When I am here in America and I turn on the tap to do dishes, flush the toilet, wash my hands or run the shower I don’t think about the effort it takes for anyone to get that water available for me to use. I’m often struck embarrassed by our entitlement in America for ALL things to be convenient.
While I stretched yesterday morning the weatherman, Al Roker spoke about preparing for a disaster, and he said, “you have to have a plan for going without power for three weeks.” That seemed ridiculous to me. In Uganda the power goes out daily and when it does everyone shrugs. Many if not most people live without electricity. Whatever, it is no big deal. I however make a mental list of all the ways I’ll be crippled if it is out too long…my computer battery, the internet for blogging and emails, my camera battery and the most important of all, the water kettle so I don’t have bathe with cold water. The stove is gas for cooking, I can charge my phone in the car, and we bought battery-operated lights for each of the children’s rooms.
When we lived in Connecticut and the snowstorms would come we knew to fill up the tubs with water so we could flush the toilet because the town water pump would go out with the power and all the water in the house would cease to flow. The firewood would be stacked high so we could have fires in the fireplace and keep warm. It was most dangerous to lose power in Arizona during the middle of summer when the temperatures outside stayed above 105 degrees every day for a month. If we lost power and the air conditioning went out there was a sense of panic because we could cook in our house. The pool water at that point was too warm to help cool off. Car batteries would die in the middle of nowhere and the sun could kill the waiting victims.
When we are cut off from our conveniences we lose our minds here in the first world life. But in the third world conditions it is how they live. I’m not saying we should go backwards. I’m saying we could learn so much from the way people there don’t depend on electricity so they can have a good day. I wish I responded like they did with a shrug, a smile and a step forward to carry on with my work. I brought a solar powered battery to the house to use during outages. They can use solar energy to charge a large battery, and then be able to charge their phones and computers in case of extended power outages.
The house we are renting for the children in Uganda is supposed to have water flowing from the tap, but the whole area is not getting any water. It doesn’t seem as though anyone is working towards fixing that problem. It is what it is. Thankfully at the end of the road is a spring tap that flows freely with clean water. We have so many eager helpers to go fetch water that Auntie Julie hasn’t ever seen the water source! The kids count it as fun to go to the well. I do too honestly. They make a game out of getting up the hill with the heavy water jugs as fast as they can. They go several times a day so the clothes washing, dish washing, baths and cooking can continue to flow. The load can be too heavy to carry the heavy jerrican of water. The children are sensitive to this so when they see one of them leaning too heavily towards the arm carrying the jug they run up to the child, take the other hand, and lean far away from each other. This balances the load. Then they can run up the hill because they are working together to carry the load. When I first saw them do this I was stunned, fascinated, and impressed.
It never really occurred to me until I saw the children do it. They are applying laws of physics and they don’t know it. They are practicing cooperation without being told. They are developing a strong work ethic and still having fun. There are NO obese children because their bodies are active and they eat food grown in their own gardens. I’m sorry, but these are areas where American children are failing.
When we were out in town working during the day I always tried to rush up so we could be home in time to go to the well with the children. It was rare for the local people to see a white person. Some of the bolder men would approach me and ask too many questions. One visit to the well, while I waited for the children to come back with sugar cane purchased from a local farmer, one man asked me to bring him to America with me. Unbelievable. He said, “maybe we can become friends and you can bring me to America.” That made me laugh. I told him, “I don’t think so.” That was rude for me to say and he walked away. Sometimes being American gives me a little grace for being direct, which is considered rude. Sometimes Phiona will laugh at me and say, “you can’t say that! There is a process to get around to that point. If we don’t follow it they will be offended and never hear a word we say again.”
After I spend time in Uganda I realize their lifestyle has more opportunity to teach me about simple living, community, hard work, and good manners than I have ability to teach them. I’m not one to take this truth too lightly. I want Uganda to change me, somehow. I’m open to becoming a better person and I’m absolutely sure that time spent working in Uganda is doing this to me one layer at a time. (I’m not an onion, I’m a parfait with sweet layers.) At least it is valuable to really know how hard people struggle and work to do basic life, and if they can do it with a good attitude why do I have to throw a Kira fit when I am inconvenienced? The lesson for me is to always strive towards being not just flexible, but more fluid. A daily challenge.