Have I paid a bribe when here in Uganda? I don’t know.
I think most people reading this would agree that bribery is wrong. If you’re a Christian, you’d probably be quick to point out how bribery contradicts Biblical imperatives such as honesty, humility, care for the poor and love for one another. But even from a secular perspective, bribery is clearly not smart for the good of the country. It betrays any confidence outside investors might have in Uganda, it skews market economics, it slows down or reverses development, it breeds resentment and unhappiness in society and works against equality, fairness and justice.
Given how clearly unhelpful bribery is for Uganda, it still surprises me how many expats (i.e. people who can afford to not pay a bribe and still get on well in life) we’ve met who are happy to do so. These are otherwise good people – development workers, NGO operators, aid workers – people who have given their lives to trying to improvement Uganda, but who regularly take part in a culture of corruption that seems to undermine so much of what they normally stand for. We know many who don’t, but we’re surprised at how many do. We’ve heard different justifications for this – mostly that it just makes getting things done easier (that’s true), but even then it seems to me that you have no right to then complain about large-level mass corruption if you’re willing to encourage it on a small-scale.
We openly get asked to pay bribes regularly, usually by traffic policeman who catch you doing something (or sometimes nothing) wrong. Sometimes it’s open (“Give me some money and I’ll let you go”) and other times it’s slightly more coded (“What can you do for me?”, “I’m very hungry sitting out here all day” etc.)
We came here with high-minded ideals to never pay a bribe. And, fundamentally, we’ve tried to stick with that. What has surprised is though is what a large grey-area there is between what is a bribe and what isn’t. For example,
- If you want the police to come out for something to help you, even to collect a criminal you’ve caught in your own garden, they would expect to be paid “transport”…an unofficial cost in theory to cover their fuel to get to you but in practice much more than that. Most people say the police simply will not come unless you pay that, and it seems to be talked about quite openly. You’ll never get a receipt for it though. Is that a bribe? Some say yes, some say no. I’m not sure.
- Another grey area is whether the asking comes before or after they do you a favour. When I’m caught doing some wrong driving by the police, 9 times out of 10 a bit of humility and lots of talking can get you out of it. But on several occasions when they’ve ‘forgiven’ me, they then ask for something as a thanks for forgiving them, and when you suggest you can’t do that, they look very upset and annoyed that you’re not fulfilling your part of the bargain. Is that a bribe?
- This week I had to go to our local town council to start the long and arduous process of trying to get a birth certificate for Chloe. It was accepted by all that, to get the signature for this would be 5,000 shillings. I didn’t even ask for a receipt – that would be embarrassing for them as it clearly was an unofficial payment, albeit a commonly accepted and societally-entrenched one with a set-price each time and paid by absolutely everyone. Is that a bribe?
- There’s another incident I’m slightly less proud of: to get Danny’s birth certificate was about 100,000 (a clearly publicised price list on the wall of the government registrar’s office) but I was asked to pay 120,000. He gave me this long and elaborate reasoning (about saving me the hassle of going to another office blah blah blah) why it was more than the advertised price, and why he was unable to receipt the extra. I knew what was going on, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to get anywhere without this. He had the potential to make it incredibly difficult, and he was the senior person in the office! I capitulated. Was that a bribe, even though the word was never mentioned? Yeah, probably.
So. What’s the moral of the story? I’m not sure. Maybe that being moral in Uganda is not always simple, clear or easy. There’s a common saying here: “There’s nothing free in Uganda”. If you do a favour for someone the expectation is that you’ll be paid for it. Even if you’re wearing a suit or a policeman’s uniform. So if bribery just a natural part of culture here that keeps things moving? I think that would be charitable, but undoubtedly there are grey areas.
Have a black and white day, wont you?
After a lecture this week, I asked a student to pray. Bless him, he said this…”We thank you that Mr Chris has taught us today. He has tried.” I silently raised my eyebrows, grateful that this wasn’t two years ago, when I would have been mortified to hear such a thing. But we understand better now. You see, in Ugandan English (Uganglish) ‘trying’ isn’t meant in that slightly patronising ‘at least you tried’ kinda way. It’s meant as a compliment. You tried. That’s the right thing to do.
This was a lesson I learn when I drove past a school once. Schools here apparently cannot exist without having some sort of tagline to catch the eye and advertise for pupils. Things like ‘For a complete person’ or ‘Building a better future together’ or something wonderfully vacuous and cheesy like that.
This one school I noticed had the logo, and underneath in big, bold letters ”We try our best…”
As an aside, my favourite school tagline which I saw once, painted in massive letters on the wall of the compound was
“We strive for excellent”
If Josh’s current school fails to work out, then THAT’S where he’s going…
The church here, and in particular the Anglican church here, is MASSIVE. Our own church, as far as I can tell, very rarely if ever speaks about evangelism. And yet most weeks it is standing room only, even after they added an extra service. Nice problem to have, hey?!
I know this annoys secularists entirely, but Christianity here is so, so popular. I’m not saying the church as a whole is utterly committed to Christ through thick and thin, nor am I saying that it will remain like this for generations to come. But, right now, Christianity (as a religion) is big.
I read this report recently about the consecration of a new bishop over in the Western side of Uganda. Most of you are reading from the UK and if you part of an Anglican Church, there is a decent chance you don’t even know who your bishop is. Well get a load of this…
“Mammoth crowds today the 17th January 2014 gathered along Kabale – Mbarara road and on the slopes of the beautiful hills of Kabale to receive the next bishop of Kigezi, The Rev. Canon Eng. George Bagamuhunda. The Bishop elect was received by enthusiastic Christians at Muhanga which is the entry point from South Ankole Diocese. A four kilometer convey of vehicles bumper to bumper wound up the winding road up then descending to Kabale town and eventually climbing to St. Peter’s Cathedral Rugarama. The jam and crowds in Kabale town were enormous and excitement was deafening as people waived and ululated seeing their coming bishop. Business came to a standstill except for the traffic officers, as people thronged the mainstreet to welcome the coming bishop. The population who gathered to welcome the Bishop elect filled the Cathedral to capacity and overflowed.”
I can’t think of anyone, politician, monarch, pop star or movie star, anyone who could get a reception like that in the UK. And CERTAINLY not an Anglican bishop!
I would imagine that most of you are pretty familiar with the so-called ‘Anti-homosexuality Bill’ that is currently on the table in the Ugandan parliament. It is basically a law, that will get passed at some point or other, that seeks to effectively eradicate public homosexuality in Uganda. It has a wide media coverage, was featured on a recent Stephen Fry BBC documentary, and has its own Wikipedia site! It’s everywhere. I think it’s interesting that, as far as I can see, this bill is fast becoming the most famous thing about Uganda. It used to be Idi Amin. But I reckon now ‘gay-hating’ is the first thing many Westerners think about when they hear the word ‘Uganda’. This is largely thanks to a media campaign waged in the West against this bill.
The first thing to point out is that, and I dearly wish the British media would read the bill before they speak about it (as I have done) there is no mention at all of a death sentence. So automatically, when you find articles that talk about killing gays, you should discount them as uninformed and hyperbolic (Yes, you, The Guardian, and The New York Times and Washington Post).
At the risk of being misunderstood, allow me to say straight up, as if it were necessary, that of course I’m not in favour of the bill. I find it bigoted and prejudiced. But that’s not what this blog post is about. I want to draw attention to the thoughtless and unmerited narrative surrounding the bill as it is being increasingly portrayed in the Western secular media. And what is that? Well, it’s that this bill is the fault of Christianity. And more specifically, the result of foreign Christian missionaries to Uganda.
The argument basically goes like this (and this is only mildly exaggerated and paraphrased): Before Christian missionaries came, Uganda was a peaceable and safe country, tolerant and respectful. However Christian missionaries, having lost the ‘culture-wars’ in the secular West, subsequently chose Uganda to be the base of what they hope to be a worldwide spread of a massive anti-homosexual movement. Therefore missionaries are flooding into Uganda to preach their gospel of hate, using their vast material wealth to coax and coerce naïve Ugandan Christians into persecuting homosexuals. Uganda is therefore now, as a direct consequence of this, a bigoted and hateful society (regularly killing homosexuals) because of Christian missionaries. Another example of how Christianity is very, very bad for the world. And Africa in particular (where of course secularists are starting to notice that Christianity is in fact rather popular).
Now this narrative is spreading fast through print media. And it’s about to become a lot more widespread. There is a new feature-length documentary that’s just come out in cinema’s, called ‘God Loves Uganda’. Although it has a fairly limited showing in the UK, that may change soon. After all, It’s made the Oscars shortlist. Now I’m not able to view the film here. You may not be surprised to hear that it’s not common in Uganda! However I can view the trailer, and also can watch online the 8-minute film the director previously that basically acts as the precursor to the new feature-length film (and, presuming that the full movie is simply an extension of the shorter version, then it is going to contain some worryingly poor documentary-making. You can read some of my thoughts in discussion with Mark Meynell and Eddie Arthur, in the comments section here ) And sure enough, it would appear that the film very much supports the assumed narrative I outlined above. (By the way, if you want to read a long but interesting rebuttal, almost blow-by-blow, of this film, John Stackhouse has written for Christianity Today magazine here)
So, what is the West doing? Well, putting a lot of pressure on Uganda to immediately drop this bill! Facebook groups, governments threatening to cut aid, President Obama has spoken out, huge petitions, and even Amnesty International has got involved.
However I think it is worth pointing out (and living in Uganda for the past 2 years puts me in a good position to do this) that, ironically, much of this Western pressure on the Ugandan parliament and Uganda and in general is actually having the opposite affect that what they intend. Even in the time we’ve lived here, we’ve seen the anti-colonial narrative strengthen and strengthen in his country. Uganda, rightly so, is loosing the shackles of dependency on the West in many ways (financial, political, spiritual, and moral). No longer is West always best. Absolutely right, of course. And therefore Uganda is actually very, very proud of defiantly ‘standing up to’ Western moralistic bullying against it. And I use the word ‘bullying’ carefully here. Look at this recent story from the BBC news: The University of Buckinghamshire is now officially refusing to accredit any courses in Uganda, and has cut off its entire links with one of Kampala’s top private universities, Victoria University, SIMPLY because Victoria University is, well, in Uganda, and Uganda is the home of this bill. Note that Victoria University didn’t at any point explicitly support this bill, or deny any rights to homosexual students, or do or say anything about the bill. They are simply Ugandan. And that’s enough for them to have to find a new accreditor (actually, just recently, they failed to do this and have now shut down all operations, with hundreds of students having lost all their tuition fees). Note also that this bill isn’t even law! Just the fact that it’s been proposed is enough for the University of Buckinghamshire to abandon its partner. The point is that they, and many other Western donors and charities, and trying to frighten, threaten, and yes, bully, Uganda into changing its direction. However it really, really isn’t working. From where I’m standing, the louder the West shouts, the deeper Uganda digs in. And Uganda has dug in.
As far as I can tell, there are very few Christians in the West who are really challenging this prevailing and presumed narrative which says Christianity and Christian missionaries are very bad for Uganda and Africa. In fact, sometimes there are good and decent Christians propagating this narrative too, seemingly wanting to apologise to the world for what the world tells us that our own people are doing. I’m guessing that they hope, by agreeing with all this, that the world will differentiate between the crazies and the normal Christians. And it seems to me that much of that is borne of a desperation to be liked by the world. Of course that’s not what happens. All that happens is that, with the tacit approval and acceptance of the narrative by many Christians, the whole faith (including us) is allowed to be denigrated and ridiculed. And when it comes to this issue, please believe me, it really is. Look at some of the comment articles in the above news articles. The level of disgust and venom is extraordinary. People who outwardly wish to adhere to tolerant secular views are, seemingly without any sense of irony or humour, suggesting that all Christian missionaries in Uganda should be shot. Or at least banned. Most of the expat community in Kampala is secular, and as people who naturally take an interest in what the Western media is saying about Uganda, they are starting to get very angry with people like me, who they are told are preaching hate, and it seems to be getting worse and worse. Seriously, this is not a good time to be a missionary in Uganda if you want the world to think well of you.
So, now that I’ve explained what’s going on, let me try and explain why I think this popular narrative in the West concerning this bill is nonsense. And let me explain that by telling a quick story…
Last month, Ros went a church event. I’m purposely being coy about the details on a public blog. At this event, organised by and attended by many Christians and Christian leaders in Kampala, the speaker held up a small stick. They then explained that, if you put this stick in a pot of goat stew (must be goat – the speaker was most clear about that) and leave it for several minutes, then feed the stew to your family, then your family that had previously been argumentative and disunited will, immediately, be of one mind in a happy, peaceful harmony. The speaker told stories of how well this trick had worked in their own family. They was happy to admit that this advice came from African traditional witch doctors, but the speaker ‘Christianised’ it by suggesting you should put the stick into the stew ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’.
Now that’s syncretism. That’s taking old religion, witch-doctery, dressing it up in a desperately thin veneer of Christianity, and bringing slap bang into the heart of the church. And sadly this kind of thing happens up and down this country every week, in churches. We heard this week of an active church-goer who, when annoyed by someone, went to the local witch-doctor, got some charms and curses etc. and hid them in the room of the one they were annoyed with. I could tell you story after story like this.
My point is that, the more time we spend here, the more we realise that Christianity here has barely scratched the surface of many people’s worldview, morality, and belief system. Of course that’s not true for everyone. But it’s true for many (and significantly, the amazing and wonderful people that it’s not true for, those folk here who we love and admire and learn so much from, unbelievably good people, would be very quick to admit it is true for many). When you see and hear some of what goes on here, by people who outwardly are the most faithful of church-goers, it feels impossible to reconcile that with some of the statistics that show Uganda to be one of the most evangelised and ‘Christian’ countries on earth.
And yet article after article and film after film is telling us to believe that Christianity has not only penetrated so deeply into so many people’s deepest belief systems that it affects their sexual attitudes, but that it has done it so significantly that this has been translated into national laws in parliament!. No way. Seriously. No way. On a purely anecdotal level, I am continually shocked by the levels of wife-beating, rape, child-abuse, polygamy, adultery, and sexual immorality in many churches here. And yet these journalists want us to believe that this same faith, that is inwardly rejected and ignored by so many in churches, is held to so passionately as to change the laws of the whole country. Have these people ever even been to Uganda I wonder?
So what is behind this bill, you ask? Simple. Traditional Ugandan views about sexuality. Uganda, with or without Christianity, is not a place that is readily tolerant of homosexual activity. This is true in the Christian community, the Muslim community, and the ‘traditional ethno-religious’ community (unaffected by any Western missionary work or imposition of ‘outside’ religion). In fact, in that latter community, I would imagine that the support of this law, and vehement and angry opposition to homosexuality, is even greater. To put it simply, this law comes from Ugandan culture. Not Ugandan Christianity. Christianity has barely impacted upon culture here.
For example, take a look at this article from the main newspaper in Uganda, entitled “Homosexuality: Is it a normal or sick lifestyle”. Without any suggestion of religious argument or influence, the author concludes that homosexuality is “at best a result of severe developmental problems” and therefore “a normal person, that is, a heterosexual, should under ordinary circumstances find the very idea of homosexuality repugnant.”
Now it is certainly true to say that many Ugandans, nominally within the Christian community, would use Christianity as a rhetorically-useful ‘peg’ to hang this law on. That much is well documented. There are a few clips going around of preachers and church leaders supporting this bill. But that’s all it is – a peg. Many Christians here argue passionately that women should never wear trousers. That is their traditional culture. When Christianity came to Uganda new converts worked hard to justify that practice using their new religion, and although they have tried hard to find a few OT-law verses to justify it, they really can’t. Does their belief change? No (or not yet anyway for many) Traditional culture just gets brought into the new religion instead of allowing the new to shape and interpret and renew and transform the old.
And its similar with attitudes to homosexuality. The vast majority of Christians in this country have never met or spoken with a Western missionary. And nor have their leaders. Many of these attitudes about homosexuality come direct from traditional Ugandan culture. Of course these attitudes may change in the future. But if they do, much as the secularists would scoff at this, it will most likely be because of Christianity, as churches preach a message of godly love and kindness towards active homosexuals here, thereby opposing the culturally-driven anger and violence towards homosexuals we too-often see. The sad reality for Western secularists is that their worldview has little to say to change Ugandan attitudes to homosexuality. They can go on about ‘human rights’ as much as they want, but the more they shout, the more they get ignored. The best hope for a Uganda that is safe for homosexuals is, of course, the gospel. The gospel that shows us that all people are created in God’s image and loved by him, the gospel that shows us how much God truly wants to rescue and redeem his people The gospel that promotes humble, gracious, non-violent love towards all people. The gospel that welcomes all people to confess that Jesus is Lord and unite together in a broken but re-built community of Christ (Ephesians 2:17-22)
And so, for the sake of Ugandan homosexuals, Ugandan Christians, and missionaries in Uganda, please don’t let this nasty, secularist, hate-filled narrative of Christianity in Uganda go unchallenged. Your future heavenly Ugandan co-worshippers around the throne will be grateful that you didn’t.
I began it over a year ago, but finally this week I finished it: (it’s been a busy year, and it’s a fat book) “The State of Africa” by Martin Meredith.
I’m not big into writing book reviews. So let me simply quote (am I allowed to do this?) from one Amazon review:
“The book is a litany of incompetent government, of insatiable greed and exploitation on the part of leaders and their cronies, of unbelievable power lust and the resulting repression, of megalomaniac leaders with delusions of grandeur, of ludicrous levels of corruption and of the suffering of millions of ordinary people.”
It’s an overview of post-independence Africa, dealing principally with the leaders, politics, governments and big-picture narratives, as opposed to say a real people’s history from the ground. It’s horrific. It’s absolutely horrific.
You know things are bad when you move beyond tears and just feel emotionally unable to care anymore about real-life tragedy you’re reading. 800,000 Tutsi corpses here, a few hundred thousand amputees there, a war here, a death camp there, child soldiers here, mass starvation and internal displacement there. The tragic history flows so fast and so furiously at you it’s impossible to keep your head above the water. The only other books I’ve ever read that caused me to read about thousands of murders without a flicker of emotion was this one - http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-World-Historys-Age-Hatred/dp/0141013826
There’s so many desperate stats in the book that blow your mind I’m not even going to go into them. As I say, it starts to become just numbers after a while. However one stat was particularly fascinating. in 2001, an African leader voluntarily left office after an election defeat for only the 4th time (it first happened in 1993). 40 years of independence, 50 countries, well over 300 leaders, but only 4 had ever held an election, lost, and walked away.
Every book you ever read about Africa always ends on a note of hope. It has to in today’s world. Not necessarily because its true (although who am I to comment on that) but because it seems to negative, too depressing, too awful to do anything else.
After 700 pages in this book, I was waiting for that final note of hope to come. It never did. This is the final paragraph:
“Time and time again, Africa’s potential for economic development has been disrupted by the predatory politics of ruling elites seeking personal gain, often precipitating violence for their own ends. The problem is not so much that development has failed, but that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have become hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good. Indeed, far from being able to provide aid and protection to their citizens, African governments and the vampire-like politicians who run them are regarded by the population they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival.“
700 pages, and that’s the conclusion. How’s that for a hollow way to finish an epic? And yet there was no other conclusion he could come to. It’s too often true. In the past and in the present.
Note he’s not suggesting that Africans, or Africa, have/has no hope, but just that it doesn’t appear to be coming through the state, through government. Although Uganda is better than most, you don’t have to follow me on Twitter for long, and to see the stats I quote from the newspapers, to see that even here things aren’t radically different.
And that’s why it’s so good to do what I do. The gospel, and people’s relationships with Christ, is perhaps the one thing in Africa that cannot be stolen, torn apart, shot at, bribed away, abused or annihilated. It’s safe, secure, guaranteed, and eternal. And in a continent so full of terrible, terrible tragedy, it’s so real. I tweeted recently about a mother who’d buried 9 of her own kids, but clung on to Christ.
And so let me repeat what I said in earlier blog post about visiting David’s poverty stricken village: “There’s nothing more beautiful than true, Christian hope” And perhaps it’s in the darkest places where we see it shining most brightly.
Wow. I’m sorry to be quite so annoyingly effusive, but that was the most amazing experience of my life. Uganda 2 – Angola 1. See match report here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/22918581
You can see a brief highlights package here (1 min) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKKvSHqKOF8 Where the players ran to after the 2nd goal – that’s where I was.
https://echwaluphotography.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/triumphant-uganda-cranes/ These pictures are from a game two years ago, but they give you a flavour of the stadium and the atmosphere. If you want more pics, do a Google Image search for Namboole
In a nutshell. Both teams had to win (a draw was useless) to have any chance of qualifying for the world cup. Half-time, nil-nil. They scored a beauty early in the 2nd half. We then got a man sent off. Not looking good at all. We then absolutely fluke an equaliser, and Angola fall apart. They get a man and the manager sent off, and we, in the 89th minute, score the winner.
I’m going to write down some random thoughts, interesting I hope to football and non-football fans.
- ATTENDANCE: The stadium is Chinese built (1997) and is just 10 mins from our house. There’s no seats, it’s just a crucible of concrete steps and you sit (in theory) on the edge of one step with your legs hanging down to the next step. The stadium is a complete bowl, so you can walk, on the same step, all the way around 360 degrees. That basically means there is no way of controlling how many people are in the stadium, or where they sit. To say it was a squash is an understatement. I have no idea how many people were there. I doubt even the stadium managers do, to be honest. But just when you thought it couldn’t get any fuller, another 5,000 people wandered in and you had to squeeze even closer to the person next to you.
- COIN-THROWING There is an athletics track around the pitch. At half-time, a (very talented) Ugandan ball-juggler came around doing skills in front of the fans. His friend had a bag to collect the money. The idea is that you, and the 100 rows of fans behind you, hurl coins down to him to appreciate him. Of course, from the back of the stadium, it’s impossible to throw a coin onto the track, so you chuck it as far as you can and rely on the goodwill of the fan it hits to give it another lob forward, and so on and so on. That just meant for me, at the front, it was raining coins. All sanctioned and official and encouraged by the authorities. Think of the fuss made in the UK when just 1 coin is thrown! I had one hit my ear. It hurts.
- SAFETY The whole experience is chaotic. To get into the stadium, there was thousands of fans crushing against a gate until it was opened, at which point everyone surged forward. There’s cars and motorbikes weaving around outside the ground within mm of your feet. I frequently just burst out laughing with the absurdity of it all. And yet I never felt in danger.
- NATIONAL ANTHEM Uganda has the shortest national anthem in the world. Apparently it’s just 8 bars of music. If it lasts 15 seconds I’d be surprised. It’s hilarious. By the time you’ve worked out its playing, it’s over.
- DEMOCRACY When a government official came out to greet the teams, he was widely booed. I love the fact that, despite Uganda being a long, long way from being a fully-functioning democracy, people still feel it acceptable to publically (when anonymous, of course!) boo a leader. That bodes well. People weren’t able to do that 20 years ago here.
- BRAZIL 2014 This game was a 2014 Brazil World Cup qualifier, but it felt a million miles from Brazil. Apart from one small banner, there was no FIFA presence, no sponsorship, no pictures of the World Cup anywhere. If this was the FA Cup, Uganda v Angola is like Accrington Stanley playing Tamworth. A million miles from the fame, glory, exposure, and money of the actual tournament itself. We are a far-flung footballing outpost here, and it feels like we’ve been forgotten completely. But it also feels like no-one here gives a monkeys, and I love that. In one sense this isn’t about the World Cup. It’s just about supporting your team through the ups and downs, wherever it takes you.
- RIOT POLICE When the Angolan player got sent off, he was not a happy chappy (it was 1-1 at that point and he’d just given away a free kick that we blasted into the wall). He argued and argued and argued. In the end some Ugandan soldiers came on and marched him off the pitch. Hilarious. He then had riot police who had to cover him with their shields as he left the pitch because all the stuff raining down on him from the Uganda fans by the changing rooms. The Angola manager then went ballistic at something, and stormed onto the pitch ranting. He then got sent off. Cue more soldiers to escort him off, and more riot shields to protect him. It was gloriously and hilariously chaotic. I was in hysterics.
- NOISE The noise is astonishing. Utterly breathtaking. I’m writing this almost 24 hours later and my ears still aren’t functioning properly – it’s like I’m permanently wearing earmuffs, and Ros is getting tired of me saying ‘pardon?’ It’ not singing, or chanting, or unified. It is just a 4-hour long, deafening, intense, continuous, mind-blowing cacophony of noise. Pure, loud, inseparable, noise. It really is indescribable. I never once got close to hearing any noise on the pitch – in football games in the UK you normally hear at least the referee’s whistle, perhaps some shouts from the pitch, the booting of the ball even. Not here. Not a chance. A lot of the noise is whistles, horns, and Ugandan-style vuvuzela’s. But a lot of it is just people’s non-stop shouting, cheering, and making all sorts of hooping and whooping noises that no Westerner could ever hope to replicate. Just extraordinary.
- POSTERS People bring home-made posters to the game. I saw several in support of Nelson Mandela (‘The King of Africa’, and the stadium is called ‘The Nelson Mandela Stadium’) and one artistic efforts of a Crested Crane (the Ugandan national bird, and symbol) beheading with its claws an antelope (the name of the Angola team). Awesome.
- UNITY This is not meant to be a profound theological point, so please don’t read anything into it, but there is something tremendously uplifting about watching a country so wrecked by poverty, crime, dictatorships, and corruption, come together for an afternoon to just be proud. I can only remember two pieces of happy news since arriving here. Kiprotitch’s marathon gold medal at London2012, and this. After the second goal went in, for the remaining few minutes of the game, the scoreboard gave up on showing the score (as if anyone wasn’t aware!) and just read “We are proud of our team and our nation”. And you know what, for an afternoon, they really were. Sometimes I feel so much despair for the future of Uganda. And yet yesterday, even just for a few hours, 56 tribes and languages came together in the stadium, around little radios, and around TV sets in bars, to feel Ugandan again.
- ACCEPTANCE The 3 students I went with decided it was most fun to sit with the ‘ultras’, the hard-core fans. When the goals when in, I was surrounded by flares, and semi-naked, head-to-toe body-painted insane Ugandans hugging me. They LOVE it when an outsider cares for their team as much as they do. I had hundreds of people trying to shake my hand as we left. It was the most Ugandan I’ve ever felt. It was perhaps he first time I felt truly accepted here as an insider, and not just an outsider that people are fascinated by and want to gawp whilst imagining my non-existent fabulous riches.
- FOOTBALL It must be said, the quality of football was pretty poor. Energetic, frenetic, attack-minded, but poor. It largely consisted of 22 players trying to move the ball up to the opposition goal as quickly as possible. Not necessarily long-ball, but just lack of patience, vision, and strategy. It made for a thrilling watch, but the thought of Uganda coming up against Spain is absolutely terrifying.
- THE FUTURE It is still desperately unlikely that Uganda are going to qualify for the world cup. Depending on the Senegal result today, it is very likely that we’re going to have to go there, to Dakar, in September, and win. Against a team containing Ba, Cisse, Diouf, Diop, Faye, another well-known stars. If we do, amazingly, get through that, then we have a two-legged play-off against another group-topping team in Africa, probably a team like Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, South Africa etc. But oh let’s dream. The Ugandan team in Brazil 2014. It takes my breath away just the thought of it. Do you know what? If I had a choice right now, I would honestly, truly, hand-on-heart, prefer Uganda to qualify for the world cup then England. I think, probably, I’d rather Uganda qualify for the World Cup than England win it. Little by little, as the months roll by here, my identity is starting to change. And, as always when it comes to feeling ‘at home’, the footy has much to do with it.
I’ve just spent the weekend with Isabirye David, my former student and current friend who is now a minister in a rural, remote, poverty-stricken backwater parish in the South-East. It is a hard place to visit even for 48 hours. And an even harder place to live, as they do. And it is an even harder place to live and minister in, as David does. I really can’t express this enough: It is a tough place to be. I’ve spent a lot of time in rural Africa in my life, but I’ve rarely seen life lived like this.
There’s so much I’d love to write about, so many stories to tell, so many snapshots about mossies and rats and disease and snakes and poverty and friendship and witchcraft and kindness and death and mangoes and mud and chickens and beauty and ugliness. But it would take to long, and it feels too personal. So I’m going to keep some things for myself.
However I did manage to do some filming. My camera is worth £200. That’s more than the land, possessions, crops, and house that most of these folk own put together. It wasn’t right to go there and get it out (This is where Google Glass might come in handy.) That meant I missed so much, but that’s ok. Sometimes life is better experienced through eyes rather than through a screen. It stays in the memory for longer. But, as I say, I did actually do a bit of filming. It’s the truth, but not the whole truth. But I hope you enjoy it:
5 final thoughts from the weekend:
- Tough place to sleep: Crickets were so loud and also were inside the bedroom. Rats were everywhere, scraping around (David has lost many of his clothes to rats, but with the house in such poor condition you can’t keep them out). Mossies were so tough. We had no net but I was plastered head-to-toe in repellant. They didn’t care – they were crawling all over me sucking my blood. They even managed to bite me through a sheet I wrapped myself in (which made me overheat). Namugongo mosquitoes are feeble compared to these. I reckon I must have picked up 30 bites at least. At one point my foot felt like it was going to explode with the red-raw, painful, swelling due to all the bites. Grim. Was so, so grateful to get back into my safe, netted, comfortable, rat-less bed.
- I’d love Prof Dawkins and other New Atheists to go there. It’s so easy to be an atheist when your life is so good. Atheism is pointless and senseless there. I’m not saying belief is right because atheism is hopeless. I think belief is right because it’s true. But it’s so easy for the New Atheists to speak about just getting on and enjoying your God-less, future-less, heaven-less, hope-less life when they’re living in Oxford Colleges. Come here and say that to these people. There is nothing in the world more beautiful than true, Christian hope.
- Tear-inducing generosity. At one point we visited an elderly widow with no children. We found her sitting alone on a mat in the dust in the yard outside her mud-walled, mud-floored, leaky-roofed house. At the end of our brief visit, she got up, went into her house, and brought me out a chicken. I had a camera in my pocket worth more than her house, and more money in my wallet than she’d probably handled in the past 2 years, And she gave me a chicken (she had 3 in total). I felt like telling her not to be so crazy. But she wasn’t being crazy, she just appreciated having a visitor, a somebody, come and visit a nobody. I look back with regret that I didn’t tell her that, soon, we will be together in Christ in heaven, all equal before the throne. In the end I came home with 4 chickens. The cocks woke us up this morning with their crowing, and my car is full of their poo.
- I have the best job in the world: it’s really hard living and working here sometimes, but we help produce people like David, and David goes and preached Christ to people like that. My work is never going to make an impact on world politics, nor fix the environment. It’s not even really going to help this place come out of poverty. But there’s a few in that church who genuinely, through thick and thin, love the Lord Jesus and have committed their lives to him. To contribute a small way to that is a real pleasure.
- David is an outstanding man. That parish hasn’t had a minister there for several years. No-one will go. When they are sent by the bishop, they whinge and whine, demands transfers, and refuse to live there (just travelling in on Sunday’s). He wants for nothing more than to stay there for years to come serving these guys. He looks at the conditions they live in and thinks that, because he has a bed, he is really really lucky. He’s humble and hard-working, generous and heavenly-minded, sociable and hospitable, committed and courageous. I learnt a lot about my own feebleness and wimpy-ness.
There’s so much more I could say, but that’ll do for now. Please do watch the video – and please do pray for David and Kasoze parish.