In my early years living in Uganda, I spent a lot of time in the slums. I couldn’t understand how or why people had to live in slums and wrote this a few years ago to avoid losing it. Now that I’m back “home” I read it to remind myself why these children need a platform.
Off to my right some light breaks through where a broken piece of plywood meets a flap of cardboard. The wind makes the flap open and close. This flap composes part of a wall that extends about 8 feet until it meets its 10 foot counterpart. The floor is dirt, about 80 square feet of it. I’m sitting on a small chair in the corner concentrating on the flap and wonder how the wall holds when it rains. I’m sitting on a small chair in the corner concentrating on the flap because it stops my mind from thinking about what is going on to my left.
I’m sitting on a small chair in the corner trying to imagine myself and my family living in this one room shack in the slums. Two babies move around on the bed next to me. I know they are moving because they are laying on plastic grocery bags that crunch as they kick and squirm. My imagination fails. My imagination can’t strip away everything that I know, so I can’t pretend to make this my reality, not even for a second.
There is a nine year old girl sitting across from me. She is letting me know that her mother is at a burial and has been gone for two days. I hope to tell her the dangers of putting babies on plastic bags, but I hesitate. She will want to know how she should prevent them from peeing on the mattress and I don’t have a good answer.
A little girl is sitting on the dirt floor staring at me. I pick her up and put her on my lap. I feel coldness soak my leg and notice the puddle of urine on the ground in the spot where she was sitting. Her older sister takes her outside and strips her down.
It is dark and musky. There is an old plate of food on the ground. I wonder how I will get back home to change and shower before my afternoon meetings. Then I know that I can’t imagine living here.
This is the home of one of our Choir children. He is now under our care at our boarding school most of the year. This is where his step mother lives, she doesn’t always treat him well. We visit, hoping to convince her to treat him well during the holidays. This isn’t my job. I’m just touring with our social worker.
I ask him if you ever get used to living in the slums. He says that you adapt, but you can never become comfortable. You will always hope for a better place.
I have given heavy thought to how our realities are so tightly tethered to our circumstance. I couldn’t place myself living in the slum, no matter how hard I tried. I knew living there isn’t a realistic outcome for me and my family. The people I know could never let it happen. Back home we have a network of friends, of family.
Our surroundings determine so much about how we nestle ourselves in the day to day, how we spend our time, how we picture ourselves, how we picture ourselves being pictured by others. We strive for comfort and stability. We deny badness, avoid struggle. We hand spin a web of tightly knit delight and that delight is rarely broken. Even after many years living in Uganda my brain is still somewhat suspended in our old circumstance, still tethered to strings that made up the web of our old lives. Gradually some of those little strings have been snipped, but there will always be home. We are visitors here. The desperation, the poverty and the circumstances around us have become part of our experience, part of our normal, but we have options.
From this place it’s very hard realize a way out. Poverty in African slums is cyclical because of mismatched patterns, systems, beliefs all implanted into normality.
When you see our Choir children on stage, you forget about their circumstances at home. You forget their need. You just see smiles, song and dance, but they have a big fight ahead of them. They have a really big fight ahead of them. They have to fight to overcome their circumstances. They have to fight to be what they want to be when they grow up. They have to fight to help their families and communities. But we’ll help them fight. We’ll try and try to help tether them to a new reality. #JustAsIAm
Visit our Just As I Am appeal page to find out how you can help, today.