If there’s one thing that I am reminded of on a daily basis living in the developing world, it’s how blessed I’ve been. When surrounded by people of similar economic status as yourself, it’s easy to let the daily simple trials and difficulties bog you down and overlook the big picture. Even in Uganda, as I enter data and work with excel for sometimes eleven hours a day (fortunately that is finished!), it is easy to forget the big picture. It’s easy to get frustrated and annoyed with the constant yells of “mzungu, mzungu!” (what is so amusing about yelling “white person” ten times at me?), getting asked “how are you?” five times in a row as if my answer would have changed in the seconds between each greeting, the daily requests for food or money from people on the street, and the complexity of seemingly simple tasks. But when I have the rare opportunity to connect with some of the people I work with here, I’m reminded of why I’m here and how blessed I am.
One of my biggest frustrations with working in SP’s Karamoja office has been the difficulty in connecting with the Ugandan staff here. While there is a beautiful community of expats here, who I am extremely grateful for, I still have the idealistic desire to grow close to some of the national staff. At the other SP offices, I felt I was able to connect with the national staff. Perhaps it’s because I was at a similar place educationally (and in some sense economically) and in these regions there wasn’t the history of years and years of aid work. In Karamoja there is the constant feeling of being separate as the white expat “manager” (not really my title but I’m often treated that way). In spite of these difficulties, I have enjoyed the bumpy drives out to the field with our stellar driver and either our engineer or district supervisor.
Juma, is our trusty NUSAF 2 driver, a native Karamojong who comes from a family of Karamojang warriors. Through our many journeys together, I’ve had the chance to catch snippets of his life story. His father was a Karamojang warrior who uncharacteristically decided to leave the cattle raiding life and try to change his circumstances for his family. While Juma never had the opportunity to get an education, he is brilliant. The way he expresses himself, is able to analyze situations, and how he knows his children’s future and country’s is in education is inspiring. I’ve never seen Juma stop to take lunch while we’re out and I suspect this might be partially a way to save money to pay for his children’s school fees. Looking into Juma’s lined face and kind eyes, I can see a lifetime of experiences and wisdom I will never have. His deep desire to give his children a better life is beautiful and continually reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for.
Most recently, I enjoyed an eye-opening conversation with our district supervisor, Paul. Unlike most people in Karamoja, he has a bachelor’s degree, and one that was not acquired easily. He knew that in order to provide for his family and make a living he needed more than a diploma. So he saved his money and was able to pay for a year of school and most of his second year. But by the time he reached his third year he had no funds to continue studying. Paul was only able to finish his degree through the miraculous generosity of his friends. His friends would contribute whatever they could of their simple salaries, pooling funds every month (sometimes contributing up to 50% of their salaries) to support Paul’s education. It’s eye-opening to realize how we take education for granted in most developed countries. There was never a question of finishing high school, and fortunately for me there was never even a question of whether or not I would get my bachelors. Even as I was frustrated with the grad school application process and securing funding, it hit me that most people in the world don’t even have the opportunity to dream of attending grad school.
These experiences reinforced my desire to share the many experiences and blessings I’ve been granted, whether it’s continuing development work or even entering the corporate world. As I prepare to enter grad school this fall (thankfully received a scholarship to study at TU Delft in the Netherlands!!), I pray that I can keep my experience in the developing world fresh and remember to always count my blessings.