I talked earlier about the good and bad in people, and turning the other cheek. Several of the students have been faced with just that. One of the girls, B, was sitting on the patio of her dorm and a young man came and attempted to steal her laptop. She screamed and tackled him (because she’s a gangster like that), and when he continued to run away, ten guys from her dorm chased after him and retrieved the laptop. Another girl, Kia, was walking to school in the morning darkness and she was mugged; her ipod and cell phone were taken and she was punched in the face and side, but I think emotionally it's the worst. She has the painful choice of how to react, to stay or go. And, in staying or going, she has the more difficult choice of how to respond, how to understand her story.
But hold on a minute. Listen to another story, one that will really worry my brother. I decided to walk home early last night so I would have time to stand and chat with some of the children along the way. I was walking the same pace as a woman when I turned onto another road. I almost didn’t bother to smile, because I can’t deny sometimes I’m afraid, and not just of not being returned a smile now. But I did smile, and she smiled back, and we began talking. I learned about how she’s a geography teacher that volunteers Wednesdays at the Mukono health clinic and that she chose to walk home to get exercise. I shared about my family and my classes, and I asked her more questions. She was new to Mukono and still building her home with her husband and children. She invited me to come and see. She pointed up the road to where it was, and I made the choice to walk with her.
We walked up the dirt road that was muddy and slippery from the rain, up the winding hill and past the school and the water tanks. We talked about her children and how different they are from one another. Finally, we reached a turn in the road where I could see the whole town of Mukono. I’ve been down in the streets, so I knew the busy, annoyed, angry sounds of traffic and tempers. I knew I would see huge, elaborate hotels on one side of the road and a makeshift market just down and off the road on the other side. But I also knew I would see people trying to live and love like myself. And from my view on the hill I could see all of it, but I could also see none of it. It was beautiful, but it was far away.
The next turn took us to her home, which she kept apologizing for. Funny thing is, it was beautiful. I know poverty and wealth can live side by side, but still it’s always a surprise. There’s wall enclosures surrounding huge homes that their owners drive into and drive out of everyday, and there’s wooden shacks whose front yard is one of the main roads. Anyways, by this point Imelda and I were having a lovely time, and we took tea together and talked and I met her son and looked at pictures of her sleeping daughter. Still, I had to leave for home, but she told me to come back anytime, and she told me to have my family come to Uganda and stay with them, and she told me this was my second home.
I still don’t know Imelda’s last name.
Maybe that’s just me being naive and talking with strangers. But maybe that’s strangers turning out to always having some strange and some familiar in them, if you look for it. Walking home, the fear still came back a bit, the nerves. I walked faster, skipped and hopped in my skirt when no one else was on the road. I didn't want to be out when it was dark. But when I got to the house where I have made particular good friends with some of the children (Annet, Margaret, Violet!), I stopped. I stopped and talked and sign-talked and knew the sun was getting further gone. And I wasn't okay with it, but I wasn't okay with leaving, either. They know me as the mzungu named Sarah who asks them their names and shakes their hands and who moves her hand over her face to smile or frown. I don't want them to know me as the mzungu who's in too much of a hurry and too afraid to stop and smile and ask their names and give them mine. Africa makes me slow down, even when I’m scared.
These stories aren’t meant to cancel out the first one. B still had a boy nearly steal her laptop. And Kia still was attacked and robbed. But these stories ARE meant to balance the first ones. I can’t not tell you bad stories of people stealing and hurting others. But I can tell you that while some boys have that story, some boys have the story of running after those first boys and retrieving what is stolen and trying to heal what is hurt. And many of the young men here have the story of being so saddened and sorry and ashamed that some of their Ugandan peers hurt Kia. Kia has both a Ugandan mother and father and an American mother and father who are concerned for her and want her safety. And, somewhere, there is a young man who failed to steal from a white girl because her black brothers heard her cry. And, somewhere, there are young men who suceeded in stealing and hurting a white girl. But just a couple of minutes ago that same white girl was praying for him, that he might read that white girl's journal about her experiences in Africa and with God. And here in Uganda there's still a rather silly and out of place group of forty mzungu American students, ranging from future missionaries to politicians to teachers and to who really knows, trying to figure Africa out, to hear the stories of Africa and their Ugandan peers, and to find their own stories in that. We're still hear; we're still listening, and we're still searching.