“An interview with Suzan Abong Wilmot, Harrisburg resident, jewelry-maker, nonviolence trainer, and mother.”
From Women Connect‘s December 2013 issue:
Having lived her entire life in Uganda, Suzan relocated to the city of Harrisburg in 2012 to be with her Pennsylvanian husband and experience his world. We spoke with her to gather her reflections on the life of an East African woman in central Pennsylvania.
What was the most difficult thing about leaving your home country, Uganda?
The immigration process was hard and stressful. It was very expensive for me and my husband. In order to come to the US, I had to first go to Kenya (where I had never been) for what became a month. The US embassy wouldn’t let me go back to Uganda to wait for my visa to be processed. I had to do odd jobs and sleep on restaurant floors to survive until my visa came through. It didn’t help that theft and robbery in Nairobi are common, so people are skeptical of everyone. Otherwise, the main things I miss about Uganda are food, family, and the moderate climate.
Have you connected with other Ugandans in Harrisburg?
I have connected with other Ugandans in Harrisburg. We share some of the same values and morals. I love to be with people who come from the same culture or similar cultures because we share the same view of life. Being with them makes me feel like there is some part of Uganda in me that isn’t lost yet. I don’t want to forget where I come from or the languages I speak.
What is your favorite experience as an artisan in central Pennsylvania?
I love leading jewelry-making workshops and teaching people about this kind of art. In Uganda, my craft is considered normal and uninteresting, but people here are so interested in it. It encourages me to appreciate my own work.
You have a nine-month-old girl. How is caring for a newborn child in Harrisburg different from nurturing that child in Uganda?
In Uganda, I wouldn’t have to monitor the food my baby eats, but here the foods are very pro-cessed and filled with chemicals. I also choose to raise my baby in a certain way despite cultural pressures. I expose her to others and take her out with me. Parenting shouldn’t be a private affair. The child belongs to the community. I also don’t want my child to be spoiled or demanding, which is a serious problem here.
You are internationally trained as a nonviolent action teacher and facilitator. What does that mean? How does that benefit your community in the US and your community in Uganda?
The US is a violent place, beginning with the government which takes most of the peoples’ taxes for military purposes. People who attend nonviolence trainings are able to equip others with skills to confront injustice and oppression. Some people aren’t willing to do the trainings because it takes time and energy.
In Uganda, we started a nonprofit called Solidarity Uganda to facilitate nonviolence trainings. These trainings teach communities that guns, spears, and arrows aren’t effective for achieving their goals, but there are other ways to solve their issues using nonviolent tactics. We work mostly on mass land conflicts where local peasants are threatened by big companies and government forces that have an interest in thieving the land.
Do you have any reflections on the immigration process?
I hate thinking about the process because it takes me back to the dark past. I don’t think anyone should have to go through it. The people in charge of the process should be clear with those undergoing the process about the steps they need to take rather than charging huge fees and necessitating lawyer expenses.
What advice do you have for other East African immigrants coming to the US?
Know what to expect. Talk to others about the immigration process and about life in the US. Don’t come unless you have a great reason.
In your view, what’s the funniest thing that Americans try to do?
Seeing adults wearing Halloween costumes.
Do you find any American behaviors odd?
The strangest thing they do is “start communities” and intentionally make time to “hang out and catch up.” These are natural things in Ugan-da. People don’t try to do them in an organized way. It just happens.
So how do you react to Harrisburg residents’ view of time?
Time here is valued too much. It has become a hindrance to peoples’ personal growth and the society they live in. Time has been made syn-onymous with money. Unless the time people use is self-beneficial, people don’t want to “waste it.”
Have you found any new hobbies or interests since you came to Harrisburg?
I like going to the cinema. There are not many movie theaters in Uganda. I love Christmas shopping and getting gifts for others. I also like going to parks and taking walks. Pennsylvania is hilly with nice views and forests.
What is your favorite thing about being in Harrisburg and your favorite thing about being in your country?
People and people.