Now that my culture shock has subsided, I have had an opportunity to see, smell, hear, touch, and even taste my surroundings. After my second week, I have actually absorbed some events that have occurred around me. At first I had no clue what to write about in this blog. Aside from the lack of power in the village, lack of ideas also kept me from updating for you. I kept waiting for some big extravagant event to take place. I wanted to share with you some life-changing story that would make a grown man cry…but by Friday, reality finally set in place. My week was full of hundreds of non-extraordinary events that were better than extravagant--they were human.
It is incredible to me that when I stepped away from my culture, I placed myself on the outskirts of two worlds. I now stand between the world I grew up in and the “developing world.” I am currently not a member of the world that provides endless electricity, water, fuel, and instant food. Yet, I am sure I can never fully claim membership to the world that exists in Uganda. I will always have my past, which however hard my childhood seemed, in retrospect I lived like a princess. Even if it was Hamburger Helper, we always had food, we could count on water pouring out of faucets, closets were full of clothes (even if they were from Value Village and Goodwill), although we rented for most of my life, we always had shelter and heat, and most invaluable of all: my parents were always alive and well.
As I look around me here, I see many non-extraordinary things. I see hundreds of flies (*not exaggerating) that surround and even land on me while I squat to use the toilet. I see happy children, many of them orphaned, who smile from ear to ear if I say hello, and somehow even wider when I let them hold my hands. I see the maid return to our house after walking a mile to fetch water from a spring; she balances a jerry-can on top of her head. Everywhere I have visited I see children wandering the streets because they cannot afford to go to school. I see on my plate the same meals (in different varieties) each day because it is too expensive to eat anything other than rice, beans, poacha (a paste mix of flour and water), and matoke (a form of flavorless banana that is mashed and cooked). I see red dust from the roads flow off my body as I bathe in a bucket by splashing my body clean. I see miles of green bush and trees in every direction I look; I see mud huts and wooden shacks between the trees, where most Ugandan’s reside. During a rainstorm, I see many buckets sitting everywhere outside to collect rainwater. At night, I don’t see anything without my flashlight because the solar panels did not accumulate enough charge while it was raining and cloudy all day. At work, I see my battery depletion symbol flash on my computer because maintenance on the village’s only power line has stopped power for the next couple weeks. After work, I see a six-year-old girl chase after me to hold my hand as we walk along the dangerous dirt road on our way home from school. I see hundreds of smiling, friendly people greeting me as I walk anywhere. I also see that many of these people have no shoes, dirty clothes, sores on their bodies, and yes, let me repeat, I also see them smiling.
When we think about what we as humans need, it really comes down to a few basic things. To explain, I want to refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Unfortunately, in certain parts of the world, some humans are stuck on the bottom tiers of this pyramid (due to social structure, lack of finances, or even just bad luck).
As I stand here on the outskirts, I see a difference between these two worlds lies-in part-within this pyramid. In the world that I come from, many people access the top of this pyramid of needs without trouble. Several others are either given or earn the means to climb to the top during their lifetimes. Of course, there are those who never make it passed the lower tiers, but in the big picture, they make up a small portion of that world.
When I turn to look upon the world I am visiting, I see only a small portion of people here make it to the top and truly have all basic human needs accounted for in their lives. The causes for this are too big to see with the naked eye. It may take years of studying, observing, and analyzing to understand why I was born in a middle class family as a citizen of the most powerful nation in the world. Yet on the same day, a young woman was born as a citizen of Uganda to live in a hut, or if she is lucky, a shack for the rest of her life. I am not at the point where I can understand yet; as I said, this may take years.
**I recognize that we as humans go through various stages in our lives that may take us up or down the hierarchy of needs. By explaining this, I am not trying to guilt you, make you give up your lifestyle, or jump on a plane and join me. I merely want you to see what I see. Interpret it as you wish.
As a side note: This weekend I took a trip to Lake Mburu, one of Uganda’s national parks. At the lake, we went on 3 game tours, one on foot, one by car, and one by boat. It was incredible! I saw zebras, gazelles, buffalo, hippos, a crocodile, dozens of vibrantly colored birds, and a few species of primates. The best part about this place is that there are no gates, just miles and miles of land. Animals are able to roam freely and live as they were naturally intended to live. Interesting piece of history: Our guide on the walking tour informed us that during Idi Amin’s regime he did not have laws about poaching, so all the elephants in the park were killed. Today the park still has no elephants. Sad. Another cool thing about Uganda’s national parks is that East Africans only pay 50% of admissions. Unfortunately, this is still too much money for most of them, so these parks exist to serve tourists. I brought my interpreter, Molly along with me this weekend. She is 20 years old and although she has lived in Uganda her entire life, she had never been to a park before. As we were about to go to sleep in our hotel (the second hotel she has ever been to) she whispered to me, “I will never forget my Tina (her nickname for me), because she was kind enough to take me on the first trip to a Ugandan national park. I will remember you always.” I may have cried a little after that.
I hope to provide pictures this weekend; my internet is too weak to upload pictures so I will do this when I visit my cousin’s place in Kampala.