Rehema Apio

As interviewed by Lila Madden, March 16, 2013

Rehema Apio: In Her Own Words

My name is Rehema Apio and I was born in July 27, 1969. I was in the Northern part of Uganda. The rights were not the same, but now they are improving. There have been various governments in Uganda, and they all have their strong points and weakness. The current one also has a weakness. Most of the governments, our weakness is they fail to take opportunity. The new male students, when they come out of college, a lot of them are flirting. They have no jobs, and it is even worse for ladies. Even same with boys, you can struggle, go to school, come out and then have to get started.

We have Christian and Muslims, and there are various denominations in Christianity and in the Muslims. There are no pagans. Everyone has to believe in some kind of religion. All the churches take both men and women, but the Muslims in the same mosque, women are separated. They are in the front, the men, and are separated with a barrier, or a wall, or a thick curtain, and the women are in the back. But in Christianity, the women and men sit together. I’m a Christian, but they are fundamentalists. I had a little bit of problems with them because they dictate that women should not plait their hair (holds a lock of her plaited hair) and women should not put on short skirts. There are Anglican, there are Catholic, and they do not really care. But it is based on their culture.

The education system is changing. In the past, boy children were sent off, and the girls were raised as housewives. A lot of families did not send their girls to school because they wanted them to become housewives in the future, so only boys were given the opportunity to go to school. But by now it is really changing, while some villages still don’t give girls the opportunity to go to school because they give it to the boys. My family was lucky, and I went to school.

In Northern Uganda, we had our Civil War with rebel leader named Kony for 26 years. His objective was not really clear because he ended up destroying the same people in the local government he supported. Both the government and the rebels were fighting and, when the two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. All the people in Northern Uganda suffered. The rebels say they want to change Uganda because they feel like they are being oppressed, but they also kill children who are the future of the community – so we don’t know who is right. The protests are a mix of men and women. But the men are like a chick, and the women are the hen supporting them. When the men bring an idea, the women join in together with them.

A lot of my friends and relatives were in protests, and they were beaten and tear gassed. If someone had informed the police we were meeting in here, you would see some coming here to force us to leave, asking, “What kind of meeting? Who gave you permission to be having this meeting?” And if you would resist, they would tear gas you.

In my country, the husbands, you have to submit totally to him. He is the king of the family, and the women, our work is to make sure there is food, the house is clean, the things are in order. She doesn’t have the voice, she cannot speak out. Even if her husband is torturing her, she has no voice. The society dictates that the man is the superior.

I came to Austin when I got a scholarship to the University of Texas – out of 200 Africans. They told me to choose where I wanted to go, and I said, “America,” so they said, “Where in America?” And I said Colorado. They said “Wow, it is all white, it is snow.” and I’m like, “No! No! I don’t want to go there now! Which state has sunshine?” And they say, “Texas. You will find cowboys there.” And I am still looking for cowboys!

I experienced a little bit of trouble because, in the teaching service, it is very difficult. I was sent to teach in another district, a different language altogether, and I taught for one year without my salary. But they would deceive me, saying I would get it next month, and I would not. They would then say, “Oh, its ok, you get it next month,” but I don’t get it. Then I went to the ministry myself and I say, “I’ve taught one year without salary. How do you expect me to survive, I’m not from here.” So they said, “Write your name,” and I wrote the first one, Apio Rehema, and I sent it ,and I didn’t get my salary. So I wrote again, Rehema Apio. So my name came and it was like thousands of dollars, three thousand, and that was Rehema Apio. And then Apio Rehema was like fifty dollars. So, me, with other teachers, we went to the district, like you would go to Houston to get your salary – so we went. A lady came out and called my name, “Apio Rehema” because we don’t have the order of men, we just say anything, usually we would say Apio Rehema, but like in America, it is family name last here.

The presidential appointee told me, “What is your name?” and I say, “What name did you call and then I came in.” No women, nobody would ask back but I was already dictated, I was already exposed, I was already brewing up trouble, and I knew a little bit of my rights. So she said, “Your name is Apio Rehema, not Rehema Apio.” And I said, “Well both are my name,” because I already knew the money came in two packages, both are my money, for one year. So she said, “I am going to give you your fifty dollars.” And I’m like, “Listen. One year’s salary is fifty dollars? Are you sure? Are you giving me all my money? Because both are my name. It is either Apio Rehema or Rehema Apio, but they are all my name.” Then she shouted at me and said, “Listen! You–” and I said, “Hey.” Then all the men are like, “You will respect her! She is the presidential appointee!” And I said, “I didn’t come to know who she is. I came here to get my money. Now give me my money.” So the teachers were hearing this – because when you talk inside, they could hear from the outside. And when I came out, the teachers were so happy because no teacher can talk. We are oppressed, and the women are even more oppressed. So I get my money finally.

The women in Southern Uganda are not oppressed as much. That is where the president is. They are a higher class of women. Even the economy is better for them. In Northern Uganda, we are oppressed by this war. We didn’t go to school for 26 years. When I was teaching like 400 kids in one class, the women in Southern Uganda were teaching 40. We cannot compete. The products that we give are not the same. For example, if there was a war and many schools were closed, we would all come here and the teachers cannot handle it. Then at the end of the day, they have not learned anything compared to other schools where there is peace. The problem is, they school a lot of teachers, but they can’t give them all jobs. The government says there is no employment for them here – they have to go find another profession. I’m very diverse,.I could teach at UT, I could teach elementary. Everybody in Uganda who goes to school has to learn English, so if you see someone cannot speak English, we know you never went to school. If you go to any office, you speak English.

Austin is another version of Africa. They are very sociable. When you see someone, they like to say, “Hi. Where are you going? Do you need any help?” In Austin, at least they say hi. If you go anywhere else, nobody is going to speak to you, and if you say hi, they are going to look at you like, “What do you want?”

In Austin, the food is different – the way you make the food is different. And then, the dressing. It is completely different. The ladies down for SXSW, every girl’s shorts were here (pokes her leg five inches from her hips). You can’t survive in Africa like that. They will say, “African girl, you are in big trouble!” The men can wear shorts that they want. If a local women puts on those shorts, it will be on the news. They nickname them antelopes. Antelopes eat grass. So they are saying you eat up money. You are a prostitute. The men can wear whatever they want. Again, it is just injustice.

There are some women in the government because there is a new rule saying there has to be a women representative in the government. But they don’t talk for them, they don’t say, “Leave these women alone. If you want to put on shorts, you’re shortest, go.” Nobody talks about. Because they are women – and if they talk, they are going to lose their voice.