Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christmas list

Once again it is Christmas time. I am not asking for presents thisyear. I don't have a wish list. Really, by comparison, I have all thatI need here. I have shelter, I have food and I have health. I havestrong communities at home loving and supporting me. This is not true,however, for many people around me.Fortunately, I have come across some wonderful organizations whiletraveling here that are doing wonderful work in the community. So ifyou would like to give me a Christmas present this year, you arewelcome to make a contribution to any one of these organizations.Please contact me if you are interested. I will provide more detailsat a later time.

Undugu- Community building organzation that engages in manyactivities to promote peace and love. This includes a school forrefugee children that I taught at, a tailoring shop to generate incomefor women in the community, a builders association, and many differentlocal dancing troupes
Rubanda Solidarity- Organization in southern Uganda. They areproviding income generating activities like tailoring or mushroomgrowing to teen drop outs. They also built and staff the only nurseryschool in the village. They are now trying to add one grade a yearuntil they can create a full primary school. Currently trying to raise funds to purchase a solar energy system so they can have lights in thedormitory at night.

Rainbow House of Hope Uganda- Youth Center in Kampala. They provide aplace where children and youth can play sports, learn music, engage intutoring and have a greater fullness of life.

Caritas Gulu- Provides resources to the most vulnerable in the IDPcamps in and around Gulu.Youth in Action- provides sponsorships to orphaned children in the Ft.Portal region.

More organizations and info to come….ps- if you do want to send any cards or anything though, my address here is
Michael Le Chevallier C/O St. Francis Xavier Jesuit Community
Po Box 266 Mwanza
Here is the rest of the contact info.
+255787282555
mike.lechevallier@gmail.com
mikeintranslation.blogspot.com

Advent in Africa

Advent in Africa

The Christmas season is coming. Unlike in the US, we don’t have all the normal markers of Christmas here. There are no lights strung up on the trees. Some areas near the city are lucky enough to get power at night. There are few Christmas carols being played in shopping malls…. We don’t even have shopping malls. In fact, the only thing that seems to signal a coming change is that we have moved from the dry season to the wet season.

Typically in the US, Christmas is a time to celebrate a coming together of families. We glaze the ham, make the scalped potatoes, roast the turkeys, and find our favorite Christmas sweater to wear. Without these normal cultural markers leading up to Christmas, it is difficult to get a sense for the coming holiday. Without the Christmas parties, or the TV specials like miracle on 34th street or frosty the snowman or the slight promise of snow it is hard to feel a sense of that Christmas spirit.

Yet, with this past Sunday of Christ the king, the old liturgical year is coming to an end. Going to church from Sunday to Sunday, it is hard sometimes to make the connection. It is hard to realize that there is indeed a movement of the church. This past Sunday we were to be celebrating the triumph of our church, the eschatological hope on which our faith is founded.

Perhaps we celebrate Christmas a little too early in the US. Everyone knows that thanksgiving signals Christmas. Our anticipation is built up in part by our cultural tradition and also in part by consumer tendencies in our culture.

This separation from home has been sparking a lot of thoughts in my mind lately. This coming Sunday marks the begin of the new liturgical year. It is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, as the Latin name implies, is a building of anticipation towards to coming of Christ, the incarnation, the penetration of God into his human creation in a new way. The real markings of the coming of Christmas here are in fact those of the church.

With Christmas, we are celebrating a special event, where Christ became present amongst us. Incarnation is in fact what I am studying this year. When God became manifest in one human family, in one culture, in one religion, god made possible the penetration into every culture, every human family. The fullest expression of the Christian faith is not European or middle eastern or any one culture, but rather an indwelling of Christ in any culture. Christ came to bring us a fullness of life. As we discover how we can live fully and authentically as humans within our own cultures and contexts we, and our cultures, become drawn up or lifted up to Christ. I hope that my celebration of Advent and Christmas this year, can be filled with anticipation for the way that the Christ is being born here in Tanzanian culture. I hope that I can apply the same hope and confidence in this birth as we do in the birth of Christ. It’s an amazing thing really, that this birth which occurred as a moment in history 2000 years ago, is celebrated, enacted and truly taking place again and again. Let us be mindful then, with this coming of advent, of the emerging of Christ in our life every day. Let us also protect and nuture this coming of Christ, this rebirth in every culture throughout the world.

Christ was born as a refugee. Christ was born “on the way”. In the US, let us be mindful in particular during this Christmas season of those political and economic refugees within our midst.

Let us also be aware that in order to nurture this faith across the world, we have to be aware of the economic shackles that the world system places on the developing world. This is a bondage that we participate in as a nation. Africa is a continent that is rich but rendered poor. As I asked what the biggest obstacles to having a fully authentic African faith were to one missionary, he mentioned poverty.

There is a true economic poverty, where people are in a situation where they can’t make the morally “right” choice. Indeed, we do not find the thief who steals bread culpable, for, as Thomas Aquinas stated, the bread was already his to begin with. When the prime concern for a person is surival, they do not have the luxury of adequate time for reflection and creativity (not to say that it can’t and won’t happen though). We have a debt of responsibility to question the international structures that place these countries in debt to us. Within Africa, there is a belief that any evil in life can find its source in the immoral action and behavior of others. This dangerously plays itself out in the notion of cursing. Behind this though, is the idea that there are no accidents in life. People understand that a person gets sick from a mosquito bite. They then, however, ask the question, why was I bit by the mosquito? Now this form of causality may sound silly to us, but when we do realize in fact, that the situation here in Africa, whether be it drought and deforestation caused by corporate farming, or the illness present here that could have long ago been eradicated with enough resources adequately focused on it, or famine when there are enough resources in the world to deal with this food situation, then it is not so irrational to ask the question, “why Africa?”

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Settling in to Mwanza

New Address
Michael Le Chevallier
c/o St Francis Xavier Jesuits
Po Box 266
Mwanza

Here is my new cell number.
+255787282555

Settling in to Mwanza


I have been in TZ for about a week now. It has been quite suprising already. In my mind, TZ was a hot dry place. While that must be true for many parts of the country, Mwanza, which is situated right on Lake Victoria, is almost as green as Uganda. It is a strange and interesting place. The city is clean and the main roads in the city have no potholes in them.
I feel like I have been transported to a modern day flinstones. Throughout the area there are these gigantic stones that cover the land. Many houses are of a similar huegh and they blend right on into the stones.

I have moved in with a maryknoll missionary named Garret. I think the situation will work out pretty well. Already it is nice to have someone around who might understand my references to pop culture. We live right next to the Jesuits. So if I ever get enough sleep to wake up by 6 am I might make it to morining mass. We are in the rainy season now though, so there is not the light that I typically depend on to wake me up early in the morning.

Our security guard, Thomas, dressed in a red uniform, protects our neighborhood with a bow and arrow.
Throughout the town there are also very tall men with large holes in their ears, who wear blankets on their body and a smile on their face, while carrying sticks with which they seem to be easily able to kill you. These are the masaai guards. I went just the other day to the masaai market to purchase myself some kata mbuga, which means cut across the bush. These are sandals made from old tires. Cool huh? Almost a pair of African burkinstocks. I wore them all day today and they tore up my feet pretty well. While waiting to get them readjusted by bahati (which means luck) I was teaching a young masaai boy to read. Today I made my way out to Mabatini to interview a maryknoll missionary priest named Jim Ebel, who has been living in TZ for the past 17 years.

Already there are some striking differences between here and Uganda. I think the emphasis on Swahili has played a large role in forming the country. The snubbing of TZ by many Anglo countries because of its African socialism probably has led to a delay of the neo-colonialism that has penetrated Uganda so deeply.

Also, witchcraft plays a much more prominent role here in TZ. Often negative fortune causes one to seek a diviner out. In some Ugandan cultures, the misfortune might be blamed on a disharmonious relationship with the ancestors. Here in the sukuma region, often this misfortune is attributed to the curse of a witch. Well, those are often innocent old women who get blamed.

I spent thanksgiving with the maryknoll folks from town. We were in charge of making the mashed potatoes. We made 8 kilos of potatoes and now we will be eating fried mashed potatoes for the whole rest of the week. Yummy! I met a really neat Oregonian too who is working as a volunteer doctore here. He grew up in salem, spent his summers in black butte and his favorite beer is also black butte porte. What a small world! We held a mass before dinner. It was really quite neat, for most of the msic was reminiscent of the old folk masses I used to go to as a kid.
Well… falling asleep at thecomputer. Time to check out!
Peace,
mike
ps- will eventually get photos up.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Alive in TZ

Well, I made it to Mwanza, TZ. I will be here now for about 2 months. I haven't figured out a mailing address yet, but my new cell # is +255787282555.

I had a pretty exciting trip across Lake Victoria (17 hrs) as a rat had tried to steal my sleeping bag case. After a few hrs of thinking I had gone crazy, i was able to recall a slight pattering of feet during the night and tracked down his nest. Either fear or generosity kept me from ending this rats life, but at the end of the day, I still won the battle against the rat. It seems I have secured myself housing for the next month. I will be living, hopefully, with a lay maryknoll missionary from Chicago.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where ya been mike???

Well, i've been somewhat silent of late. that is because i decided to finish off my time in UG with a retreat with a jesuit who just flew in from the states. Well, i am not a jesuit, so my retreat was a little less silent than might be expected, but i tell you, it was good to get just a few days of real rest, relaxation and retreating (RRR?), or to get some TLC from God. hmmm perhaps i should stop there. anyways, to update you, i am leaving tomorrow by cargo ship for Mwanza. Cool huh? right between matoke and gnuts, there you will find me reading as i cross lake victoria. I will be traveling with my good german drinking/traveling buddy martin, who is taking 10 days to visit TZ. I don't know how far I will travel with him, but it should prove to be a fun way to begin my research in this new country. Perhaps at some later point i will post all the spiritual insights i gained this past week, but not likely. Some things are just too personal for the world wide web... besides i have a whole other adventure ahead of me to document and post. Thank you Watson foundation! Well gonna go grab a beer to restore some empty calories to my body (been sick lately.. knew it was time to take medicine after my gut started hurting after drinking communion wine....)
Salama lako! (peace to you?? i think... clearly my swahili needs some major improvement. )
mike

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Photos from Gulu and Palenga IDP camp

Rose
Hanging around
Caritas at the end of the day
After our trip in the camps
Paul- project manager
family in the camps. this man lost his leg from a land mine.
Justus. this man was responsible for 10 dependents by himself
Okello.

Caritas and mzee
enjoying the shade
Family photo
martha and her grandson. Martha is responsible alone for 10 children.
Woman and her traditional local brewing
through the door
Caritas hard at work
at Palenga IDP camps

Trip to GULU

You ever get the feeling when you’ve been somewhere so meaningful and touching that you realize that you’ve just been in the wrong place for the past month, two months etc? I just returned the other day from Gulu where I have had a similar experience. Gulu is one of the main cities up in the north. It was most frequently featured in the film “the Invisible children” which is about the night commuters, or the children who flee the rural areas to flee the LRA (rebel army who abducts children to be soldiers or sex slave) or sent by their parents because of the poverty situation. I was staying in the catechetical center run by a Fr. Joseph Okumu (brilliant man) with the double purpose of visiting him regarding Inculturation and visiting the IDP camps with Caritas to witness the consequences of this war and the work being done by the church.

There have been so many meaningful experiences just over a period of three days that it is hard for me to sort them out in this short email, but bear with me as I myself am still responding and reflecting on these experiences.

Situation in Uganda
In the northern part of Uganda, there has been a war that has been going on for the past 20 years (a full 21 in January). Rebel leader, Joseph Kony, went into the bush in 1986 and began his attack on the Museveni Regime. Museveni himself came to power through a gorilla war against the dictator Obote. Uganda itself has been in a constant state of war since Idi Amin’s time in the 60’s. The LRA (and the government’s military the UPDF) have terrorized the Acholi people in the north over the past 20 years. The LRA has been known to murder, rape, torture and mutilate the population here. They also abduct children who they then force to commit atrocities and join the ranks of their soldiers.

IDP camps
In the face of abject poverty, it is sometimes hard to react at all. This may sound odd to many of your ears, but I would almost compare it to a sensory overload. Entering into the camps, I was all the sudden surrounded by huts, built right next to each other, in camps filled with what might be described as human misery. Gift and burden, I tend towards the brighter side of things (an attitude founded on a profound respect for human dignity even in a state of misery. I reject any judgement, as I have even heard before here in Uganda from my ex-pat. Friends that this person would be better off never alive). In the face of such misery, does one’s pity add anything to it? I don’t know, but I made the choice to provide only my support and encouragement, rather than despair. I was visiting the camps with Caritas, the social support, development and relief arm of the church. Caritas is a Latin word which means Charity. Caritas Gulu works to help the most vulnerable and needy in the camps. They try to reach out to those people who aren’t supported by those around them and who would not be reached by the other NGO’s. My second day in the camps we visited a list of people who were identified by the catechist (will explain below) as the most vulnerable and most needy. Amongst these people are child led households, abandoned elderly (often supporting grandchildren), single parent households (could even have 10 dependents) and victims of the physical effects of war (landmines, mutilation). These people met with us and were divided amongst the caritas workers to register them at their huts. As I stood on the side, as those originally identified were roll called, I couldn’t help but see the dignity that these people possessed. I don’t mean this as some abstract ideal that guides our social actions, but a true sense of resilience in the face of the suffering around them and on their person. One mzee (old man) missing a foot and crippled in the other, forced to move around on his knees, held all the respect of an elder.

As we followed these people to their homes I was followed by children yelling out Muno no, which means white person in Acholi. It was actually refreshing not to be called Mzungu for once. Acholi is not a Bantu language, but actually a Nilotic language. Many of them asked me to take their picture. With my previous day in the camp I was very sensitive to the issue of photos. Unfortunately, I think it is easy for us to live behind the camera. Perhaps I am too sensitive to the subtleties, but it is easy to dehumanize a person with a camera as they are somehow treated like they are in a zoo, people to be watched in their misery.
Following these children asking me to take their photos, I began to see how my own camera could be a way of breaking the ice. The first women who we visited allowed me to take her photo and afterwards she thanked me very much, for it was the first time she had seen a photo of herself. I then proceeded to be the (sensitive) photographer, using my camera to help break the ice with the children around there. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much difference between the IDP camps and the slums of Kampala.

Catechists

I was struck by the role that the catechists are playing in the history of Uganda and in particular in these past 20 years. There have been over 40 catechists who were martyred here in Uganda. While many priests left the area because of the security situation, these catechist stayed on, many times traveling long distances to get communion from a priest for their community. These catechists are the church. They are really a new vision of what it means to be a part of the church here. In Uganda’s history, the catechists were often in a place before the missionaries ever reached there. Now, the catechists are playing a vital role in the camps. Many of them have been trained by Caritas to be their community resource person. They identify the local needs of the people and bring these to caritas. They are the people who are on the ground, living in the camps. I wish I could communicate better their role, for it is truly something special. For about 5 years UNICEF and World food didn’t want to work with the catechist because of their connection to the church, but they have now realized that these are the people with the most integrity on the ground.

The saddest thing is that the catechists themselves, who often have families of their own, do all this work as volunteers and get a pittance stipend of only about a dollar a month.

There will be more to come later as I reflect. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Murchison

Murchison

So I made my last excursion for fun here in Uganda. After the slight disaster that was my bwindi journey, I was quite excited for what this trip may have to offer. 11 of us all squeezed into the 8 passenger van in good African fashion and we headed north. As we moved further from the lake, the land became much more dry and sparse. I realized that I was entering savanna land.

On the side of the road was a number of closely pared huts. This looked suprising since most villages typically are arranged quite separate from each other. It turns out that these were some IDP (internally displaced people) camps of people who have fled from the north.

Upon arriving at the park, we already began to see elephants and giraffes in the distance. The weekend could not have begun more perfectly as we arrived on the shores of the nile just in time for the sun to set over roaring hippos and grooming baboons. It was a truly stunning sunset.

Better than the sunset, however, was the moonlit boat ride across the nile. I felt like I was in harry potter taking the boats to Hogwarts (not poetic, I know I am a nerd).

The following day we made a game drive through the park and I saw giraffes! The silent pacifist.

More to come later.

Forgive but not forget?

Forgive but not forget?

What does reconciliation mean? I have been thinking and talking to people lately about the issue of the Rwandan genocide and the subsequent actions taken in regards to it. What do I mean? We have a phrase in the states of Forgive and Forget. I can remember on various occasions saying how it is necessary to forgive, but never forget. This little idiom is currently the guiding principle behind the “never again” memorial in Rwanda. Talking to my friends here, I have become aware of a stinging controversy around this memorial site. Indeed, what is the purpose and what is the consequence of this genocide museum. One priest told me that you will never find a maHutu in that museum. I was told that in fact the only people who do attend such a museum are foreign tourists and tutsi’s coming from outside the country. What is the real meaning of reconciliation. Are there times when we need to always remember?? Are there times when, in order to have a true reconciliation, it is necessary that we forget.

Take the case of slave trade in the US. I do not believe that any American feels truly responsible for the slave trade. Yet there are still strong structural injustices present in the US. We have no one to forgive, but we cannot forget. We cannot forget this injustice, because it’s effects still carry into the present. It’s idealologies still breathe in our society.

With the case of Rwanda, can there be true reconciliation, if Mahutus continue to feel demonized. How will they react to such a depiction of them? What happens when these are your neighbors?

So what does reconcilation mean?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Photos of days yore

Sunset on the Nile
Warthogs!

Foam of the nileMurchison Falls

Crocs!
Martin, francisca and I at Murchison falls NP. M and F are both from Germany. Martin is my good bud out here. We bond over our shared appreciation of Ugandan beer

beared up and hanging out of the top of the car, ready to safari
Baboons at murchison falls NP

Taxi park in Kampala- one of the ugliest places in kampala, but with the sun shining just right, quite beautiful.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The web of life

The web of life
I am ever convinced that the African ethic of the wholeness of life is true. Because it is true, this is why we already find it in so many other traditions, even our own western Christianity, i.e. St. Francis of Assisi, Ignatian traditions, Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, Kant, etc.. (Due to his individualized ethic, it would be easy to manipulate Kant into a consumer ethic, but ultimately, when we realize the implications of the point that for Kant it is in the judging of nature as beautiful that we become aware of what it means to be fully human, we cannot follow abuse Kant in such a way.) I believe that we are all a part of a web of life. When a company has no regard for the enviroment, it is already on a road to the destruction of humanity. Any devaluing of creation, ultimately devalues humanity, either literally, as it places profit over people, or indirectly as it turns the person into a consumer devoid of relationship with God’s creation outside. Within the African worldview, we are intimately connected with all of those who came before us (the ancestors) and all those who will precede after us. We have a debt of responsibility to both.

What are the theological implications of that? Within Christianity, it means that we must be a church of remembering, so as to be aware of the injustices of the past, and we must have a profound sense of community, that goes beyond the consumers in the present. Let my theology move beyond the theoretical and speculative. I hope and pray I have more opportunites to see it first hand.

Letter Home

My life in Uganda- letter to friends and family.

Dear Friends and Family,

Happy Halloween! Oli otya? (Luganda greeting) How are you all? Thank you to all of you who have sent me little electronic notes over the past few months. My love of relationships has only grown since coming to Africa. Perhaps it is because, as a Rwandan man told me the other day, Africa is the birthplace of solidarity. Even with an ever-busy life, I cherish every piece of news sent from friends home and friends here in Africa. After all, at the end of the day, I know that my friends and family are my greatest treasures. I
I have been traveling now for three months! Where has the time gone? I have had a marvelous adventure and I am glad now for the opportunity to share some of my reflections with you. My trip was so far been laden with difficulties and triumphs. My first five weeks were spent in South Africa divided between Johannesburg and Cape Town. At first, I had a small amount of adjustment as I prepared myself for this whole year ahead of me. Living in what is said to be one of the most developed country in Africa, I encountered face to face to the history of colonialism and racial oppression. While in South Africa, I hiked mountains, attended museums, researched missiology in the church, and had the chance to witness my friends Bruce Botha SJ and Shaun Carls SJ be ordained to the priesthood.
Since arriving in Uganda, I have had a voracious appetite for my research here. Moving out of South Africa into a truly developing country, I have had to deal with a whole different set of adjustments. It certainly has been interesting dealing with this combination of rural and urban life. Who knew that living in the capital city, I would be waking up to roosters every morning. I have also had to confront/adjust to new culture of waste here. With no alternative, garbage is littered and strewn about. Roads are also in such conditions that Ministers of Parliament are demanding 4WD just to drive in the city. Corruption in all levels of the government taints such requests however. Reflections on those issues would take many more pages however.
When I am in Kampala, I am living at a guesthouse run by nuns, hanging out with Jesuits and meeting with other priests and religious on a daily basis. It seems I have had my fill of religious here. I am living on catholic hill, so abundant resources surround me for my research. My initial Jesuit contacts have proved to be quite useful in dealing with practical questions of living in Uganda. Regarding my research, I was quite fortunate in my first week to meet with a priest named Fr. Waliggo who has written extensively on the topic of Inculturation as liberation. After my initial frustrations in South Africa, my first meeting with him was exactly what I needed. Indeed, this man articulated exactly the sentiments that I was feeling towards the process of inculturating the faith. This man helped me to develop a broader understanding for the necessity of this process of developing Christianity in Uganda. He also made me realize the imperative of Inculturation as he related to me the dilemma of identity for the African Christian, living with a foot in both the traditional world and the Christian world. He helped me to see the necessity of inculturation in enabling Christians to use their own traditional resources to deal with conflict, poverty, corruption and all other anti-life forces. The driving force behind my passion for inculturation was renewed and emboldened. He also gave me the contacts for quite a few other theologians here in Uganda who I have visited and interviewed.
Through my conversations with this compassionate people working on the ground for the betterment of people lives here, my awareness of the meeting of culture and faith have grown far beyond my original interest in liturgy. I have seen how the church has a necessity to address other issues outside of what might traditional be considered as a part of church culture. I have had a chance to explore issues of healing and the church as well as traditional means of dealing with conflict and resolution. I have seen how this issue of making an authentic faith touches on issues that we have long ago compartmentalized outside of religion. I have also seen how the church has the opportunity to be the locus for true healthy meeting between cultures. If religion won’t uphold people’s inherent dignity and identity, what use is it to anyone but the oppressor? Indeed, I have also seen how the churches of history and of present have been tools of cultural oppression. In many respects, the work that needs to be done now is backtracking the work of the early missionaries, who came with all of the assumptions of superiority of Western Europe as well as working against the current surges of consumer Christianity coming from the states.
Somehow the problems of the past find resurrection in the present as well. Living in Uganda, I have had to confront many issues of injustice that are the products of neocolonialism. I don’t want to get into to many details, as I can see that I am already writing beyond the prescribed limit, but I have faced with disgust the damage that a consumer Christianity being exported from the states is doing here in Africa. A profit driven hypocritical Christian has come to Uganda and spread like bush fire. Offering desperate people the promise of material acquisition and prosperity, it feeds them lies as it steals their assets. I have seen how the erosion of traditional values and their replacement with the values of materialism and individualism have plagued society here. It is difficult for someone from the states to live here and not think critically about their own culture. I have also had to confront the terrible identity issues left over from colonialism, where many young east Africans hold the belief that anything that is Mzungu (white) is somehow better. These experiences have only further increased my commitment to inculturation as liberation, enabling people through an affirmation of their dignity as an African. Indeed, I have been helped to see that the Christian tradition as a church of remembering, must include into this a remembrance of all the atrocities afflicted against the dignity of the human person here in Africa. Using this act of remembering as a departing point, a true theology that has meaning to a people in their culture and their context can be realized.
I have learned a new way of being a theologian. If theology is going to have meaning here in Africa, it has to take into account not only the culture of people, but also their very situation of suffering and poverty. The cries of the poor become a new form of theology so to speak. Even as I write this, however, I become ever more convinced that this context is where my research needs to take me next. I have spent too long now in the company of priests, nuns and theologians. I need to more fully immerse myself in the lives of those most vulnerable around me. I have already begun in some respects to become more intimate with these voices as I have begun volunteering as a teacher for refugee children and as I have exposed myself various different service organizations in the area, but it is clear to me that I have a longer journey ahead of me.
As to a typical day, it seems that in Uganda the only regularity I have had are the meals. Even these vary from the relative luxury of 3 square meals of matoke (a type of banana) and rice a day with the nuns at the guesthouse to boiled beef in some small run down shack next to a taxi park. A priest in Ft. Portal has told me that I have a missionary stomach. I seem to like almost everything that is put in front of me. I draw the line at hard-boiled eggs though. I feel like I have become a part of the family, living here at the Moroto diocese guesthouse and with four nuns looking after me I sometimes feel as if I have four moms here in Uganda.
I’ve been fortunate to have a number of experiences that have pushed the envelope for me. I spent one full day visiting three different prisons. I did not come here as a missionary and I try to explain that on a regular basis to those Christians in Uganda who I meet. I was, however, asked to give a few words of encouragement to the prisoners who we visited. What I thought would be a small greeting turned into a 25 minute sermon to over 50 prisoners on human dignity, Social justice, Christ’s presence amongst them in prisons, their ability to be agents of peace and to be witnesses against the oppression they have lived around both outside and in prison and of course, the beauty and value of African culture. The officers at one prison were so happy to hear my message that they actually invited me to go to 7 other prisons in the Jinja area. I tell you, this wasn’t my intention, but after having the effects of neo-colonialism and poverty in my face for the past two months, I had a bone to pick and I used this “sermon” as the means of communicating it. I was happy to see that my words had some meaning to the prisons I was speaking to as they nodded their heads or approached me afterwards.
I have really found some iron in my system that I didn’t know was there. I have always been a little squeamish on money issues. Here one has to be bold and frank, if they aren’t going to be cheated. I have done a good job of knowing what a fair (not cheap) price is and being sure to negotiate until I can get. Everything is of course marked up because of the color of my skin. What becomes more difficult is when one is confronted with this perception of whiteness and vast wealth outside the confines of the marketplace and in the area of relationships. It was difficult for me at first knowing how to gracefully deal with these issues since indeed so many organizations did need help, but I have since become quite skilled at discerning when and where I can do the most good with my skills and money
I have made sure these past two weeks to see more of Uganda than that of Kampala. Traveling by bus to visit priests across the country I have come to see why Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa. The beauty that I have seen ranging from the terraced hills of Rubanda to the matoke and tea fields of Ft. Portal has struck me. I went to Queen Elizabeth national park where I saw my first elephant in African, to the Kibale forest where I communed with chimpanzees and to the Bwindi impenetrable forest where I trekked the growing ever more rare mountain gorilla. Participating in liturgies across the country, I have seen the external expression of the African sense of life put into dance. Traveling to Rwanda I have been confronted by the horrors of the genocide and seen the remarkable transformation and reconciliation that has happened since. I have engaged my Rastafarian friends in conversation about what it means to be fully alive and I have talked with priests about what it means to have personhood. I have struggled teaching long division to refugee children who don’t speak English and I have rejoiced at hearing some of my students on the street yell out, “Hi teacher”, rather than, “Hi Mzungu.”
My life in Africa has touched me deeply. I am sure that it will take some time for me to fully reflect and realize the impact that my experience is having on me here. I only hope that I can more fully immerse myself in the culture and the context surrounding me over these next few months so that I may have a more attuned ear to the experiences of the people here. Thank you for reading this. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers. Please also send me news of what you are up to in life. I cherish all that I hear from my friends throughout the world.
Peace,
Mike Le Chevallier