Monday, April 13, 2009

L: You don't know

"You don't know the stories of Uganda."

We were sitting on the track field, stretching out after our individual work-outs. L started explaining to me how people only want you to know the good stories when you visit a place. "You don't know the stories of Uganda."

He's right. I still don't know the story of the night before. When he first walked over to stretch with me, I had asked him about his response to the night before. Because the night before, according to what I have heard but don't know to be correct, the police had released from prison a man accused of raping a young girl. The night before, like in any community, the people were angry that the man they thought had raped a young girl was out on the streets again without punishment. The night before, the community decided to do something about it. So they killed that man. They set him on fire. I don't know which one came first. I don't know if he was guilty or innocent. It happened outside the school gates, across the road in front of the church.

And the Ugandan students I have heard about or spoken to were rather nonplussed. This sort of thing happens. They didn't understand the American students who cried. I asked L about his response.

"I do not fear death. I have seen death."

I didn't know if I should ask or not, but I did. He told me about those he has seen killed.

Why should I tell these stories? Certainly not because they, by themselves, give you an accurate depiction of Uganda, or of Africa. But because, properly understood, they can help us ask questions that may lead to us understanding better, though even then not fully.


I have told you he told me I didn't know the stories of Uganda yet.

For him, the stories of Uganda are the stories of the districts of Uganda: of his tribe and how he agrees with their practice of endogamy (marriage within tribe only), where if you marry outside of your tribe the children won't inherit your tribal land.

For him, the stories of Uganda include the story of a tribe whose area has now been characterized as a place of cannibalism, so that the people no longer want to live there but move to the city.

For him, the stories of Uganda include the district where witchcraft is still strongly prevalent, and to finish a new building a child ought to be sacrificed, where for every child's body the police find with the head cut off, thus showing it to be a sacrifice, he wonders how many more actually took place. That district happens to be Mukono, where I am.


These are not my stories of Uganda; I have not seen any of these things with my own eyes. I have instead spent most of my time with a small minority in Uganda – those who have reached university. And still, although those are not my stories and I cannot speak with authority about them, even with the limitations of my story, I have heard these stories.

Uganda is so much more than these snippets. But these snippets are a part of it. I don't know how much I have seen incorrectly, or missed completely. Michele and I were walking home the other day and we both noticed a sign for the first time, for a community development organization. Had it always been there, or was it new? We didn't know. But it's funny how selective our vision can be. I talk about how I'm in Africa, and how when funny things that wouldn't happen back home occur, I just say TIA This is Africa, but really though maybe that's true, that's also selective. That's not all Africa is. And I regret it when I say that, because it implies you shouldn't expect any better from Africa, when in reality you should expect amazing things from this continent that has become a crossroads of past colonial powers.

Before we had both seen that sign, Michelle and I were talking about our blind spots when it comes to people. I was telling her a bit about my conversation with L, and how upset I was with myself that I became more interested in him and his story only after I heard a couple key words about the north and the LRA. We were talking about our cousin brother Michael and about how for us, he is Michael, and we know his story and we care, but for anyone else he is just another "village boy" as someone called him, or just another schoolboy in a uniform, like the dozens I pass everyday, or just another AIDS orphan. We don't see.

Invisible Children aren't invisible. We are blind.

In class we have been reading Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp. He talks about Christianity's Constantinian cataract, that ever since Constantine made Christianity the official state religion, and so made it partner with power, Christians have mistakenly thought they had to have political power in order to bring in God's kingdom. I could say so much more about that book, and that cataract, that vision impairment and its repercussions. But. Another day.

Another vision problem I've learned about in the past is the West's "missing middle," that in between God up in heaven and us down on earth, we don't see supernatural occurrences where heaven meets earth. I definitely still have that. Walter Wink, as I understand, would say the powers and principalities of the New Testament are just personifications of the general ethic, attitude or atmosphere of institutions and organizations. My Ugandan professor seems to agree. When I asked him about the LRA and the reports of Kony being spirit-possessed, he said he didn't believe it was so, but only exploitation of superstition to fight a war. But the books I've read and people I've talked to about the north and about life seem to say there is more to this world than we can explain. The thoughts in my head and relationships with others seem to show there is more to me than the same flesh and blood that I saw up-close the other day when Michelle slaughtered a chicken. As the great sage Thrice says, we're more than carbon and chemicals.


"You would not believe my story if I told you."

Back to the track field. And me. And L.

But not. Because a couple days before the track field, I was at an orphange. And I found out how terrible it can be when people are forced to tell their story when they're not ready, or have their story exploited and told for them. I fear telling L's story for the wrong reasons. It is his story to tell. Can you imagine if you tell your friend some very sensitive and painful event from your past, and then the next day you find out they've told all of facebook?

It's like I was reading this article by a Ugandan theologian, Katongole. And he talks about how people can get so caught up in the culture of a person, of the dance and the music and the food and the history, they stop caring about the person. All you see is what you're interested in. Like, for me, all I see is maybe "from the north" or "ex-child soldier" when there's so much more to someone than that.

But one thing does need to be said. I began telling you about a man killed by a mob, and by my questioning of L about people's response. He said he did not fear death. But later, after he had told me about other people he had seen be killed, ones I have not told of, he explained why death doesn't make him sad. He spoke about forgiveness, both for the man killed if he did the deed, and for the mob that did the killing.

After all, we're more than flesh and bones, aren't we?

1 comment:

  1. This is my first time to your blog but not my last. You have insight into the willful blindness that all men (not just westerners) have. We see what we want to see unless God graciously opens our eyes. Being His child does not automatically open our eyes. We must submit and He must sovereignly permit. Isn't it amazing that the prof can see more of Uganda than you and me and yet say that people are not possessed. Thank God that He begins to open our eyes. May He continue....oh, this will be painful.