The summer before this one, I went to Uganda, in east Africa. It was a really cool time for various reasons – It's a beautiful country, the people are amazingly cool and welcoming, and some parts of it were great fun. I went out to do some random jobs for one of the staff of the engineering department – if you've never heard of the DTU and you're interested in development work in rural 3rd world communities, take a look, they do some very cool things.
One of the things I had to do involved me staying in the capital, Kampala, for about two weeks. Now before any Ugandans read this, and get upset with me – I RESPECT Uganda, in a big way. This is not a criticism of Uganda, except for as much as it's part of the world that allow such screwed up stuff to exist. It's not 'personal' – Kampala just happens to be the place I saw this kinda stuff up close first.
I saw children begging on the street. I saw what I'd guess to be a 8 to maybe 11 year old girl looking after a toddler who could barely walk.
I have no way to say that how it is in my head.
I was staying in a guesthouse on a hill, maybe half an hour walk from the centre of town. Every time I walked into town, I had to walk past these kids who were every day sitting by the same patch of fence. I got to know, through walking around, that different areas were always going to have beggars in them. The stretch of fence down the road to the right when you're going down the hill. The corner by the bakery, and all the way down the road to the supermarket from there. The miniature 'posh' bit of town where the westerners live and the South African burger place was. In the two weeks there, I had to walk round the city quite a bit.
One of the things that drove it home was the contrast between the place I was staying – the Church of Uganda 'Namirembe guesthouse'. Tis a great place, amazingly friendly staff, some of the most corny Christianity I've ever seen, but decent rooms and food. Recommended.. but the contrast between the luxury I had up the hill and the small patch of pavement those kids had kinda ripped me up a bit.
About a month or two after I got back, I was walking through a shopping centre in my home, and caught out of the corner of my eye a kid crouched by a shop window. I turned to look, and was surprised when he wasn't in brown rags holding out a dusty palm.
Since I got back, for the last year… I haven't really done that much. Well. I've been supporting make poverty history, I've been to Ukraine, another place I feel kinda the same about. It's kinda messed up there as well, in places. Hey, it's messed up here too.
So why blog about that now?
I went to church this evening, and the service was on the theme of Justice – the idea that God's kinda in favour of things that try and help people out of nightmare like existences seems to be catching on. There were a couple of videos shown – the first, talking about free trade, and the second, about a Christian project called 'soul action', and specifically a large trip to Durban, in South Africa, to do social action there.
And while that was going on I realised how angry I was about what I'd seen in Kampala. How some of my behaviour then and in the year since I got back has been to do with the fact I didn't know how to respond, how to react, and so I've kinda been avoiding it. I was actually trembling with the release of emotion – I'm quite good at holding stuff in, and lettin it out isn't always easy. The way my church is set up, there's the altar and a seating area for about 20–30 people right at the front for when the church is really full, then you get the 'main' stage where people preach from and the band is, both facing the main seating area. Reason I say that is cos towards the end of the service I went up to the bit behind the band towards the altar (it's a very relaxed service and I doubt many people noticed) and stood there yelling and crying for a while – took advantage of the fact the music at that point tends towards the loud.
Please don't take this the wrong way – I'm not trying to impress people with the wrath of matt – Actions are what count, not pointless noise making.
All this is kinda fitting with what's going on at the moment – Me trying more and more to get to know God better, alongside wondering where I'm going with this life I seem to have. There's a poem I read recently, in 'Red Moon Rising', which is a brilliant book. Goes like this:
some want to live
within the sound
of church or chapel bell
i want to run
a rescue shop
within a yard of hell
Written by a missionary in China. Kinda fits with how I'm feeling. I could live a comfortable life with a good job in industry somewhere, and I could probably be happy doing it. And maybe it is just that while I've calmed down a lot I'm still more pissed off than on average. But I don't want to live that way.