24 February 2012

This World is a Crazy Place

I'll be honest. Sometimes it's hard to know how to describe life here in Uganda. Hard to know how to share my experience with you, my readers...many of whom are back in the United States. And, the longer I stay here in Kampala, the more and more I am struck by the contrasts between 'here' and 'there', or rather the contrasts between the US and Uganda. [I won't say between the West and the developing world because I have limited experience in both and those terms are too broad.]  When I was in the US for the holidays, I kept asking myself and whoever I was with, "How does this [excess, money, over-indulging, everything American] exist?! How do the things in the US exist at the same time as my life in Uganda?" I couldn't put it together. I can't put it together now that I'm back in Uganda. And in some ways it's hard to describe.

But there's something about being a part of two different cultures that makes your brain go crazy. Seeing the excess, the shiny buildings, the ever moving traffic, the clean roads in the US and comparing those to the trash lined, congested traffic, dirt roads, and the brick buildings here in Uganda is and was mind boggling. It made me ask: How is this fair? What kind of world do we live in? And seeing beautiful, big, new libraries in the US and thinking of my tiny, dusty library made me want to run up to every librarian I saw and say, "Do you know how lucky you are??"

The statistics we hear in the US [X number of people around the world live on less that $1 a day, etc.] are not statistics...they're people. They have faces and names. And on the other side of the world, I have friends in the US who so flippantly say they're 'broke' but have jobs that pay them the equivalent of millions of shillings. How do you reconcile that? And really, those friends aren't a statistic either...they're people too.

How do these two worlds exist at the same time?

And yet.

I'm learning over and over again that life is life. People are people. Pain is pain and joy is joy. I can't discount the pain and hard things I see here, just as I can't discount the pain my friends and family go through in the US. It's easy for me to compare and want say to people in the US, "Things are so different in Uganda...deal with it. You have it SO good!" But if you haven't experienced the differences, how is that a fair thing to say? [Although, to be honest, sometimes I still want to shout that in response to some Facebook statuses.]

Just the other day, as I got hard news from home, I found out that one of the students' sons died. Another student's wife just had a baby last Thursday. And I realized the contrast isn't just with the US and Uganda, but with life itself. How can we ever understand the differences? The way life and death go hand-in-hand?

I don't know if we can ever understand. Can you ever live in or travel to a new place and not be touched and changed by what you see around you? How do we take what we see and learn about the world in order to put our own lives into perspective? Can we ever understand life and death?

I guess we can trust. And learn. And ultimately we can use the pain we've experienced in our own lives to become more compassionate people...loving those around us and working for change. And we can use the joys in our own lives to learn to celebrate. We can celebrate and find the beauty in both cultures.


  1. This is profound and beautiful. Each heart must carry its own joy and pain, regardless of the trappings, the ease or struggle of its cultural geography. I will be meditating on this today.

  2. Rachel - this is such a wonderful reflection. You've put words to feelings I've had both abroad and then back in the US. How to remember what one has witnessed and yet also lead the life one is called to live where one is?

    I have found I am more aware of the blessings of my life but also see some of the very valuable things that we've lost in the US because we are so materially wealthy. It's way too simple to set up dichotomies to try and make sense of the world.

    My most recent reflection is to be in awe that God holds all of this in existence simultaneously when I have to make an effort to remember that the people I've met in Ghana, Japan, Bulgaria, Argentina, etc. are all living life today - just as they did before I met them and will tomorrow until we meet again.

    You are an amazing witness.

  3. Learning to recognize, but not be overcome by, the disparities in life can be difficult. I appreciate your acknowledgment that another's difficulties do not negate the difficulties of one who may be better off in some aspects. Thank you for writing on this emotionally complex topic without creating guilt for those who happen to be born into more affluent circumstances.

  4. Thanks, everyone. These thoughts and emotions have been on my mind for a long time but I've struggled to know how to put them into words. I didn't want to offend anyone...on either side of the ocean. Life is a complicated thing and it can be easy to compare and try to pass judgement based on a limited view. I so desperately want to be open to learning from and carefully considering both cultures I call home.

  5. Stopping by from Prodigal Magazine:

    The contrast is something that nobody ever gets used to. I think that no matter where you are there will always be challenges.

    Thank you for sharing,