I need to backtrack for one important side story.
As we leave Kampala on Day 5, I witness a sight forever burned into my mind – the slums. On the northern edge of the city, there is a valley filled with what I can best describe as shanties. The expanse of this area freezes the mind.
Even in this country where I’ve witnessed images of poverty, I have been largely sheltered. There is no escaping this image as the van runs parallel to this section of town. A lump rises in my throat, and I want to look away. My eyes reject the sight, but I force myself to study it. For all the beauty I’ve seen, I require myself to see this as well.
Rusted tin roofs and rotten boards conjoin to form a dingy metallic sea that rolls seemingly without any segregation, swallowing its inhabitants, drowning them, but never releasing them. Small trails of smoke – I assume from fires for cooking – snake up through the metal and disappear into a cloudless morning. The clean, clear blue sky stands in stark contrast to the mix of visuals below. Rust. Mud. Bare feet. Animals. Children. Chaos.
This is where the poorest of the poor live. This is their home. I’ve seen pictures of this. I’ve seen video footage, but when your face is pressed into it, when you’re so close you can almost touch it, you feel the reality. The air in your lungs is sucked out and replaced with pain. Who can ever be the same after this?
The car grows silent. Lorenda, a Canadian missionary and nurse, expounds on the difference between poor in North America and poor in Uganda. Those less fortunate in the United States and Canada have resources (medical attention, soup kitchens, homeless shelters); those in Uganda have nothing. This is their lot in life, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it.
I don’t believe anyone can become numb to this sight, but you are forced to accept it as a reality that you can neither change nor fully comprehend.
So I stare out a car window, and I imagine the fear and the struggle that waft through those alleys like the smoke from the morning fires.
And I pray, because that’s all I can do.