I have been thinking about my last post A Meeting of Two Worlds and some of the issues it has raised in chatting to people. Living here and experiencing this sort of disparity is unsettling yet we get used to it and see a truth that is somewhat different from what is imagined by those in the West. There is nothing we can do to close this wide gap between us and them and nor should we. There is a type of arrogance in a white and rich person trying to come in and fix the lives of African peasants. Having said that there are areas in which Aid is needed and is most beneficial: Aids research, access to clean water, wells and medicine; anything that can help those who cannot help themselves. But we cannot try and take an entire continent and turn it into the West.
In my first months here I felt uncomfortable living side by side with such poverty and I recently spoke to my class about this after our visit to the school. We talked about how we felt visiting a school where nearly none of the kids owned shoes. I explained to my students that the wealthy ones had no need to feel guilty; why should they feel guilt for being fortunate through an accident of birth? The world is not fair and never will be. What is important is to always feel gratitude, be aware and help where we can.
One thing that I didn’t mention in my description of the school was the smell. When the students pressed close and squashed together to watch the dance show that some of their fellow students performed for us there rose an overwhelming stench of unwashed bodies and clothes. Most of Africa lives as Europe did, pre industrial revolution, without electricity and running water. They do not notice the smell, nor do they feel miserable about their circumstances. They are not hungry, nor unhappy. They were all smiling with the joy of being young and playing games with their friends.
So the disparity will stay, the gulf will remain. The lives of a few may change, less people will die of malaria and Aids and more and more will get electricity and running water, but if they want to lift themselves up and improve their lives I really believe it is them and them alone that will do it. They have all the tools; a lush and fertile land, schools, a strong population, imagination and a secure political environment.
In some future posts I want to focus on the middle class here in Uganda. That might present a different side to the coin.
On the way to Sipi falls we passed through Graduation day at the nearby Islamic University. Proud graduates in gaudy outfits that peeped out from beneath their gowns were having their photos taken in portable photo booths resplendent in shiny back drop, flowers and tacky signage. Photographers were plying their trade by showing framed protratits of previous graduates to anyone of the hundred or so people that walked past. It was a colorful and busy scene and I felt like an observer to a totally foreign world.
The chasm between our world and theirs is wide. It can be heartbreaking to walk past such poverty and to repeatedly hear the appeals for sweets or money, to see young boys whose trousers are more holes than anything, whose shoes are broken plastic. By virtue of necessity our hearts form a thicker layer as we pass their mud huts where they tend chickens and goats or carry firewood to cook their one meal of the day. We live here so we cannot afford to be sad everyday, and we cannot fall into the trap of handing out shillings to each and every child. It is complicated; this us and them reality is something I face every day.
It felt like Chameleon weekend at times. In total Princess asked me 6 times if we could take “just this one” home and keep it as a pet.
Have I mentioned how pretty it was?
Like water nymphs, they frolicked in the spray.
It is always rather different from a child’s perspective and it is easy to forget that they are seeing and hearing everything for the first time. Last night both my Trooper and Princess had a melt down. It is an overwhelming experience for me so I can hardly imagine how they really feel. Most 9 year old expats, especially those working for large organizations or embassies would have been swept into an air conditioned car and driven from the airport to a large leafy breezy home without a slum in site. There is a district here called Kololo and that is exactly that. Then they would be chauffeured from home to country club to school and back again.
In sharp contrast my little princess has been walking through pot holes, past ditches filled with a grey and murky sludge, and past the most extraordinary array of smells. Uganda refrigeration seems to favour keeping the chickens alive and well in coops along the street. There is a huge sensory assault every moment and the combination of culture shock and home sickness is quite intense. She complains of having a pain in her chest all the time. Trooper on the other hand seems to take things in her stride but yesterday after the 4th Boda Boda drive and seeing poor children sitting in the centre of the street, seemingly alone, the sense of being overwhelmed hit her hard.
On the other hand they have met great people and when they are in the pool they are more than happy.
The milkshakes go down a treat too.