if she had any advice to give based on her experiences. “To my sisters out there,” she responded, “I say don’t fear to do something that you feel will get you out of the situation that you are in now. Always remember the reason why the idea came to you in the first place.”

Community, Empowerment, Education, Development—or CEED—is a non-profit organization based in both Montreal and Gulu, Uganda. It works to empower youth to be change agents in their communities through cross-cultural skills development and information sharing.

Each year, students from Concordia University travel to Uganda and work alongside Ugandan interns on various community projects that aim to benefit the youth of Gulu.

Travis Sanderson spent three months working as a communications intern in Uganda this summer. He has produced both written material and radio documentaries that reflect his experiences with the people of Uganda.

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