Tuesday, September 29, 2009

High school dances all over again and...I'm being courted by a 38-year-old??

It is impossible for me to describe the extent of what it means to be a mzungu (white person) here in Uganda. So I leave you with a couple of stories...

The first question that ever came out of his mouth to me was this: "Do you know Brooke?" Upon my head nod he proceeded to ask, "Have you seen her baby?"

Now Brooke is one of our professors while here who married a Ugandan and has a mixed baby. Beautiful, no doubt. But a hysterical conversation starter.

The conversation ended fairly quickly as I briskly walked away. This was the beginning of several encounters all of which I discounted readily. Until one day, I began my 1.5K trek home and heard my name being yelled from behind. I turned around to discover he who we shall call "Victor" running up behind me and asking if I had time to get some tea and chat. Luckily, it was nearly 7, the time I am required to be home. Sigh; I had a legitemate excuse.

"May I buy you a boda-boda then?" (a ride home on a motorcycle). "No thank you, I enjoy walking;" simple response. But one thing you must know is that African men are persistent. "Well, then I shall walk you." "Really, I'm fine," I pleaded. But like I said, African men are persistent. So he proceeded to walk me all the way home, questioning about my major, education, etc and telling me all of the ways in which that would fit perfectly here in Uganda.

As if that's not enough, he stopped by the side of the road and bought corn and asked me to wait. Little did I know it was for my family! He proceeded to talk himself up and say he had to be honest and let me know where he stands; he wants to get to know me. And to all of this I clearly responded I was interested only in friendship, would be returning to America in December, and certainly would not date him. And was I ever relieved as I finally arrived my house and came up with an excuse not to give him my number.

So, the next afternoon, he came to my house! Luckily, I was not there. And now I know not what to do. Would he have ever initiated a conversation were I not a mzungu? Arguable, but I say "no" pretty confidently.
And for a second story:
Dani and I were standing outside of our brother's school dance party which we had promised to come to when we exchanged looks of anticipation as we had no IDEA what to expect. Upon enterring the room, the music stopped, all the guys gathered around us wanting to dance, and all we could say was "Where's Peter?"

For one of the longest minutes of my life I stood and semi-danced, overwhelmed by the focus of attention until FINALLY--Peter's hand reached through and grabbed us out of the crowd.

Would this happen if I were not white? I dare to say no.
In addition, on any given day at any given moment you hear "Mzungu! Mzungu!" as you walk down the streets of Mukono and the boda-boda men inevitably make some smart comment: "Mzungu, I love you!," "Obama!," or Yes, please!" Honestly, what does that even mean? When kids see you they A) scream B) yell "Mzungu!" C) jump up and down D) cling to their parents, or E) a combination of the above.

Ask any given person on the street in Mukono where they would go if the sky was the limit and 99.9% of the time the resounding answer would be, "America!" Here in Uganda there is an idealization about America--they LOVE Obama. Seriously; there are t-shirts with Obama on the streets. And because we have a black president they assume that America is a utopia. It's funny; everyone over here claims him as their own and love African Americans, but how many African Americans even have a passing thought involving Africans?

It is inarguable that America influences the rest of the world, or at least Uganda. Did I think I would hear Backstreet Boys blaring from the sports bar as I walked down the street? Not quite. And while it's really humorous, it's kind of heart-breaking.

The things which have in the past defined their African culture are quickly disappearing and I am left to wonder what it will be like 50 years from now...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Today I will not lie to you.

I have now been in uganda for a month; the precise amount of time experts say you will inevitably wrestle with the culture you happen to be in and miss deep friendships. While I would love to tell you that I do not fit the cookie-cutter mold, I cannot.

Though I have traveled before and wrestled with things, it does not fail to be true the third/fourth time around. You'll often hear the saying that "'there' soon becomes 'here' regardless of where you go," and it is undeniably true.

There is nothing I want more than to get away for a few days/weeks/months/YEARS (ok, a little extreme) and just acknowledge the fact that life goes on without me. Is it possible that I need a sabbatical just shy of 20 years old? Haha, I laugh. But today i am entirely genuine.

And I don't doubt this will change again; that the things I am finding negative in Ugandan society will soon prove to be signs of hope for me. But there's no way to know when or how or whatever. So you can just smile when you read the positive update and remember I told you the encouragement would come :)

On the bright side, the people here are no less wonderful than they were the first day--on campus, at my home stay, and in the community. We went to Jinja this past weekend and I could talk for hours of the positive and negatives of it, but time does not lend itself to that. I worked in the garden with Mama the other day and anticipate the days that are to come tilling the African soil. It is a mind-boggling thing to consider the process of life; growing and maturing seeds/humans/animals.

I am continually striving to see the connection the underlies all of mankind and life in general; our necessity for each other in order for life to exist at all.

Know that I love and appreciate your presence in my life far more than you know.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'I am because we are' and 'We are because He is'

Classes officially started a week ago yesterday and time is anything but endless.

Coming in to the program we knew some, but not all, of what this semester would entail. And I am relieved to know, at least in part (ha), what it is and will be like. I can say in absolute certainty that I am reading more than I ever have before and my mind is stretched CONTINUALLY. The things I have come to accept are once again challenged as I see faith lived out in yet another culture.

I have to admit though, I love the fact that we do not fully know all of what the semester ahead holds. It seems to be the way with African life in general; live for the relationships, the conversations, the present. On the journey of living life as a collective community, I am discovering the depth of the truth in the philosophy that 'I am because we are' and 'We are because He is.' Though in my mind this has always been resoundingly true and i have seen it before, this is perhaps the first time I have actually been a participant in acknowledging it by action.

Some of you may have heard that there were riots in Kampala and Mukono this past weekend. And yes, I certainly was affected by them. Thursday night the seven of us that live 20+ minutes away from campus by foot had to stay with the leaders of the program on campus. We were pampered with some All American goodies (brownies, cookies, muffins...) and under the circumstances were pretty much oblivious to all that was taking place.

It was not until the next day returning to our homes in Mukono that the issue in its depth became real to us. Tribalism runs deep in Africa and there are somewhere around 52 tribes in Uganda alone. In a nutshell, the Boganda king was trying to get to a neighboring village but the President of Uganda would not allow him to pass. This, in turn, caused upheaval and rioting among the Buganda (people of the kingdom) which was demonstrated through stonings and fires in the streets. In order to tame the situation, the police fired gunshots in the air and in extreme cases, used some tear gas in order to keep the people from continuing to cause trouble.

We were absolutely safe, but not unaffected by fires and gunshots both seen and heard right over the fence of the back of our house. At least where we are, people are fine and the issue is resolved; the King agreed not to pass. Through it all I've learned much about Tribalism, though it would be impossible for me to fully grasp it after three weeks' time.

My family here is wonderful; it, in and of itself, is an example of community as none of the people that live with us are Mama Robina's children anymore. But it doesn't matter; all are family. Ah, Mama Robina. I hope I have time someday to elaborate on that incredible woman of faith...

For those of you I've talked to, it's been wonderful to hear your voices!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I can learn from those who've killed.

Wasuzotia? (Good morning and how did you sleep? in Luganda, the local language).
The proper response here would be 'Bulungi!' literally translating 'good,' provided all is well. So I'll pretend I heard your response :)

Beginning this post is certainly difficult as we just spent an intensive week walking through the streets where the Rwandan Genocide took place as well as hearing the firsthand perspectives of some of those who experienced it. And I am reminded yet again of the brokenness that exists within every man. People justified killing in the name of the Christian faith and many of the genocides took place between people who knew each other well, often within the churches themselves. I am left with the realization that love and hate are far closer than we like to admit; where there is love, hate seems to follow closely. Perhaps it is just circumstance which prevents us from killing just as they did...

And where I struggle most is that in the time Rwandans were utterly helpless, the world at large remained entirely at a distance. And I don't even mean in the midst of the war, for that they did to themselves. But what about the follow-up?

I could go on for hours of the many gory details and injustices of the occurence, but I have not the time nor the energy to walk through it all again.

However, I can tell you that today, Rwanda is surprisingly one of the safest places in the world. They are a tangible example of a country which views reconciliation as ESSENTIAL and forgiveness is taking place. Slowly, but surely. The church as an institution is a place which is slowly healing as well. But faith in the midst of it all is dumbfounding as you see women forgiving men who slaughtered their babies in their own two hands. So the church as a people group is stronger than it has been in a long time as faith in God is strong. But not void of questions.

While not every story is a story of faith, it is remarkable to see the bridges being gapped. And I am realizing that pain, regardless to what degree it is, cannot be disregarded. And it cannot be ignored. Though this sounds basic, it's incredible how brilliant that people, including myself, become at hiding it.