**(This is the first of two Guest blog posts that I have asked to do. The next will be much more personal, I promise!)
Uganda just had its 50th Birthday last Tuesday. Steve and I arrived in Uganda late on the Thursday night before Uganda’s Independence Day Celebration. I think the 4th of July fell on a Tuesday this year so in America it was an Independence Celebration including the weekend before, events during the week and the weekend after. The same proved to be true here as well. Things were a bit different and this was apparent as we left Entebbe on Friday. There was an overwhelming amount of Police and Army personal presence everywhere on the roads. It’s very disconcerting to see carloads of police and lines of soldiers everywhere.
It’s also easy, the first few days here to be overwhelmed by the lack of everything except poverty. The roads are terrible, there are no city services like trash pick-up (and I know this because the local, overflowing dumpster/landfill is on Jennifer’s last turn before her house.) While there are tons of government sponsored schools, the teachers wonder when and if they will be paid. The clinic Jennifer works at has a solar panel for occasional lights and to run the microscope which is better than no power but no running water so imagine how the staff (Lucy and Tony who work 24/7 and Jennifer who goes about twice a week) wash their hands. Imagining is about the extent of good hand washing. One never knows if the medicines or vaccine that the government is supposed to provide will even be available. I could go on and on.
Instead, I began to wonder what the US of A was like in say 1824 when we were Celebrating 50 years of independence. Was it any better? What were the expectations in our young country? How well off were these new Americans? How did they get by day to day and season after season? Our measure, when we come here to Uganda as 21st Century Americans may be terribly skewed and I find I am much kinder and gentler when I adjust my standard.
The average Ugandan enjoyed their celebrations as much as any American just a few months ago. There were parades (very short with no fire trucks, floats or flying tootsie rolls) and days off from school (lots of days off). Honestly, I don’t think I wished anyone a Happy Independence in Michigan in July but I sincerely did repeatedly here. They are, for the most part, happy to be a free people no longer under the tyranny of past dictators.
Yes, they have a long way to go, in this relatively young country. But maybe we need to cut them a little slack. Poverty and disease are still huge problems. Infrastructures and government services that will make lives easier still seem a long way off. It is easy to be critical and hard to see an easy end but that is part of what makes a country unique as they work all of this out. Shame on me anytime I think for even a moment that some “westerner” will come in with solutions.
I don’t know how to pray for Uganda but then I often don’t know how to pray for the U.S. either. So for now I will pray for the individuals that I have met here—the many Ugandans who are happy to be free.