Photo Credit: TN
Diary Of A Black Traveler: How A Trip To Uganda Changed The Course Of Jordan's Life
We all have unique experiences when we visit a different city or country, but how often does your black identity have an impact on your trip? In our Diary of a Black Traveler series, we ask members of the Travel Noire family to share their personal experiences of being a black traveler in an unfamiliar space. Jordan (@jordan4jesus), tells Travel Noire how her time visiting Uganda as a missionary transformed her view of missionary work and inspired her to build her own home and school for children in Uganda.
Travel Noire: Why did you decide to travel to Uganda?
Jordan: I was going with an organization to serve as a missionary at their orphanage in Uganda. I was ecstatic!
Travel Noire: Did you connect with the destination on a personal level due to your black heritage?
Jordan: Yes! I did. My very first day at the orphanage the kids told me, “Auntie Jordan, you’re just like us. You’re a Black American and an orphan.” They resonated with my representation, religious beliefs, skin color, and even upbringing in a “single (or no) parent home”. The house moms and dads also called me their own, served me food that the Ugandans ate (there was separate food cooked for the other missionaries that were white), and confided in me about issues that were specific to our experiences as blacks and the interactions with the white people that came.
Travel Noire: Did you feel like you were treated differently because you were black and from a different country?
Jordan: By the missionaries, yes, I was treated very differently. They were very racist, demeaning and disrespectful to me as an African American and to all of us as black people including the Ugandans. Completely opposite from them, the Ugandans made me feel “back” at home. The only difference seemed to be our accents alone because I even spoke their native language with them. Hence, I can assume jealously or even misunderstanding was the root cause of the white people’s treatment of me because they could not understand the instant and constant bond that I had with the Ugandans. It was innate and they could tell.
Travel Noire: How did you overcome that challenge?
Jordan: As mentioned above, my challenges stemmed from the group I traveled there with. Besides my experiences with them, I had very few issues with the Ugandans as a black person. In fact, my skin color became a tool in the initial rapport needed to build the foundation of our relationships. After the single, yet significant foot in the door, I immediately began learning their language. I refused to speak to them in English as best I could so that I could humble myself in that way and affirm their culture through my appreciation for their native tongue. The most important thing was the quality time I spent with them. This was via cooking for long hours most days, washing clothes, spending almost every second of the day with the children and learning about them beyond their daily routines.
Travel Noire: How did this experience help you grow?
Jordan: I grew in my appreciation for “us.” The African diaspora is one thing to study, but when you see it pan out as a reality, that we are truly one, you fall more in love with who you are. I came back home, needing to forgive the white people that had hurt me, but still with my fist in the air at the gained sense of identity since that trip. Those few months there opened my eyes to food and fashion that was like ours here in the States, and even similar versions of black hair culture! Overall, I definitely grew in my heart of forgiveness for others that travel to Africa with stereotypes on their radar versus an open heart to the people and rich cultures there.
Travel Noire: What impact has that trip had on your life?
Jordan: Because of the highs and lows of this trip to Uganda, coupled with my experiences in the country prior, this trip led me to create my own home and school for orphaned and vulnerable children in Northern Uganda. Today that is literally my full-time life. From the very first day when the kids told me, “Auntie Jordan, you are just like us: You are a black American and an orphan,” I realized that what I had to offer fatherless children was powerful. I showed them representation before anything came out of my mouth and that was powerful to them. It gave them a face they could trust, a story they could relate to, and tore down the stereotype of me as a missionary to come and “save” them. I knew my agenda was never to “save” anyone. That was never my mission even if it was my title. My ambitions for those few months in Uganda were to be immersed into a culture alongside a people that are my own. And that is what they saw in me. That is why they trusted me to be like them before I had to prove who I already was.
Furthermore, I am building a home and school with my co-founder and best friend Ocen, who is from the exact same tribe where the school is. Together we offer them hope because we are the images of what defying the stereotypes of the “black orphan” look like. That is our gift to share in raising this village we can truly call family.
Travel Noire: Would you encourage other black travelers to visit Uganda?
Jordan: Of course! Our home and school currently being built in Northern Uganda has an emphasis on the vibrancy of our heritage because as a founder, I want black people to come and be anything but a “missionary” to our kind. I want us to be with them, like them, and called family. Essentially, our home is the story of redemption, including that of the fatherless and us of the African Diaspora. Of course, others are welcome, but for “us” that are like them, that is where we will draw our pride in being the village to raise these children.
This experience was an extension of Travel Noire. In the same way this platform was created out of the issue of seeing so many travelers that didn’t look like “us,” Gen House, my organization, was birthed out of the experience I had with the rare title of “black missionary.” I wanted to redefine the opportunity to return to Africa, not as a missionary, but to actually commune with our own kind and to raise children who do not have parents or who are in desperate situations, to appreciate their kind. I want their self-esteem to be heightened because of the value of their identities expressed through the unique ways we teach, love and care for them. Gen House and Travel Noire, with our distinct agendas to highlight the roots of our people, are continuing the redemptive stories of Africa and Africans. We matter.