Tag Archives: generosity

Discovering a Generous Heart

It’s impossible to predict the new experiences you’ll gain when you enter a foreign space for the first time. For instance, I never imagined that I would feel adventurous enough to suck on a tilapia’s eye (I wish I could say that I managed to swallow it like the other brave students who attempted stomaching the Ugandan delicacy, but I couldn’t stick it out once I tasted its salty cornea). I also didn’t expect to let go of my inhibitions and dance like no one was watching at a cultural performance, crazily swaying my hips to the African drums and laughing uproariously with other uncoordinated visitors from all over the world. And I most certainly did not anticipate the incredible generosity and welcome I have received from the Ugandan people.

Uganda is not a comfortable place to live by any means. 84 percent of Ugandan youth are unemployed, and only 46 percent of college-educated people have jobs. There is a significant economic divide between the poor and the wealthy few; the majority live on less than $1 USD a day and struggle to meet basic needs such as food security or healthcare, while the rich minority reap the benefits from the financial disparity. Malaria, a tropical disease transmitted through mosquito bites, is a real threat, but the simple antibiotics that may help reduce risk for parasitic infection, such as Doxycycline, is not affordable for individuals  living below the national poverty line.

However, despite having very little and struggling greatly, the Ugandans are some of the most generous people I have ever encountered. They are generous in their compassion for other people, quick to sympathize and offer aid if possible; they are generous in their love for Christ, demonstrating their devout faith by connecting God back to all things; they are generous in their time, patient in listening to another’s story and ensuring that individual feels heard; and they are generous in their laughter, taking great joy in the simple pleasures of life.

One moment of generosity that particularly stood out to me  involved a seven-year-old boy we met during our first afternoon in Kampala. While we were enjoying a late lunch at Caffe Java, the restaurant staff brought out a large chocolate cake to the boy, who was celebrating his birthday with his family. After blowing out his candles, the boy cut the cake into multiple bite size pieces and began moving from table to table, offering peripheral restaurant patrons a bit of his dessert.

When the boy reached our group, it took us a few minutes to realize that he wanted to share his cake with us. In the United States, we don’t give food off our table to strangers; such a gesture probably wouldn’t even occur to us. But here was this child, who did not have much, unselfishly giving up his cake for people he did not know, making sure that every one of us was fed. I couldn’t believe that a seven-year-old was capable of such love for his fellow human beings. It was a profoundly touching and humbling experience.

A storm rolling over Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in East Africa. This is also the site of the legendary eyeball-eating incident, which was not as delicious as the boy’s cake.

For the rest of our time here and beyond Backpack Journalism, I want to practice the same generosity that flows through the Africans’ hearts. I will work to offer more of myself to others, to give attention more than I receive it. And maybe one day, I will be able to emulate the same generous spirit as the boy who felt compelled to share food from his table.

It’s funny — I imagined that Uganda would change my heart, but I never expected to be moved so quickly.

Quyana, Bethel

Today was our last day in Bethel, and I think all of us are feeling a little sad. We’ve grown to love this small town. I know that for me personally, I will always feel a connection to this part of the world. At the beginning of the week, I said that Bethel seemed like a wise place. This continued to be true throughout my entire time here. Almost every day, this community taught me something important.

Bethel taught me to be patient. There is a different sense of time here. The only time to rush is when the weather is perfect for fishing. Actions are methodical and intentional. Responses to questions are proceeded by a short pause in which the person responding truly thinks about what they will say.

The natives taught me to be generous. We were given delicious food that people either caught or prepared themselves. The people of Bethel offered us boat trips and opened up their fish camps to us. They gave us their time to fully answer every question we had.

The tundra taught me to be present and look for beauty in everything. The tundra is constantly changing. You could miss the most amazing view if you aren’t paying attention. Not only do you have to pay attention, but you also must make a decision to see the beauty before you. Out in the tundra, it’s cold, there are mosquitoes everywhere, and the landscape appears barren. However, if you look closely, you will see how intricate the whole ecosystem is. Every foot of it is a sea of diverse life.

Finally, this part of the world has taught me to be fearless. Yes, I will gut that fish. Sure, I’ll try that piece of seal. Yeah, I’ll go on a river trip to a remote village. And of course I’ll trudge out to the tundra at midnight with water and mud up to my knees to watch the sunset.

The beginnings of a midnight sunset on the tundra.
The beginnings of a midnight sunset on the tundra.

I’m so thankful for everything I’ve learned here. When I first came to Bethel, I never imagined that so much wisdom would be shared with me. Now I can’t imagine my life without that knowledge. As we prepare to leave Bethel, the only thing I can think to say is thank you. Quyana, Bethel.

 

There’s a Reason You Are Here

Our class on the last day in Uganda (Photo Credit: Alison Prater)

To say this trip has been an emotional roller coaster would not only be slightly cliche, it would be an understatement. It’s more like the roller coaster broke down while we were upside down…then it started to pour rain. I’ve seen the pain in people’s eyes behind their smiles, the harsh and unfair conditions in which much of this world lives, and unimaginable suffering. I’ve been overwhelmed, impatient, and frustrated. There’s been times when I just wished I could pause the world long enough to gather my thoughts, but someone pushes fast forward instead.

During our reflection a few nights ago, Dr, O’Keefe said, “You all came here for a reason.” And we did. I did. I was not entirely sure for the majority of this trip (hence the awkward “Meet Gabby” video, there’s a reason I spend my time behind the camera) and I don’t think I will ever be able to reach a definite conclusion, but I’m getting there. I know I brought the mood down in that opening paragraph, but sometimes you have to be overwhelmed to understand and to feel weak to discover strength.

I’ve seen the power of giving, the power of forgiveness, and the power of kindness. I’ve laughed, danced, sang, and smiled. I came here to remind myself who I am, what I want to do, and where I want to go. So yes, these have been two of the most emotionally tolling and challenging weeks of my life, but they have also been two of the best. I’ve had the opportunity to experience a new culture filled with generosity and a welcoming spirit, pretend to be a famous filmmaker with my fancy camera, and learned to appreciate all that I have in my life. Not to mention, I’ve formed new friendships with all the students and teachers on this trip, but I am sure I will dedicate an entire blog to them later.

I can’t believe it’s our last night in Uganda and that I will be on a plane in just about 24 hours. It’s all happened so fast, yet when I look back at it I feel like I have been here for months. I may be ready to go home, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to leave Uganda. Then again, Uganda has earned a special place in my heart so it’s not really going anywhere.

Keep on keepin’ on

Gabby

Don’t let your hearts grow numb. Stay alert.” –Albert Schweitzer