This is Us:
I took some time to look at the stars last night. John and Tim showed us the Southern cross, a simple four-point constellation that isn’t visible from home. After looking at it for a while, Jacob said, “I still can’t believe we are on a different continent.” That statement initially made me fearful. What would happen if I got malaria, or something worse, and was about to die in the hospital? My family and friends would be so far away, and I would feel alone. Of course, this isn’t likely to happen, so my fear quickly faded away. I began thinking of where I was: Across the Atlantic, near the Sahara, near the Nile river. All of these landmarks have an air of myth and grandeur to me still, since I only got acquainted with them through BBC and National Geographic films. I started thinking about my friends. One of them recently got back from the Dominican Republic. Tara is in Asia, I am in Uganda. One of my friends is going to Zambia shortly after I return. Another friend is leaving in November to go to Mongolia for two years.
Tara sometimes celebrates how, when she goes back to Colorado Springs over breaks, she can look on her phone and see her friends disperse across the United States. We didn’t have such an eclectic array of friends in high school. I think I understand what she means now. My nexus of friends is quite literally spread across the globe right now, and when we return to Omaha next semester, we can make a communal collage of worldly experience. Mom and Dad, I’ll bet you 500 shillings that you get excited when you read this; you always wanted Avery and I to get this type of experience. I suspect that all of us – Emily, Tara, Susannah, James, and myself – are lucky to travel like this.
Holes in the sky:
As of Friday, we have been in Adjumani, Uganda. This is an area that is just south of the border with South Sudan. As such, there are a lot of South Sudanese refugees here. In fact, the Ugandan government stopped funneling refugees into the Adjumani district, because the population of refugees (about 250,000) exceeded the local Ugandan population (about 210,000). Refugees are also housed in “settlements” (not camps), which means they are allowed to leave the area in search for work in Uganda. In a country with an approximate 80% unemployment rate, this is surprising. Still, everyone we talk to doesn’t seem to have any resentment towards the refugees. I remember Father Kevin saying that refugees usually don’t compete for “high level” jobs that Ugandans would get, so that helps (he told us a story to make his point: A refugee came to Uganda as a medical doctor, but couldn’t afford to pay the medical license transferring fee, and associated bribe, that would allow him to practice medicine in the country. Thus, he got a cleaning job that payed…poorly. Eventually, he ended up quitting his job to sell trinkets on the streets of Kampala (a common site there). He made more money as a street vendor than in his cleaning job. Obviously though, he made far less than he would as a doctor. Can you imagine being forced from being a city official, computer programmer, paralegal, research assistant, or doctor, to a street vendor?). People also tell us that the social memory of isolation is still fresh in Uganda, since they themselves were refugees not too long ago. I’d like to suggest that in the United States, we are forgetting what it is like to be exiled, and to be without the geopolitical privilege of being tossed around by those more powerful than you. I can now speak from personal experience, as I wouldn’t have known about the Southern Sudanese refugees without this trip: we are forgetting about the seas of people who are helpless to their cruel situation. Perhaps they are too far away…
As Jacob and I continued to look up at the stars, there were noticeable gaps in the sky. It’s all about light dispersion. The light, which would be blindingly intense – all-consuming – at the source, has dispersed so much by the time it reaches Earth that we can’t see the star by standing in a single point. It is only when astronomers make a network of telescopes – one here, one fifty miles to the west, another 50 miles to the south – and really focus in on the “gap in the sky”, that they can see the endless, vibrant beauty that the heavens have hidden away.