Questioning from Kapchorwa
Student Perspective--the following post is from a fall 2011 student.
I am facing the fact that I have two weeks left in this place that I have come to call home. I am anxious to be back in the states but in the same moment I am begging time to slow down so that I can spend more time in Uganda. I can’t believe that the goodbye is approaching so quickly.
Being here has provided me space to observe things and ask questions that I haven’t allowed myself to before. Much of this blog is my own questioning and critique of the lifestyle that I am accustomed to back home, as a result there is a lot of comparison between life in the West and life in Uganda. My prayer is that as you read this you are invited into my questionings rather than feeling condemned by whatever I am saying. These are not conclusive thoughts but rather my own processing and my own wonderings through observation and participation in a different way of being.
My week in Kapchorwa was full of learning new skills and sharing in beautiful conversations. My Mom, Martha, was such a strong, capable, and loving woman. She graciously invited me to be part of her family and to participate in the details of life. I was allowed to live life alongside others, to dig, to pick coffee, to milk the cow, to cook with my Mom, to bathe the children, and to share multiple cups of tea with the neighbors.
The sweetest welcome into the family was the way in which Martha allowed me to participate in daily living. At night Martha, Wilfred and I would sit in the kitchen-hut as a family and hold the kids on our laps until they fell asleep. Then we would carry them one by one into the house and tuck them into bed. It was those evenings where I would look around at my family and catch myself whispering, "I love this". Life was meaningful because I was living with others and for others. I don’t know how else to describe it, but I was so moved at the simplicity and beauty of the communal living.
People matter everywhere, but in Uganda everyone seems to matter just a little bit more. Community is the number one priority here. Where the West says "I think, therefore I am" Uganda says "I participate, therefore I am". In all aspects of life your fellow man still matters more than your own needs.
You greet everyone, because everyone matters.
In Kapchorwa I received a sincere invitation to live life together as we were. I experience true and full hospitality. I was invited just as I was to meet with people just as they were, and to be with them fully.
It finally made sense that hospitality is not a ‘welcoming’ yet it is a presence of being.
With Others : For Others
Throughout my week in Kapchorwa I was struck by the reality that life has meaning. In the West we are driven and motivated towards success, yet in the process we often neglect to see the meaning within the very process of living. If you asked anyone from the West if they believe life has meaning they would respond with an automatic ‘yes’, yet our actions do not show it, nor do they lead us to live a life which is meaningful.
Living with my family in Kapchorwa I felt that every detail of the day was valued. Whether it was sharing milk tea with a neighbor, walking forty-five minutes to get firewood, or fetching water from the community tap – there was meaning because it was done with others. Everything was done in community and was done for others. In a week’s time with these people I feel that I have learned more about family and more about generosity than I have in a lifetime of attending church. In Uganda community is lived.
I find it really ironic that in the United States we assume and claim that we are living for others. It is true that we have numerous social services that work to provide for others: we help the homeless, we provide foster-care for abandoned children, we counsel the depressed, we provide service for refugees, we offer disaster relief… yet we do not live daily, detailed lives for others. We are individualistic. We are motivated to provide for ourselves and our small sphere of family. In all honesty, we live life separate from others.
This presents an evident dichotomy between what we proclaim as our purpose in life and how we actually live. It was not until my week in Kapchorwa that I realized this fully. Entering into a lifestyle where people, community, and family are truly a priority has allowed me to recognize the blind spot through which we live in the West.
The Language of Poverty:
Another thing that I have been wrestling with since living in Kapchorwa is the language of ‘poverty’. I lived in a community that a Westerner would look at and ignorantly label as ‘poor’. Children were running around without shoes, (most) houses were made out of mud, and the clothes people wore were dirty and worn out; but does that really define poverty? Does that really call for ‘relief’ work being sent in the form of Christmas-shoe-boxes stuffed with meaningless toys?
What I observed was a happy family who had everything they needed – even though it was radically less than what I was accustomed to. Throughout the week I came to realize that I live in extreme excess. It is not that my family in Kapchorwa was lacking anything; it was that my life of excess material things defined their lifestyle as lacking.
Spending time with these people and entering into a new way of being has re-emphasized to me what is and what is not important in life. Taking joy in your livelihood is important – making a large profit off it not; surviving and supporting your family is important – being so consumed with making money so as to live in luxury is not; being generous and giving your time and money to others is important – holding tightly to your possessions and being concerned with preserving them is not.
This week I was welcomed with open arms not only into a family, but into a community. I was given the gift to enter into the daily rhythm of a simple life.
Uganda has so much more to give me than what I could ever offer them.
I have been so humbled.