Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Somewhere over Sudan...

Somewhere Over Sudan…

June 15, 2008

I am currently somewhere over Sudan, hurtling through space in a long metal KLM tube, heading for Amsterdam. This is been a Spring to remember. In March, I was privileged to be in the Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic, in April I traveled throughout eastern China and South Korea. Now, I am returning home from an intensely emotional experience in East Africa with my wife, daughter, and a team of students. It has been a unique experience to enjoy so many varied cultures in such a short time. My life is rich.

There are so many thoughts that echo through my mind as I leave Uganda. Our departure was a difficult, gut-wrenching experience, softened only by the thought that I may be able to return someday to again meet friends that have become so dear.

What is it that compels one to return to the red dirt and lush tropics of Uganda? The journey is long and difficult. The travel in-country can be slow and treacherous. The malaria medicine? Mind-warping. Still, I know I must return. I cannot stay away from the “Pearl of Africa.”

It’s not the beauty of the flourishing banana trees, the mangoes hanging large and juicy, or the allure of the coveted coffee beans that grow wild along the rutted roads and trails. It’s certainly not the food. Even so, the rice, beans (and occasional rock) and chapati were tasty and satisfying. It’s not the “glamour” of traveling to Africa; the flights are long and cramped, and you wonder if you can even endure.

It’s none of those things; and, so, I keep asking myself, “What is it that makes me want to return to Uganda, when I have barely left?” We haven’t even reached the Mediterranean! Am I insane? In the last eleven weeks, I’ve endured as many international flights; touched the ground of seven very different countries on three continents, and been away from my peaceful bed for thirty-eight of those seventy-seven days.

So what is it? I think I know. I’ve considered the reasons that I am drawn back after barely leaving the East African humidity. It’s Ronald’s haunting eyes that betray a life of hurt and abandonment. It’s Robert and Betty and Samuel and Alice and Vanessa; five beautiful children abandoned by parents who were, no doubt, suffering themselves as they made the gut-wrenching decision to dispose of their children. It’s 100 year-old “Grandma” Alice sitting in the dirt in front of her red mud house and refusing help as she struggles with her stick to get up one more time. It’s strong and immoveable Prossy, who loves 200 striking children with everything that is within her. That’s it. That’s why I must go back.

The scale of need in Sub-Saharan Africa is beyond understanding. We were working outside of Kampala, in Gganda village; just one township of many hundreds or even thousands across the continent. One cannot comprehend the extent of the suffering in this part of the world, let alone recognize the depth of need in earthquake-shattered China, or typhoon-battered Burma. It is staggering.

In the face of such overwhelming need, there is a temptation to ignore what is happening to these people one-by-one. There is a temptation to simply throw up your hands and berate the African people for not taking care of their own.

In truth, they are taking care of their own. I’ve learned that the grandmothers are the heroes of Africa. While enduring the grief of losing their adult children to the scourge of AIDS, they are taking in their grandchildren; and, they are taking in children who are not their own flesh and blood. Neighbors care for children in the village who cannot care for themselves. Still, there is too much to do.

We can say that foreign aid is causing the ruin of the African continent by causing her residents to become dependent on the help of others. We can say that the white man only cares for himself and that the West isn’t doing enough to alleviate the suffering. We can blame other people and do nothing, while looking at uncomfortable photographs and sipping our four dollar designer drinks. We can do all of those things and not help anyone.

There is another alternative. There is something we can do. We can come to the aid of the widows. We can take up the case of the fatherless. We can work to relieve the oppressed. You see, the West is actually producing many hundreds, and maybe thousands of people who are answering the cry of those in need, in spite of how they ended up in their desperate situation.
I’m not talking about the UN, or USAID, or any of the many other governmental organizations pouring needed money into Africa, even though the work they do is valuable and necessary.
I’m talking about Sylvia, from New York, who is building a school for needy children just north of Kampala. I’m talking about Allison, who is researching AIDS prevention at Harvard, and hoping to slow the plague that is killing a generation. I’m talking about Mike and Lori, who are coming alongside motivated African nationals and funneling the resources of the West into Uganda to bring change to Africa through visionary Africans. I know these people. Simply said, the work they do is good.

I’m talking about Jeannie, my wife, giving up her comfort to cradle little Susan who smiled her first smile in maybe months. I’m talking about Hannah, my sixteen year-old daughter, who helps provide monthly support for Alice and has become “Mama Hannah” to a little girl who needs to know she is loved. I’m talking about Jill, a teacher who stepped away from her everyday life to provide comfort to hurting children who have lost their parents. I’m talking about Mikell, a normal mom, who started to think about Africa, and now, even as I write this, is on a plane to Uganda to begin an adventure from which she will return radically changed. I know these people. Simply said, the work they do is good.

I’m talking about me. I must return to Africa. At the rIsk of sounding presumptuous, I must continue the work that we have started in the lives of the children that are now a part of our hearts and lives. I cannot ignore their cry.

I’m talking about you. If you are uninformed, ask some questions. Read a book about the AIDS crisis. Give to organizations that you know are doing a good work and use funds responsibly. Yes, maybe even sponsor a child.

You see, he who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will cry himself and not be heard. There are no qualifiers on that statement. It is simple truth.

Don’t ignore the cry. That’s why I must return.


Jeremy Hoffman said...

i'm still waiting for a new blog...

Anonymous said...

I just re-read this now, almost 2 years later, in research of more info on Gganda Village. Thank you for your heart Mr. B! Thank you for taking so many with you and for giving us a chance to fall in love with the world.

Katy Yock