I’m still processing. I’m a very slow processor; it takes me forever to understand big life events—especially ones that have really changed who I am on the inside. It’s hard to recognize the mechanisms that affect internal change, because they tend be very gradual. I think though that I found a moment that changed me and how I believe and see things. I found it in my journal yesterday:
When living in Mpigi we used to go on a lot of runs. You could either run up towards the church or down towards Lake Victoria, but no matter where you ran you would suddenly acquire a small crowd of children. The concept of running for exercise also turned out to be somewhat alien in Mpigi. We’d have kids racing us or asking us what we were running from (should they be running too?). When you’d pass houses you’d get people shouting “mzungu” “mzungu” which is everyone’s word for white person and apparently it literally translates to “person of pale face wandering around aimlessly”. This is a disturbingly accurate moniker for almost any white person in Uganda or Tanzania, perhaps with the exception of a couple expats.
One day, I was on a run and almost to Lake Victoria when I came upon a young girl and her brother. The extent of my conversational Lugandan prowess at that point looked like “how are you”, “I’m fine”, and “cow”. We had a very brief conversation, limited to those phrases, and when I kept running, they followed. They were both carrying jerry cans; big yellow plastic gasoline jugs that everyone uses to transport water. When they got the beach, I asked them if they wanted help filling them up. They said yes, and showed me how to immerse the can in the surf and fill it all the way up. I got soaked, removed my shoes, and hung them around my neck.
I took the little girl’s can. It was so heavy that I knew they were playing a practical joke on me. They were less than half my size—I could barely lift the can—there was no way they were going to carry it all the way back home. Then the little boy was totally dragging the jerry can up the trail. All of the sudden this older guy on a bike rides over, hoists the can onto the little guy’s head, and that’s it. He had the can no problem, balancing it, both hands up in support. I limped behind him with his sister, who was giggling. I tried to swing the jerry can up on my head and only succeed in splashing her with water (I don’t think I even lifted it past my waist). My hands stung by the time we got up the hill: it was really heavy. I couldn’t understand how the little girl would’ve been able to carry it.
We came to a fork in the road and she suddenly pulled at my hand. ‘Okay. Now we go to my house and eat MANGO,’ she said. They were both so excited and giggling (it’s impossible to say no to cute kids). We walked down this trail towards their house and suddenly their mother came up to meet us. She was laughing, probably saying things about this crazy mzungu who can’t carry a jerry can properly. Without missing a beat she gave me a giant hug. She led me to a clearing in front of her house, and in it stood an ancient mango tree—it was giant and gnarled. She picked up a stick and began to whack mangoes from the tree. She was so practiced at it that she caught every one of them in a perfect rhythm and lobbed them at me to catch without disrupting her flow. The two kids sat, watching, and applauded us. I was the evening’s entertainment and to this day I’ve had no better job. It was a nirvana moment.
Suddenly this giant young bull, loose from his tether, came charging up the trail. The momma yelled at both me and the bull, ‘Bah! Ewala!’. In a millisecond she had a hold on the rope and efficiently wrapped it around the ancient mango tree. The bull quieted and she scolded it. His owner came jogging down the trail apologized and then looked at us strangely; this tall white girl in running tights and the small hero of a woman who’d just taken on a meandering bull.
We hugged again, laughing. She pressed all of mangoes (that’d I’d dropped) into my arms and we shook hands. The little kids said “bye bye mzungu” and I was on my way back.
There were a thousand little moments like these—though this one is my favorite, and in my memory it’s floating in a hazy golden glow as if my mind knows instinctively how much my soul cherishes it. I used to be pretty grounded in my beliefs in a religious context and how I saw God, when I was very little. I’ve lost a lot of that, and while I’m a spiritual person, I’ve lost a lot of my spirituality as well. Yet this was a moment that I could see God in. I don’t even know what God looks like or wants anymore, but whomever or whatever God is, they have to love moments like those.
I’ve clung very very tightly to one particular concept from this fellowship and it’s this idea of a global citizenship and what it means for us to be global citizens. I think it means recognizing shared humanity. There’s something within us that makes it possible to connect with complete strangers in unfamiliar countries. It allows us to set aside situational and societal constructs like language, skin color, socioeconomics, and age, that sometimes act up, as barriers. It means finding that sweet spot between representing a whole continent of people with a patina of unalloyed negativity (or even in some cases positivity), instead looking for some commonalities and normalities. In the moment I had with that family I felt no separation. It felt so normal (with the possible exception of a rampaging bull). It’s important not to discount or ignore difference, but it is equally important to strive to find similarities, I think, and experience something in communion.
So that is what I want to do with my life. I want to help build a global citizenship—like what I believe social entrepreneurs do. I want to find those moments and catch them. I want to be able to give them to people, my particular medium is film, which I think is a great vessel for storytelling and immersion.
I just don’t want the world to only see terrible things about a place and a people (for instance, Africa), I want them to see themselves inside it. That’s what I felt for just a little bit in that moment next to the mango tree, and I would love to be able to share it.