I love the way she smiled when she saw my camera. Beautiful girl.
Life looks different in Uganda. Of course, you know about poverty, and you know about orphans and disease and dirt and poor living conditions…all the things you associate with a third-world country. I knew about it. I’d seen the pictures and heard the stories.
But now I’m here. And looking out at my surroundings with my Western eyes is very nearly disturbing.
It begins the moment you step out of the airport in Entebbe. Dirt. Chaos. Living, breathing, writhing humanity. A huge United Nations base, only a few blocks from a literal shack that’s supposed to house real people. Animals staked out by the barely-paved road. Children playing near the pavement as drivers weave in and out among the potholes. Shops along the way advertise as best they can–beauty parlor. Supermarket. Clothing.
Things only get worse as you leave the city. Men ride bicycles laden with sugarcane and maize, piled so high you’d think they would fall over. Women walk straight-backed, baskets of bananas and mangoes balanced on their heads. The children you pass on the side of the road catch sight of your white face, and suddenly smile and wave in excitement at having seen a muzungu. If you drive far enough, you will find villages where the small children won’t smile and wave–they will run away in terror at the strange white thing they’ve never seen before. And all along the side of the road, bandas and huts and houses made out of sticks and mud. Most of them don’t even have a door. Many of them are the size of an American’s walk-in closet. And you can’t even begin to process it all, because it is everywhere. There is no simple charitable response.
I’ve spent the past three days in Jinja, a town pushed right up against the beautiful Lake Victoria, source of the Nile. It’s a big city, and in some places, you can find wealth. If you look high up along the riverbank, you can see the large houses built by people who appreciate the lush scenery and the nice weather. If you look down, along the water’s edge, you can see huts and shacks. Not boat houses. People houses. And I can’t help but wonder…how does it even happen? How does one city capture such extremes in the space of hardly a mile?
I don’t understand poverty in Uganda, but I know that it is everywhere. Even in Entebbe, and Jinja, and Kampala, the capital city. They are all plagued by the ubiquitous lack of…something. Money? Perhaps. But no doubt also things that run much deeper.
So here I am–babysitting missionary kids, teaching 8th and 9th grade Ugandans about logic, argumentation, and rhetoric. And yet I don’t exactly understand how anything I do–how anything anyone does–can really change the big picture. It’s overwhelming…and I’ve only seen a fraction.
Maybe, then, the missionary isn’t about the big picture. Maybe they’re about the little ones. Come to think of it, Jesus dealt with a lot of little pictures, so much so that people complained that he wasn’t looking at the big one. There must be something important about the little ones.
Maybe I can change a little picture.