Tag Archives: love

10-A Letter to Posterity

Ugandan children posing when we started to take pictures at Kigunga Catholic Church

“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is. It’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to, but it doesn’t really.

And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along. Something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel whole, something to make you feel loved. And the truth is, I feel so angry, and the truth is, I feel so f—ing sad, and the truth is, I’ve felt so f—ing hurt for so f—ing long and for just as long I’ve been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why. Maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own.

Well, f— everybody. Amen.”

This heart-wrenching sentiment comes from Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman. It is as close to a representation of a thought I think a refugee would have. It gives me great hope. When I visited the settlements, most of the refugees didn’t feel this way. Even though they faced the worst possible parts of God’s plan, they didn’t come to despair and bitterness. Hope was still alive.

Of all the principles I’ve seen here, love is the greatest. Even though there is so much differentiating us from them, they welcomed us with open hearts. In every settlement we went to they gave us beautiful performances that showed us their wounded heart is still beating. Most of the people whom we smiled at gave a warmer smile back. The children would follow us as if we had been in the village since they were born. It is this love in the midst of such hardship where I found God dwelling among His people. As Jesus said, love your enemy. In the hearts of these refugees, I could see the word made flesh. They didn’t become like the enemy and turn to hate, but have moved on and are trying to improve their life. In the schools and settlements, we learned that there is a mixture of tribes. This has allowed them to get past tribalism and see the humanity in each other. Such a vision of love goes beyond the explanation of psychology, sociology, and all the other -ologies.

While I have been in Uganda, I have been inspired by the refugee’s faith. After seeing their homes burned, family members killed, and children starved, the refugees still have a faith with a burning intensity that is unquenchable. Instead of turning to nihilism, these people have clung ever stronger to their faith. Their Masses are hours long, there is “God” written on many signs, and the name of Jesus has power here. Their faith is where they find hope. Their whole identity has been destroyed, and their tattered family serves as a reminder. They have become strangers in a strange land. Their faith is their only hope that things will get better. I can see from the way they talk about God that His word is writ on their hearts. Their faith is where they draw the strength to forgive and pursue a future. My experience has shown me that their religion forms the bedrock of their identity. Dumbfounded by such faith, I had to ask Sharon, a radio host and journalist who we interviewed, what do the South Sudanese think about why God allows such suffering. She said that suffering is just a test. We know God loves us and it is just the devil that is trying to tempt us through suffering. We hear God loves us on the radio, TV, and in person everywhere.

If Jesus came here, there wouldn’t be much change. Not because the settlements are so holy but because Jesus focused on eternal life. He didn’t free the Israelites from Rome. Even though he criticized the scribes and the Pharisees, he never overthrew them. Instead, he got crucified by them without protest. The way Jesus focuses on the next world gives me great hope. If the King of the universe lived on earth, he didn’t change the political, social, nor economic structures. He changed hearts. I don’t have to try and fight all these structures that will crumble under their own weight of wickedness. I have to be like Jesus and help my neighbor through small acts with great love. After all, he died on a cross after being abandoned by his followers, and he is still worshiped today. You don’t have to change 7 billion people. If you change one person, you change the world ( Butterfly Effect). The one-person changes another who changes another. Before you know it, you were a small yet integral piece in the big change.

Some may think the refugees are useless and a burden, but they aren’t. When I see these human being insulted, I see it as an insult to the whole of humanity. A refugee is a human being who is searching for a future after they have been forced from their home. Just like any other human being, they want to protect their family and give a future for their children. Just like any other human being, they want their human dignity back through simple acts like listening to their story. Unlike every human being, even though they have nothing, they still give what little they have. The richness of humanity amidst such poverty could make the hardest heart soft.

The situation for the refugees is like the night. It is a dark time for them where they cannot see very well. There are stars to guide them, but these don’t provide enough light such that there is no darkness. Although the night is quite terrible, it is not permanent. There will be change. I can already see the crack of dawn. These refugees are coming to Uganda to build their future. One great sign of the passing night is the settlements themselves. They are far better now than they were five years ago. Now when refugees come, the UNHCR has a very systematic and organized way to assist the refugees. There is change for the better whether we realize it or not. Coming to Uganda for 18 days, I have found the solution to the refugee crisis. The solution is time. It might take one year or 300 years, but it will get there eventually.

Even though we aren’t directly intervening in the lives of the refugees, this documentary is a still doing a lot of good. Herbert, our guide, has said that just our very presence means everything to these people. They are powerless and stereotyped. The fact that a bunch of students from around the globe came to see what their life was like and share their stories with others really means a lot to the refugees. Humanizing their struggles gives them a level of humanity that has been stripped from them by their government. It acknowledges that people care about them. I could feel it in the interview. They would show it throughout our whole time with them. For me, this time that I have spent with them was priceless, it was life changing.

Sometimes it takes a desert to get a hold of me

Leaving lasting impressions at El Comedor
Leaving lasting impressions at El Comedor

Here in my last day on this wonderful journey down here in Nogales I would like to just through out some final thoughts onto paper to share.

We started the morning by going to El Comedor to say our goodbyes. It was hard to leave because I know that I have left a chunk of my heart down here. I have fallen in love with the migrants who come in with their heads down but leave as a family and smiles on their faces.

Then we went to downtown Nogales, Sonora and walked around for almost 2 hours. That was really fun because we weren’t carrying cameras or doing anything but soaking it all in. Matthew and I walked about as far as you could go before going into the neighborhoods. Then we really wanted ice cream so we asked shop owners along the way who knew little or no English. It was actually a really great experience. We ended up getting smoothies that were made of fresh fruit and it was so delicious. It was the largest smoothie I had ever seen and it was only $3.50!

In the early afternoon we went to Patagonia Park which is this beautiful 2 mile long lake near Nogales. It was so peaceful and relaxing. Definitely much need after these past two weeks and before our two days of driving ahead. Also if you want to see me learn ballet in a lake check out our snapchat account. It was pretty fun.

After we got back I went for a run from our house to the wall and ran along side it for a while. I turned my music off there and just reflected on all the stories I have heard and how complicated this issue really is.

I finished the night talking to Father Pete for a while. I lost track of time but I think it was about one and a half hours. It was a great way to end my time here. We talked about many things including what I had experienced in the last few weeks and life experiences.

Truly a part of my heart will forever be in Nogales and the people who work and pass through El Comedor. As I was on my run I was listening to some music and the song Sometimes it takes a Mountain came on by the Gaither Vocal Band. Below is a snippet of it but I encourage you to watch it on YouTube.

 

I faced a mountain,
That I never faced before
That’s why I’m calling on the Lord
I know it’s been awhile,
But Lord please hear my prayer
I need you like I never have before.

Chorus:
Sometimes it takes a mountain
Sometimes a troubled sea
Sometimes it takes a desert
To get a hold of me
Your Love is so much stronger
Then whatever troubles me
Sometimes it takes a mountain
To trust you and believe

 

My prayer tonight is for an openness of heart. An openness to hear God’s voice and His voice through others. For all of the warriors I have met and all of those who are on their journey to the United States, for safe travel and a promising future. For all those who can not escape violence in Mexico and South America. For all who pass away on their migration north for a better life. For Father Pete, Ivan, Joanna, Father Sean, and all of the sisters so that they may continue to serve all who come to El Comedor and to continue to bring smiles and love to all they meet. For the cities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora so that they may continue in their efforts to help migrants and to keep open minds and open hearts when faced with difficult decisions regarding immigration. And for safe travels for our group as we travel back tomorrow morning to Omaha.    Amen.

Shattering

I don’t think you can understand good and evil exclusively. I think also that in some cases, you can see moments of pure goodness in the middle of the worst kind of evil.

Look at a man like Joseph Kony for instance. We learned in Abia, which is an Internally Displaced Person camp, that one of the ways Kony would “train” the children he kidnapped was by gathering all of the kids from the same town, choosing one of them, and ordering the others to kill him. This would ensure that these children’s connection to their home would be shattered, the emotional links to their parents would be shattered, and that they would never be able to return home.

This is one of those times where I can’t believe the absolutely insane amount of evil in the world. This man took these children, his own people, and turned them into complete monsters. In the wake of something like that, I start to believe that there is nothing, no amount of good that can combat that kind of evil.

At Radio Wa though, I think I found it.

Radio Wa is a radio station that is affiliated with the Catholic Church. During our visit to this station, we learned that Wa had a channel that broadcasted details about the war and those in “the bush” (people who had been taken by Kony).

In particular, one of these broadcasts was designed so that the families of the children that had been taken could communicate a message to those in “the bush” in the hopes that their children would hear it:

“We still love you. Come home.”

I think that that level of unwavering, unconditional love is something that no amount of evil or men like Kony have any hope of destroying. That kind of love is the kind that never weakens, even as one’s child has been transformed into a complete monster. That kind of love is the kind of love I think we can learn from, the kind that never dies or is even shaken. I find that that love, in this nation where I see fights in the street, poor people with no way out, and people whose lives have been shattered by war and poverty, is one of the purest forms of good I have ever seen.

Alberto, the man who runs Radio Wa, told us that there were many kids who made it out of the bush, and they said the reason they came back is because somewhere out in the wilderness, they heard these broadcasts. It’s no surprise then that during the peace talks, one of the conditions of peace was that that specific broadcast be shut down.

TL;DR: No evil is strong enough to shatter real love.

“One Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa”

The advertisements here are shocking. I have taken enough journalism classes to know that there is something called a target audience. And it is clear that Africa’s target audience is world’s away and world’s apart from the one that I am used to. I have decided to focus on the advertisements and signs that I have seen. Sadly, I can’t take pictures of all of them, but I have written them down. One billion reasons to believe in Africa is a Coca-Cola advertisement that I have never seen anywhere but here. I find it strange and somewhat sad that people need advertisements to believe in their own continent. Or rather, that they exist. There are entire stone buildings that are painted red with white coca-cola slogans above them. I don’t know what is in the buildings, but the people that sit and stand on their door steps don’t seem to have the money or the inclination to “enjoy” a coke. There are metal coke signs similar to the ones that I collect back home hanging from buildings that can barely support themselves and in places where people wear tattered clothes and have bare feet. Who hung these signs? Who painted these buildings? How did they do such a thing? And who told them to?

So, because of my life long love of Coca-Cola and my frustration at its infiltration and exploitation of these people, I have decided to give my own list of billion reasons I love it here mixed with reasons that I can’t stop asking questions. (Except I can’t write a billion, so I will give you a handful.)

  1. I saw a gecko in my bathroom. I thought it was a sticker until Teresa pointed out that it was three-dimensional. I later saw it near my suitcase.
  2. There is trash everywhere. I learned that is what we smell burning. They have no public trash collection. Plastic bags are mashed in the dirt and garbage is piled in the alleys between houses.
  3. Women sweep the streets with little brooms made of sticks. Even in downtown Kampala
  4. The nuns in Uganda wear white. The nuns back home where black.
  5. The juxtaposition between the red dirt that seems to stick to everything, the green of the vegetation and the bright clothing against black skin is breathtaking.
  6. There was a 3-6 month old baby lying on the couch of the hotel bar/club that we went to .
  7. Ugandans clap during mass. After the homily and during the presentation of the Eucharist they clap because they are receiving a gift.
  8. I bought a necklace for 18,000 shillings. That is approximentaly 9 dollars.
  9. There are no stop signs or stop lights here. Only round-abouts.

10. People here carrying everything on their heads. Everything. Shopping bags, bowls of mangos, stacks of linen and six-foot long piles of sticks.

11. I had a banana a few days ago. I am boycotting Dole when I get home.

12. I fed a baboon from the window of the bus as we crossed the nile.

13. Despite the poverty here, no one begs. There are no homeless holding signs about their own depressing situations and no one has asked me for money despite the fact that I stand out like crazy with my white skin, blonde-ish hair and giant camera.

14. I saw a tank (like yes, a giant military tank) outside the soccer stadium in Kampala. It was labeled “Ugandan Police”

15. There is a bird here that sounds like Kevin in Up. I don’t know what it looks like but it woke me up a few days ago.

16. I played percussion today with an African named Dennis. He taught me how to play a mini-marimba.

17. I saw a chicken cross the road for the first time today.

18.  Two nights ago I walked down the stairs to the pool area to read. It was about 10:00 at night, but I figured that because the hotel was gated I would be okay. As I turned to walk down another flight of stairs I almost ran into a man in a trench coat that had an AK-47 hanging at his side. He was lurking in a doorway. I should not have been scared because we see them everywhere here. But I had never been that close to one. I kept walking down the stairs and when I sat down to read I heard a swishing noise. I looked up to see that the man had followed me and was staring at me from the stairs. Heart stopped. I said hello and he acknowledged me. He slowly turned to walk back up the stairs. I have not left the group since.