Hannington, our driver, embodies so much that is good about the Ugandan people. He is resourceful, hard working, unfailingly polite (“yes, please), and of good humor --- all characteristics that generally apply to the people we encountered on our trip. And yet as humbled as I was once again by the generosity and hospitality of the people we met in Uganda, this was a sobering trip for me as I became aware of their failings, individually and socially.
In the village of Koreng, what began as a fairly orderly distribution of school supplies and shoes ended in a lot of pushing, shoving, and grabbing as needy kids and parents realized that there would not be enough for everyone. In Kampala my wife and I witnessed the pride of two African men --- both concerned with position and status and self. And while most people are kind, sometimes I do not know whether the kindness extended is fully genuine or whether we muzungus (foreigners) are viewed as a means to an end --- gifts, sponsorship, or monetary support. On a larger scale, the system of government and of justice in Uganda is thoroughly corrupt, from side of the road bribe solicitations for traffic fines to payoffs to legislators and judges to double invoicing and other unethical practices by private contractors. As one man told me, the roads in Kampala remain pothole-ridden not because there is no money to fix them but because two-thirds of the money “stays on the table,” that is, lines the pockets of government bureaucrats and contractors. Christian law students I spoke with at Kampala International University struggle to understand how they are to survive with faith intact in such a corrupt system. And if you turn the clock back a bit, these are the same people who produced killers like Idi Amin and Milton Obote. You only have to go next door to Rwanda to discover what evil neighbors are capable of.
The Ugandans are, after all, human. Surprise! It was a healthy disappointment to learn that in many ways they are just like me, just like us all, a mix of good and bad motives, subject to the same temptations and failings. I say a disappointment because we tend to idealize a place and people when we first encounter it, because in its newness we are overwhelmed by its contrast to the familiar world we know with all its failings. I say healthy because when you can see a place and people more realistically you are better able to know how to assist them and encourage them in the good without, hopefully, serious and ill unintended consequences.
Yet my disappointment is no deeper than my hope. Our house mother at Agape Children’s Village, Mama Christine, served us with, it seems, no concern as to what she might secure from the relationship.They were many children who seemed simply to enjoy our friendship while expecting nothing in return --- no gift, no money, no sponsorship --- though they have great needs. It’s encouraging to go to a law school where I can speak about my faith openly and be warmly received by students, faculty, and administration in a way that would not happen in most law schools here. It is encouraging to worship in a church where no one is watching a clock, where a three-hour service is not only normal but relished. While traffic in Kampala is as bad as that of Los Angeles, drivers are much better mannered and accidents fewer. Headmasters take on the jobs of running schools where there are little to no facilities, no books, and intermittent pay with a dedication that they often describe (as one did to me) as “a calling from Almighty God.” And while structural problems like corruption and government ineptitude do not lend themselves to easy solutions, I am thankful that electricity has come to Kaihura, somehow, that there are some good roads on which to drive, and that in a city as large as Kampala anything at all works. Last but not least, there are people here who love God, serve others, and seek the good of their communities. Faith Kunihura saw the “image of God” in the orphans of Kaihura and, with little resources of her own to begin with, has done a great deal to help them. Pastor Michael Okwakol and the people of Agape Baptist Church are serving the orphans of Agape Children’s Village and even reaching out to the remote community of Koreng. Thus, my disappointment with the Ugandans is no deeper than my disappointment with myself, my neighbors, and my own country. We are all thoroughly tainted by sin and yet, knowing Christ, are being renewed every day in His image. There is hope for Uganda just as there is hope for the United States.
We tried to teach Hannington a good Southern expression like “ya’ll come on,” maybe as a help to getting people back in the van so we could travel on. After a few minutes, he mastered the expression, albeit a very British-sounding version of it, but he would not use it. He said it wouldn’t be polite. He gives me hope.
[I’m glad to be safely home from Uganda and back to blogging. It was a rewarding if sobering trip. I hope to post some pictures of the trip soon, and will be back to blogging more regularly.]