Daily Life in Uganda – A Day in My Life
Some ask what it’s like here, but I seldom go into too much detail for several reasons. One being that it seems that opening up ones heart to the public leaves one too vulnerable to scrutiny. And when we feel most vulnerable, as I do right now, this sort of inspection can feel soul crushing. Interestingly it’s when we need to open up and release the most that we fear doing so the most. But in reality how can it hurt? After all God examines our hearts far more intimately and more accurately than anyone else. In fact sometimes I shiver at how much I fool myself when the fact of the matter is God sees it all. And yet somehow I see a fig leaf as clothing adequate enough to hide my fears from His omnipresence.
Regardless right now I believe that God wants me to put in writing “a day or so in the life of me” and I had better do it quickly before this “courage” runs through the fingers of my clasped hands, gone forever. If interested, and I will understand if you are not, perhaps you might feel the raw underbelly of life here and then pray for me when I have no words of my own to pray. It’s hard to express this stuff because it feels as though once spoken, or in this case typed, the ocean of tears that want to produce a tsunami will start only to never stop. Then suddenly people will look the other way embarrassed leaving me far more aware of God himself. Now I am starting to talk myself out of this.
Daily Life in Uganda – The Wrong Side
Yesterday as nearly every day I left the Jinja office and crossed the Owen Falls Dam heading for my home in Njeru, which is on the “wrong side of tracks” as it were. I say the “wrong side” for a few reasons. One because most western missionaries in this region seem to live in Jinja Town separated from one another by what seems to be only two broken winding tarmac roads that grind their way through a maze of compound walls with razor wire on top. Having only one thin bridge and a sizeable river between us and them leaves us feeling a bit vulnerable since we live through and next to a village that reeks of IDP camp conditions. Conditions that when joined with man’s inclination to sin, crimes of desperation are born. And this infant wrapped in a tattered ill-scented blanket woven with threads of sewer, disease, hunger and addiction suckles on ignorance. And refuses to wean.
Interestingly this slum is called “Acholi Village” because most of the villagers are Dinka from Southern Sudan not Acholi from northwestern Uganda, otherwise known as the West Nile. Either way sometimes when driving through a young man or two will make a throat cutting gesture with their finger and yell “keal da muzungu” (kill the white man). It’s eerie for sure but the worst is when a 4 or 5 year old boy makes the same gesture. The boy usually faithfully fulfills the learned ritual then runs away since he still has transparent fear in his spirit. Now transparent, soon translucent and surely one day soon, angrily opaque. But sure enough they are learning the trade and shall one day become “men” just like their older brothers and their most probably deceased fathers. And if they do not wind up dead or in prison they have the few remaining “men” scattered around to look up to. In the meantime on a well behaved day these little ones stand in their worn-out reddish brown feces stained shorts, or simply naked, and mostly yell “muzungu bye!” or “you gimme sweetie” or they say nothing at all and just throw small rocks at my truck.
Daily Life in Uganda – The Men
Fathers and grandfathers? There are a handful of broken older men scattered about among the women and children that are not as idle as the younger generation. These men are not idle at all. In fact they are usually walking somewhere, quite drunk looking for some more homemade brew; the sludge the local ladies ferment on plastic tarps which they spread out like bed sheets below the equatorial sun just next to the dusty then muddy then dusty dirt road. And of course it’s not uncommon for one of these men, looking to escape his reality, to drink a bad batch of waragi (local gin) and poison himself to death. But that appears to be his fate and depending on the family and his status which is mostly determined by age he may or may not receive a coffin. And if the buzzards, or a witch doctor for that matter, don’t find him first he will definitely get dropped a few feet into a hole then covered with the same type of soil found on the walls of his sagging grass thatched roof mud hut.
Now the younger men, when not working, and they never do, usually cram 5 men onto one of four short rickety oily timber benches. The serious bow in the middle of the long seat makes me wonder why they do not snap, but somehow still they never do. Even when I sit on them they never do. I emphasize 5 men per bench because according to my western spatial needs only 2 men should be using each bench. Then again the structural condition of those benches does not even qualify for any western man to sit upon it. For the westerner it defies physics…somehow here in Uganda it does not. Perhaps I am seeing God rework one of his own natural laws, symbolic of the relentless compassion he is showing humanity. A world that does not deserve as much.
So what’s going on that so many men need to share these benches? Well it’s not church, it’s not school and it’s not work. They play a board game all day long, day after day after day. Then on Sunday when the faithful church goers go to church, one of which is a makeshift shanty, the ladies some of whom produce the ever fermenting millet beer, some of whom are bleak prostitutes, some of whom work at the local brewery, blanket wrap and swing their undernourished dusty reddish black children onto their backs, the ones that can stand follow behind. They then make their short journey to the church that squats in the mud stained grass just behind their own shacks…next to the makeshift pit latrines complements of the same dusty architect who piecemealed the church shack in the first place. But the young men? They remain focused on their board game. Without flinch. Sometimes I wonder if they have even noticed that their children are missing.
Daily Life in Uganda – The Women and Children
All that! along with the Jinja town homeless k’jong children that eat third world trash only to chase it with a sniff of gasoline fumes, the prostitutes that have given up all hope and work the streets in an AIDS infested land, the adult male opium addicts that somehow manage to walk comatose half naked, or sometimes completely naked, from trash pile to trash pile in search of food, the insane that walk in front of cars some getting hit and others not yet, along with the babies that play in the muddy sewer water in the Muslim dominated market where I purchase my lunch for 50 cents…if I have a predictable routine this is it. Yes this is a day or so in the life of not only me but also my family. But what’s worse is that this is “the day in the life” of countless millions of Ugandans who were not born with a travel visa good for virtually any nation in the world. They are stuck.
Daily Life in Uganda – Is God Good?
I must be honest, quite often I hold this all in struggling to look up to the Lord for answers. I want to scream at Him with serious accusations. Attacked by the devastating pain that inundates all of my five senses, if ones soul can be bruised mine is. But then I am reminded that God is God and God is always good. Several years ago just after being told I only had two years to live I can remember worshipping with eMi USA at their Friday morning chapel. The very last song we sang was “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman. The refrain spoke loud and clear to me at that very moment:
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
Today I chose to say the same;“Lord, blessed be Your name”. God is God and God is always Good even when I do not fully understand.