Friday, January 23, 2009

new family, new friends and new news

I want to know their language. When my family starts talking and laughing, I can only sit and smile and enjoy their laughter. I can’t understand them without being able to listen and speak with them. I want to know Iteso, too, and Acholi, and all the languages here. Everyone can speak English, at least a little, but I know it’s not the same. Edward is a cousin, I think he is ten. One night I was drawing a picture of the living room. He was coming in and out doing little chores, and every time I would look up and we would just have a moment smiling at each other. It became hilarious, because he was in and out so often. Finally, he came in shyly and started watching me draw, so I started pointing and asking Lugandan words for each thing. He was delighted. If he didn’t know, he’d run out and ask his mom and run back in. Eventually, he just started talking in Lugandan to me, smiling, and I would reply in English, smiling. We had no idea what words the other one was saying, but we still could tell what the other one was saying.

Family is interesting here. Edward and yaja, grandma, are gone now. I thought they lived with us. They don’t. A week ago our niece Faith came and stayed with us, we didn’t know for how long. She slept with my sister Judie in her bed. Now she’s back with her mother. Our cousins Michael and Rachel live with us. I didn’t realize until not very long ago that Mary isn’t part of the family and doesn’t even live here. The family pays her to come across the road from her home and help out. That same night I met Imelda I passed by a shack on the way home and was surprised to find her there. I met her two daughters, Joannie and Liliannie.

Everybody is just trying to live their life, like anywhere else in the world. Everyone talks about the problem of getting water. When it is dry, there is trouble. Luckily it has been getting closer to the rainy season. And the government is building a ditch for water pipes. Most everyone at the school and my home has a cell phone and internet access, but still we struggle for water and cook over fire outside and don’t always have shoes. Is this poverty? Is their life worse than ours? Some, certainly. For some, in some ways. But the same can be said going the other way.

Maybe water is precious, but birthdays are precious, too. Two of my Ugandan friends, Suzan and Vickie, have been telling and joking with me about the birthday practice to pour water on the person. We’ve decided that the everliving Today is another friend’s birthday. Suzanne is going to do a medical internship in Gulu this summer, in the north. Another friend, Patrick, goes to the north to do a sports outreach during the summer. During the school year he is involved with the Iteso (his tribe) Mission, going out to villages and bringing the gospel and prayer and food and water and laughter. I’m tempted to ask them both and see if I can go with them.

Another young man, Edward, brings food to school everyday and sells it during tea time. I met him today as I sat there drawing a picture of President Museveni from his book, “What’s the Problem with Africa?” People just go and sit as they please at whichever table in the dining hall.So, he came and sat and talked with me about my drawing and about Museveni. Museveni has been President now for 22 years, longer than many of my Ugandan friends have been alive. I have heard many things against him in the newspapers. And I have thought many things against him. But I read his inauguration speech, which he gave after a five-year coup against Obote. I do not like violence, but even non-violence people like Gandhi said sometimes violence may be necessary. I do not know. I do not like someone who changes the constitution to stay in power. But I know the words I read Museveni say impressed me. For Edward, he said that you must understand where the country has come from since Museveni. After having six Presidents in 26 years, including three within the space of one year, including the regime of Idi Amin’s atrocities and including every change of power coming by force, including being surrounded by two countries that have or are experiencing genocide, Edward is glad for stability. Museveni, in his words, was able to come to power and keep it because his movement was for all the tribes and religions in the country. I do not know if this is true, but I can respect those words. Edward also told me a lot about business; remember I said he was selling food. He plans to make one million shillings in 60 days, which is quite a bit over $500. He told me about the need to make specific goals and track your progress and have daily goals. I think there is much I can learn from that. His brother is in Long Beach now like a certain brother of mine, studying business like a certain brother of mine, married to an African-American woman (unlike a certain brother of mine!). Now I miss my brother!

I love tea time. Before he came and sat with me, I drank my tea and talked with some Master of Divinity students, a bunch of theology men. When I graduate in 2010 they will also graduate, and will all return to their churches to lead. Each wanted me to keep in touch, and to come back after I graduate and visit their church. Steven and Sam and Emmanuel had to leave for class, but Tom stayed for a bit afterwards. He told me about how people would text him theological questions, and he would reply. I asked him questions. He told me how ~ “Sin, it is a fire but God’s mercy is that it didn’t burn our house down completely,” and echoed my father in saying how we are all made in the image of God, no matter how far corrupted we have made that image, and that we need to “just remove where the rot is and have people run to Jesus.”

The students here I have met all have a goal, like Edward. They want to do good for their country. In my law class, which I’m not actually in, we introduced ourselves and so many Ugandans talked about their desire to be truly Christian lawyers. They had a mission.

We were discussing the role of religion in politics, and they spoke about how theoretically of
course your religion should matter, because it should change the way you live, but how for many it doesn’t. Others countered that it shouldn’t matter, because that would be discrimination. We talked, and struggled together. We considered an article about Obama and the Trinity United Church, and we talked about MLK Jr. Whatever Obama may or not actually be, as a symbol he has become a source of hope. That is why I wanted to draw him. More importantly, I have drawings of some of the students now in my pad, their faces and their words. These people inspire me; they have goals, and they are steadfastly and faithfully working towards them, day by day, like Edward. I want to remember them, because it's important. Kikulu. And so I sat there, listening to their voices and seeing the passion in their eyes, and I tried to draw them, so as not to forget.

I’m afraid of drawing them wrongly, of misrepresenting them or their words. I can’t draw lips, let alone African lips. I don’t want to make them into a caricature, like so many did during the times of colonialism. I love drawing eyes here when people are talking, because they talk with their eyes also. While I’m afraid of misrepresenting them, I’ve even more afraid of forgetting them; that is why I draw, and that is also why I write.

Barack Obama is in the news. His face and assurance that change CAN happen sits right next to an article about the suspension of UN refugee repatriation from Uganda to Sudan because of the worsening situation. No wonder people want to believe change can happen.

On the other page another article speaks about the LRA’s recent execution of 16 South Sudanese civilians, and the Rwandan troops sent into the Congo to put a stop to Hutu militants. There’s articles about what Obama can learn from Cuba, and how he has taught Africa how to bring hope back. There’s articles claiming he is actually Ugandan because of a change in borders at the time of his father’s birth. And there’s an article headlining “Yes he can but no he won’t” solve Africa’s problems.

America influences it feels like everything here. My brother’s cell phone ring is a Hillsong United song from the newest album – the album I haven’t even heard yet. Obama is the talk of the town. Hip hop and R&B come from everyone’s speakers. My other brother wears Michael Jordan shoes. I told my law class my favorite philosopher was the Black Eyed Peas and they all laughed. But at the same time, my Michael Jordan-wearing brother will do a traditional dance by the fire of a gas light to the beat of his mother pounding peanuts into powder, while his sister cooks over the outdoor charcoal fire by my flashlight, and still even while their father watches television in the living room. That’s Africa.

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