Before arriving in Gulu we were staying in Lira. We were fortunate enough to be able to stay at a really nice hotel. The people running and working the hotel were so generous and hospitable.
One morning Megan and I slept in a bit too late and had to be woken. Later I was able to learn more about the life of the young man who came to knock on our door.
That evening Megan and I began to talk to the young man. He introduced himself as Chef Walter. For the longest time I thought he said his name was Jeff until I realized that he was actually the chef at the place we were staying. Walter also added that he was 18 years old.
He told me that every morning he had to be at the hotel my six o’clock. It gets light very quite early so that isn’t too bad. However, he has to stay at the hotel until after we go to bed. Which is easily after 11 o’clock.
It gets so dark here because there aren’t city lights. It is literally pitch black. I asked Walter if he got afraid when he had to walk home, in the dark, so late at night. He explained that he was used to it and that it didn’t frighten him.
As we got to talking he informed me that his mother was sick. She had “water in her womb”. The doctors actually removed her “entire womb” earlier that day. So Walter, instead of going directly home at 11 o’clock, was going many miles back into the city, on foot, to take care of his mother for the night. Then he would return early in the morning.
I asked him how much the surgery would cost. 500,000 shillings. Walter makes 100,000 shillings a month and only gets paid every two months. Doing some rough math, that is about 50 US dollars a month. Less than $1.75 a day. If he works from six in the morning until eleven at night. That is seventeen hours a day. And that comes out to less than a dime an hour. Sometimes I need things to be presented very literally to me. Calculating that someone makes 0.098 cents an hour really puts things into perspective.
Next, I asked Walter if he was tired. He replied,
“No, I am not tired. I can not be tired because we have to survive”.
Over the next couple days, I saw Walter around the house. We talked about his mother’s recovery. About how he was the second youngest of six. About how he had to stop school because his family could not afford it.
Then I asked somewhat of a silly question. I asked him if he had all of the money in the world what he would do with it.
He answered, “First, I would give it back to my Creator, to God. Then I would go back to school and get an education so that I could get a better job. And then I would buy things for our house because we need livestock and crops.”
Brief interactions with Walter for just a few days taught me so much. It is true that I was impacted deeply by so many other experiences and people. But engaging in personal conversation rather than just a handshake or a smile or a few words causes a much longer lasting impact.