Saturday, May 28, 2011

I love this place.

Here's why.

Through my continued service in Eastern Uganda, I am able to see the remnants of discrimination against Indian inhabitants of Uganda who were so openly berated in the times of the reign of Idi Amin. Over 2 decades later, and I still hear Ugandans talk about the local Indian shopkeepers in offensive ways, with bad looks, biased reviews, and generally derogatory comments about their appearance, and even their smell. As a result, but also supporting the continuation of such abuse, the local Indian residents have remained completely inactive in society, never going so far as to even try to learn the local language or travel outside for events or gatherings.

Being a foreigner, but also generally accepted and even revered in most parts of my community, I was in the odd position of natural intermediary between the two communities. The Indians liked seeing me, feeling that we shared a common bond of being a person in a distant land much different than their own, and felt more comfortable and more trusting in talking to. The Ugandan's like me because I'm white, because I dance in the streets, bring in revenue to their shops and teach them cool things about America.

One day I was talking to one Indian Shopkeeper in particular, who owns a hardware store in Ngora. We became acquainted randomly (is there any other way to become acquainted?) and instantly found a liking for one another. After a few months, there wasn't much I didn't feel comfortable talking to him about. In fact, I actually talked to him for relationship advice. One day I decided to ask him about his relationship with Ugandans, to which he responded with a sad, seemingly wounded smile of resignation. He doesn't know their language, doesn't like their attitude, and, if speaking frankly, he puts his hands up "I don't trust them." But he mentioned that he would very much like to become more acquainted with at least his immediate community, if for no other reason, to have more fun in this country while he's working. I can understand that completely.

The next day he came up to me and talked to me with great excitement. He said that he got to thinking about our conversation, and asked if I couldn't do him a favor. He took me to a nearby carpenter, who was in the midst of making some odd shaped, three foot wooden dowels. The Indian shopkeeper (I don't even know his name, I just realized) showed them to me as if he were Bob Barker, showing me a brand new car. I didn't get it. Frustrated, he screams at me, "Cricket! I want to play cricket!"

This wonderful man decided he wanted to integrate with his staff and the community at large through sharing his passion (it couldn't be described as anything less; talk to the man for 5 minutes, and you'd understand. Or just watch him bowl, once) of cricket. We started it last Sunday, after the equipment had been made to the shopkeeper's approval. We went to a nearby field, flanked by community onlookers wanting to come and see what the American and Indian were up to. We started playing. Ok, we'd play, and then stop and he'd explain why what I did was illegal, or ignoble, or just terrible in general. 15 minutes later, A man (Ugandan) came and announced that he knew the game, and wanted to bowl (to throw). Yeah, he knew it; I couldn't touch a single ball he threw. I left an hour and a half later, to a cheering crowd of people enjoying a game. I couldn't help laughing, throughout the entirety of it, just from looking at the look of pure joy from the shopkeeper. We all know how rewarding it can be to teach something that you have such a passion for to willing participants, and to see them also enjoy it. I daresay that now, so too does this shopkeeper.

We play everyday, barring bad weather, and sometimes even through it. Other Indians in the community are starting to perk up their ears, although it seems that right now the competition between the Indians themselves is preventing them to play together. I don't think this will last long; another man who owns a market always calls me over after each days event. "how's the arm?" he asks, knowing that I'm not using to throwing in such a way. (Think of fastpitch softball player, but reverse the spin of the arm, releasing at the top but with a straight arm. It's harder than you think.)

I love the fact that these people are able to do the things that I've come here trying to do. It gives me so much pride to live in this community, and it reinforces the fact that I want to ingrain in every American I talk to: These people can take care of themselves. They can fix their own problems. And hell yeah, I'll be there every chance I get to watch it happen.

2 comments:

  1. THAT is awesome. Good read, good sir.

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  2. Oh cricket! I just got back from Sri Lanka and I still can't bowl! But I can bat pretty decently! I love your blog Matt! -Emily Bone-

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