Tuesday, March 04, 2008

There is a saying in Africa: "When two elephants fight it is the grass that gets trampled."

I heard that quote a lot over the 3 days that spanned Uganda Lobby Days of which Zion Project was a part of. All in all its pretty amazing that over 800 people will skip work or skip school to rally around a cause that they believe in. It's amazing that two years ago we asked for a special rep from the US to go to Uganda, and we got one: Tim Shortley who is in Juba as we speak. I personally felt amazed because about 7 people that I know of came up from JMU because of the Child Soldier Awareness week we had.

I want to say its amazing and I want you to understand that my next words are not an outward judgment, but a feeling that continues to intensify, something I can't quite shake that all of us, including me, or not quite innocent.

That saying is meant to mean that it is the the poor, the women, the children, who get hurt in the midst of two larger beings fighting (the Ugandan gov't and the LRA)

And yet...

I couldn't help but think of that proverb in another way. I found the spirit around Lobby Days a little disappointing this time for another reason. In the middle of rooms full of experts on Uganda, and big NGO's (non-profits) and ministries, and people who've been to Uganda and people who want to go---I felt for the first time that we were the elephants jostling for position with one another, vying for the upperhand or guarding our territory, our piece of the pie. That maybe there is a second scramble for Africa, and its the one led by names like World Vision, or kids barely 18, or specialists who feel they've done their time and now have all the answers while those who we feel we are fighting for-- go unnoticed.

Have we lost our way?

What is the very nature of colonialism except to impose our will, our way on another? I have to say this, I have to say it because I would feel I'm not being true to myself if I didn't let you know: I'm disappointed in us.

We have to be careful that what we are fighting for is not a name for ourselves, is not more money, or more prestige, or maybe just to have others think we know what we're talking about, but truly to honor the desires of a people who fight every day just to survive and somehow do it with grace, and somehow do not shake their heads at us because of our own ignorance.

It was a wake-up call for me in a way that I have to re-assess and constantly revisit my motivations and the words of the people I've sat and listened to and remember WHO I am fighting for. I don't want to end up a big bull-dozer of an elephant trying to throw my weight around. I want to be one with the grass, that though trodden keeps growing, keeps giving life.

That said, I believe most people at Lobby Days are well-intentioned, I believe in my heart, that I am well-intentioned. And I do know there were those at Lobby Day who truly fight with humility not for recognition, but for people they have come to love. They are the ones whose leading I hope to follow.

But are we willing to give up what we want because it may not be what they want? I'm not speaking of peace, everywhere Ugandans cry out of IDP camps for peace, to go back home, to not have to rely upon a system that hands out food like they are cattle, or something to be pitied.

I'm speaking about the fact that a woman like Grace, who has lived it, who has endured it, and overcome, can be overlooked for a roomful of people who have opinions about it.

Grace and I stayed in the same hotel room with her 3 month old baby and talked late into the night. We talked in the car as I drove her. Listening to her, I was reminded that without her guidance, without the guidance of God and of the people who LIVE in spite of this war, and of the girls who LIVE in spite of rejection, we are all lost.

We are not the ones who have lived it. We must listen. Or face the fact that we might do more damage then good.

I can't live with that.

Africa is not a continent to be saved. It is one to sit at the feet of. One to try and be understood for all its beauty, all its complexity, all its wonder that we crave for our own.

So before you decide to get on a plane, or before you tell me you are dying to go to Uganda. Ask yourself the question:


And try not to be afraid of the answer. Try to let the answer change you.

Disclaimer: I don't want this to be a criticism of Resolve Uganda or the fight for peace, because I truly believe in them, nor of the beautiful shining faced students that drove up from JMU to be there, but rather at whatever pride has crept into our own hearts in some effort to prove ourselves or to think that we know best.


WMS said...

Well said. Why do I want to go to Africa? A lot of complex reasons Action, adventure and excitement. A life story to tell others and a reason to live. I've lost that and survivors can tell you why to keep on living. Sometimes I sit at my desk at work and can keep going just because of the kids who survive every day in Sudan, Uganda, Congo and my compassion child in Ethiopia. I don't have a girl friend, I don't have friends who truly need me, I don't offer anything that is unreplaceable to this world. But I do have the heart to empathize-- that is why I want to go to Africa... to live again. To again realize why I should keep fighting to care about suffering. And to realize that what matters is not just America... it's people... American, African, Asian, whoever.

WMS said...

So after thinking about it, I think I have many more reasons to go to Africa than I can write, but ultimately, long term, I want 3 things that Africa has:
1) I want to be needed (in a community or tribe)
2) I want to help (a community or tribe)
3) I want to go see first hand what I am promoting. I want to see first hand what America and thousands of countries done to Africa as an economic bitch for themselves while the whole continent on fire (in Bono's words). I want this so that I can help westerners think of the poorest people on the planet when they buy from multinational corporations that use Africa, abuse her for all her beauty and then throw her away.

How would you answer that question Sarita? I'm curious what you see as a good answer?

Lindsey said...

Good word. It is applicable to all of life in every place, not just Africa. If we truly believe in equality, we can never assume that we are "saving" anyone. We are in no way superior. We can only come along side those who are suffering. Maybe one day we will learn that the power is not in our hands, it is in God's.