19 July 2015

Learning From Extremes

Brian and I have talked a lot about the contrasts we've seen here in Uganda. I've written about this before but I find myself thinking about it again and again.

Lately, my heart breaks for people I see selling things in the streets of Kampala. Sometimes it's young men standing at major intersections trying to sell packs of gum. Sometimes it's someone carrying 5 pairs of jeans on their arm, hoping to sell a pair. Other times it's women along the highway with a basket of bananas for sale. These people. These beautiful, hard working people. I don't want to pity them; pity doesn't leave room for much dignity. Instead, I wonder about their stories...who are they? What kind of family do they come from? What will they buy with the money they earn? What are their names? My heart goes out to them and I just want to tell them they are amazing and inspiring.

And while we see these glimpses of hardship, we also see glimpses of abundance. 
Expensive cars driving right past the people selling things. New malls full of expensive clothing stores and cinemas are being built in Kampala. (Who shops at these stores?) New, shiny office buildings next to small shops made of scrap wood and metal. The side by side contrasts can be hard to process sometimes.

How do these worlds exist at the same time?

Admittedly, in the US I can avoid some (most?) of the extremes, if I want to. It is easy to stay in my middle class bubble if I want. But seeing these extremes, side by side reminds me that humanity surrounds me no matter where I am. And that ignoring the extremes don't help anyone, including myself.

And yet.

It's not just the monetary extremes that are easy to ignore. A friend tells me about going to the hospital to visit a friend who lost a baby. He then tells me how the next day he is going to celebrate an introduction -- an engagement party -- for another friend. Sadness. Followed by joy. It's easy to skate through, avoiding vulnerability and ignoring the fragility and realities of life. To stay safe and not share the sadness or the joys. It's easy to think that life presented via social media is all there is.

But the world is full of extremes and opposites. Rich and poor. Joy and sadness. 


I can choose engage. To learn from these extremes and from others. Or I can ignore them. Staying inside myself and within my own experiences.

Oh, how I want to choose to engage! To feel and to see. And to learn.

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