OK God… I’m done glorifying you through sickness! There has to be a better way to glorify you!
My flu symptoms have moved from fever, sweats, and stomach cramps to coughing, sneezing and invincible constipation. I’m praying for an end to all of this soon, but I’m not seeing it.
I do feel a lot stronger today than yesterday, and have taken the chance to leave the fortress of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Ggayaaza to at least see a little bit of Uganda. The parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel was scheduled to say the rosary on Radio Maria today. Radio Maria is the Catholic Radio station in Uganda. Every day the rosary is said over the air, and the station schedules a different parish from around Uganda to come into Kampala, and lead the Rosary. It was a remarkable way to share the faith through technology, while inviting the participation of the Catholic population of Uganda. If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer you can view my pictures of Radio Maria by clicking here.
While on the road to Radio Maria, I became aware of a few things that I take for granted in America, and their impact on life here.
Let’s start with street signs. How do you know where you are going in a foreign country without street signs? For that matter, how do you know where you are going in your country of origin without street signs? Uganda is completely absent from the luxury of any and all street signs. The people know where they are going because… they just know where they are going. This is where they have lived, and this is where they will die, and you don’t need to put a sign up for them to know that this is Ggayaaza. They know that this is Ggayaaza. Simple enough.
I could imagine a citizen of Uganda saying, “When I can barely afford to eat, why should I pay taxes to a government that wants to put up a sign on a street that I already know the name of?” To which the obvious answer is, “So that strangers will know how to get here.” To which the obvious retort is, “Well… Why would I want that?” It is possible to get around Uganda, but you spend an awful lot of time asking people where “such and such” a place is, and how to get there.
And if you can just consider that reality for a moment, I think you find a key reason why the solutions of the Western world don’t seem to fit here. So much energy gets exhausted on tasks that are taken for granted in the Western world. If I gave you an address, lets say, “203 Rosemary, in Collinsville, Illinois,” it would be no problem for you to find a map of the address (just use Google Earth for one). With Mapquest, and GPS systems, you could even get directions with a listing of every street you needed to use in order to find that address. As you traveled, you could be reassured of your destination by checking your map, computer generated instructions, or GPS with the various street signs. There is no such luxury here. If I wanted to find Ggayaaza from the airport without the help of my driver, I… well I’m a person who is always excited by adventure… but even I wouldn’t do that. That’s just crazy.
Another thing I take for granted is shopping. When I need to shop for something, I expect the store I visit to have a variety of products. Not so here. There can be fifteen booths right next to each other, and each of them will only invest in one specialty. Sometimes, two stores of the same specialty will be right next to each other! Cell phone shop. Potato seller. CD shop. Cabbage seller. Potato seller. Pineapple seller. By the way, can there really be a need for so many people in Africa to sell bananas?
It is as if there is no concept of a corporation. Those fifteen stores could condense their separate business into one business and hedge the potential of loss. They would need less manpower to work on amalgamated store (not all fifteen managers would have to be at the store the entire day like they are now), each could specialize in different aspects of the business (marketing, appearance, administration, etc) and they would find that as a whole, they were more successful together than they were when they were apart. If any one market began to fail, (cell phones, CD’s, radios) a corporate structure would prevent the one or two individuals being left derelict. A corporation can accommodate the losses because the corporation balances losses with earnings.
So I asked my hosts about the lack of corporations at dinner.
“What comes to mind when I say the word ‘corporation?’”
“You mean co-operation?”
“No I mean corporation.”
“We don’t know what that means.”
“…I was afraid of that.”
And I am… I’m also curious about it.
African culture places so much emphasis on family, togetherness, and clan/tribal pride, that you would think that the tendency to pool resources into a common trust would come naturally. Africans are eager to pool such resources in private matters, but not public matters.
The legal system, and culture, is not structured for public partnership. The people would always be worried that their “partner” would run off with the assets. After all, that is the history of the political leaders of most African countries. There is no accountability. You can’t even be sure that if a court did pursue someone for breach of contract that a judicial court would even be able to find where the person lived because there are no street signs!
What I am getting at is more than just the mere frustration that I, as a consumer, cannot just go to the store in Uganda and get both tube socks and Starbucks coffee at the same megastore. I’m trying to point out that the very basic principles that make a high standard of living attainable for developed countries are not present in developing countries such as Uganda. Not only are the principles not present, the people sometimes don’t even understand the concept of the principles, and if they do understand the principles, sometimes they don’t want to implement the principles. The principles evoke memories of the numerous historical difficulties with colonization and/or corrupt political practices, and/or the principles conflict with cultural values the people hold dear.
Fix HIV/AIDS in Africa? Sure! Let’s do it! But we’re not trying to fix a toaster oven over here. You can’t just pull out one part that burnt out and replace it. You have to fix the system, and systems aren’t “fixed.” They are influenced. The solutions take time, conditioning, and patience. The solutions mean changing relationships, education, and opportunities. And for those from the Western world who take serious Jesus’ great commission to “go out to the whole world and spread the good news,” it means we are going to have to change a bit. It means we will be required to have the humility to realize that the things facilitating our very life in the West, are things that we take for granted without us even knowing it. Making such assumptions will ultimately leave someone lost and aimless if you ever come to Africa… and by the way, they’ll leave you lost and aimless if you remain in the West as well.