Fifty-four days after entering Africa, I have still not stopped learning. The African people have so much to teach! Five days ago I left Uganda and entered Kenya. It was a relatively peaceful transition across the border (although quite unlike what we experience in North America). We arrived at the border, picked up a departure form, went to the window where I was fingerprinted and had my passport stamped, and then Francis and I began the kilometre walk across the border to the Kenyan side. We had opted to leave the vehicle on the Ugandan side as Francis was merely transferring me into new hands. Needless to say, I am sure we looked hilarious lugging my luggage past waiting transport trucks, weaving past groundnut vendors, passing fellow travellers... all while I was (again) the only white person. I'm sure many Africans were surprised to see the mzungu carrying her own baggage instead of paying someone else to carry the load.
Once at the Kenyan side I stood at another window, picked up and filled out an entrance form, paid $50 for my three month Visa, answered the routine questions (with only the absolutely necessary information), and had my passport stamped. In the space of less than one hour I had left Uganda, and my new friends and acquaintances, behind and was again facing the challenge of adapting to a new culture. New language, new people, new expectations... I was both excited and terrified of the challenge. The immersion into a new culture is not something that is possible to explain to one who has not experienced it for him or herself, but I will attempt.
After 7 weeks in Uganda, I had become accustomed to hearing the local tongue all around me. At first, it simply sounded like noise to my ears; a sound that I did not need to bother myself with listening to. Then, as I spent more and more time surrounded by Lugandan; and, as I began to learn some basic greetings and words, I began to listen intently to conversations (although I often had no idea what was being discussed). By the time I arrived in Dwaniro I had mastered a grand total of three words. I have learned that once your ears become accustomed to the sounds of a language – and this takes time – it is much easier to pick it up. Often it takes about a month for your ears to learn to differentiate one sound from another; to be able to understand the pronunciation of their words; and to understand that although a speaker may sound angry, it is simply the pronunciation of the language that gives that impression.
So here I am, in a large white van with three people I have never met before, in a country I have never been to before. No longer do I hear the comforting sounds of Lugandan around me, but Swahili. Although my eyes say that the landscape has not changed, my ears inform me that I have travelled to a different place. I was met by Mary, Vincent, and Milicent. I am treated to a handful of groundnuts, we stop for lunch on the way to Kimilili, and I navigate the banking system of a new country. Thankfully, for once I had minimal trouble withdrawing funds.
I have been here at Omwabini in Kimilili, Kenya for five days. And what a culture shock it has been. I am living in a house that is inside a compound within another compound. I have a whole guest house to myself. Imagine this: I have running water! I have a toilet! I have light bulbs and electricity and multiple light switches! I have a living room! I have a bathroom with a shower head! I have my own room along with three other empty bedrooms! I have a kitchen! Talk about a culture shock. No longer do I need to use a long drop. No longer do I need to transport toilet paper everywhere I go. No longer do I need to ration my laptop usage because I can charge it whenever I want to. No longer do I need to bathe using my purple bucket... what a change!
But I am already finding myself missing the simplicity of Dwaniro and Tata. Even in this community based organization that has many of its own challenges, I do not feel the stark desperation of survival that permeated Rakai District. I have many more distractions here. I have discovered a stack of novels that I am currently devouring. I have much more free time. And yet, as much as I am enjoying these blessings, I am missing Tata. While there I experienced a hunger to read the Bible that I have never experienced before. Perhaps it was the stark reality in which they live that made God seem all that more real. Perhaps it was the lack of distractions and amenities that allow for comfort and contentment in one's situation. Perhaps it is the absence of anything reliable in their lives that gives them such a strong dependence on the One whom they know will never leave them. I am not sure what it is exactly, but there was something about Tata and the people that live there that ignited a passion in me for learning as much as I could about God.
I have always found this passion difficult to maintain in North America. It is difficult to find the time to pray. It is difficult to spend time reading His word. It is difficult to discuss your faith with your friends when there seem to be so many more “pressing” issues to overtake your conversations.
When we are sick we go to the hospital for treatment. When we need money, we get a loan from the bank. When we need food, we go to the Food Bank. When we need a place to stay, we apply for low-income housing. When we are jobless, we ask for for unemployment. When we cannot pay for school we apply for OSAP. We have so many answers and options in North America, that it is easy to forget about the most important, and often only, option: God. In rural Uganda there are few social services. It is nearly impossible to get a loan from the bank. There is no help for school fees- paying them is up to you and your ingenuity. If you cannot find work, too bad. Often, and quite literally, their only option is prayer. These people are living, breathing examples of faith in Christ and His awesome power.