Sometimes a little boy on the street will ask me for money. Sometimes that same little boy will run up and offer to share his ground nuts with me.
Sometimes I want to cry looking at the poverty and dirt around me. Sometimes I want to cry because a whole cluster of Ugandan children just called out to me, “our white person!” in their local language.
In the four and a half months I have known Uganda, I have always found it to be a place of contradictions. A land of one extreme and then the other.
As I walk around my neighborhood I see my landlady, who owns several apartment compounds. She is covered in jewelry, hair and nails done nicely. Her clothes are fashionable. She gives me a glare as I play with children on the street. Not far from her is an elderly woman I’ve never met. Her head is shaved and she is walking barefoot down the rocky hill. She wears an old, modest dress and says “welcome back” to me as I pass her. I think, “How is it possible that these two women live on the same road?”
When I was last in Uganda, I used to live in a village where I worked with the poorest people I have ever met. Children and adults alike who have never owned a pair of shoes, but people so joyful, so thankful, so eager to praise God. Now I work at a school made up of some of the richest kids in the country-kids that are told they have to have new shoes that fit the uniform requirements by next week, kids of privilege.
I used to sit in the dirt and pray for the sick, lay hands on those with Malaria, Typhoid, HIV, and teach bible stories and verses to kids who understood faith better than most adults I’ve met. Now I teach advanced levels of music, I give merits and detentions, I write extensive lesson plans and pray that I’m possibly having an effect on someone.
I’ve known a Uganda where kids just want to go to school and now I exhaust myself trying to keep kids on task in class.
I used to share my faith daily. It came out so easily, like breath. Now I’m not allowed to talk about my faith, and I have quickly realized that I don’t know how to not talk about Jesus.
Even within me my emotions are constantly contradictory. I can feel loved and scared, generous and selfish, surrounded by the presence of God yet lonely among people. I pinch my pennies (or shillings) feeling like I’m making hardly anything each month, while knowing I am rich in a country of poverty.
Uganda is a place that rattles me, consumes me, confuses me, and welcomes me into its messes and beauties.
Lately I have been re-reading Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, a missionary in Jinja, Uganda. Katie is only a couple years older than me. She moved to Uganda directly after graduating from high school. She taught kindergarten in a rural village and one day began adopting children and caring for the poor. She now has 14 daughters and a well-known ministry called Amazima, which is a Luganda word meaning “truth.”
I read her book before the first time I came to Uganda. Back then I had very little context for anything she was saying. It’s incredible to read again now and to see lines that resonant so deeply within me and explain exactly what I have been feeling.
Katie Davis went through many of the things I am now going through. Reading her words makes me feel less alone here. Like I said, I’ve read her book before, but I can’t explain the jolt I felt when I reread these words that have ran through my head numerous times in the past six weeks: “The contradiction comes when I realize that all these experiences and emotions were real. The happiness that gave me chill bumps was as deep as my loneliness. My sense of certainty about being exactly where God wanted me was solid, but just as firm was the fact that I wondered at times what on earth I was doing here. The frustration that threatened to overtake me on some occasions was just as deep and true as the unbounded joy I felt at other times.”
There are so so many beautiful things about living in my little corner of Africa but there are just as many challenges and concerns. I remember saying before I left that I already knew the transition to Kampala would be difficult, but really, I had no idea what was in store.