Tuesday, 21 September 2010
What can I give?
There’s an uncomfortable reality that I’ve had to get used to, coming to Uganda.
By way of explanation: Here, I’m a mzungu, meaning: white-skinned person (or alternative meaning: someone who runs around in circles).
Immediately upon seeing my skin color, an assumption (probably one of many) is made: I’m incredibly wealthy.
Which is true, of course. Compared with 90 percent of the world’s population, I’m really, really rich. If you’re reading this, you are, too.
There are a few different things that happen as a result.
First, I am charged more everywhere we go. I pay more at the market, I pay more for a taxi or boda ride, basically: If there is no price marked on the item you’re buying, rest assured: If you’re white, you’re paying more.
Then, many with whom you form a (however brief) connection — will ask you for money.
It’s humbling. It’s uncomfortable. For me, it’s a huge shame trigger. How does one handle that situation with grace? I still don’t know. I hope I’m learning.
When someone goes for the ask with me, my defenses go up like a thick wall around my heart. I assume they only see me for what I can give them and my automatic response is to stop giving everything. Even my compassion. My respect. My love.
I have to say no, and I feel like a coward. A hoarder. I feel like they must think of me with bitterness, contempt. I respond by heaping more shame on myself and in defense, holding them in judgment.
It’s not a completely excellent way to build relationships.
Today, I fought against it with story.
Asking. And listening. And seeing the human being and the hard story behind the ask.
It was an honor.
Then I tried to repeat after her Luganda and learn a couple phrases. No matter what I tried to do with my tongue, I always got it wrong. Missed a consonant, wrong emphasis. Even when it sounded right to me, she would repeat it again, slowly. Where I can’t hear a difference, she can.
And I wish she knew how poor I am.
She is rich with language, knowing at least four. She is rich in faith, knowing deep what it is to need Jesus for tomorrow. For survival. She is rich in culture, knowing tribes, clans, languages, customs, ways of life.
I have never lived a day hungry, or without shelter, or without love. I do not know poverty, and I cannot judge her for asking.
Instead, I will ask of her. She is more than generous.
I will ask and receive the riches she possesses, and then find a way to pay it back in kind. Maybe some of my story, maybe more of my culture, such as it is. Compared to all she has, it feels paltry.