I have never experienced racism firsthand until I have come here. Of course, all throughout high school I’ve heard various slangs and inappropriate jokes of every culture out there, and I’ve watched “The Help” multiple times. But I have never had a clear picture of what racism really meant or felt like until being a white woman in an African country. I’m not going to lie; it’s been really hard in trying to figure out a balance and how to deal with this. Now don’t get me wrong while reading this blog; I dearly love this country, and not every Ugandan has this way of thinking. But a good majority truly do have this distorted view of the white person, and it’s hard not to be frustrated.
Last week, I was missing home quite consistently. I miss my bed. I miss my guitar. I miss my family and friends. I miss pizza. I miss a lot of things. As I sat on the taxi on my way to Sydney’s for our very last sleepover before she flew back to Canada, I was listening to worship music and thinking of all the things I longed for, while squished beside other sweaty strangers. I was a little annoyed and tired. I looked out the window while internally listing all of the things I was homesick for. As the taxi slowed down over another speed bump, I saw three little boys, dressed in dirty rags, playing with a ball made of tarps. They were having the time of their lives. My stomach suddenly turned sour and I felt a wave of guilt sweep over me. Who am I to want to go home to comfort when there’s so many others that have nothing? Needless to say, I broke down to my boyfriend that night over FaceTime about my confusion and guilt.
Is it really okay to feel homesick? Why do I suddenly feel like I have a huge responsibility to take care of everyone? Why do I feel ashamed of the colour of my skin? Why do I feel shamed and guilty for living in Canada? Do I really know how to be content and thankful for the things I have? Why do I get so sensitive and angry when I hear about first world problems?
I have come to the realization that I am beginning to experience culture shock.
But I fully believe that God has been revealing to me and teaching why I feel the way I do, and how I can deal with it for right now.
Here, I am defined by the colour of my skin.
Every time I walk through my village, all of the village children wave and shout to me, “Mzungu! Mzungu! Bye! Bye, Mzungu!” Even some of the women call out to me. “Mzungu” means “white person.” I really don’t mind while I am walking, and I have been teaching some of them how to say my name. It’s really everywhere any white person goes, especially in the villages. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for what “white person” really means here.
White person means rich. White person means any and every Ugandan man, or boy, will ask you to marry him, then and there, because he wants what’s in your pocket. White person means you are lazy; you don’t work, life is easy, and everyone works for you. White person means you have the power to give as much money as you want to anyone and everyone because you are so filthy rich. White person means you can fly to and from anywhere in the world, and you can bring anyone who asks; including the boda man who just drove you for two minutes and doesn’t even know your name. White person means you are ripped off at about 85% of all Ugandan shops, restaurants, and transportation. White person means you can be manipulated and guilt-tripped into buying overpriced, or extra, items because you can afford it.
It’s a lie. It’s all a lie. And it’s an ugly cycle as parents believe these lies, then teach it to their children, and to their children, and so on. It never stops. And it continues to be shoved in your face that that is who you are; a stuck-up, rich, lazy, selfish, white person. It’s the classic stereotype that is posted on your forehead everywhere you go. Scratch that; it’s posted as the colour of your skin.
It’s really no wonder that I feel so guilty for wanting to go home at times. It’s really no wonder that I feel a huge responsibility to make a difference. It’s no wonder that I feel ashamed and guilty to want to go back to Canada. Because if all of these assumptions and accusations of this stereotype is true, then I should feel this way.
But it’s not.
I am not rich. I’m not lazy. Life is not easy. I may be white, but things are not handed to me on a silver platter. I work for it; I do my part just like everyone else should.
However, I completely understand why I am pegged as this stereotype. As soon as you walk through the villages, you see their homes, their clothes, their health, their way of life. It’s a whole different culture and way of life in general. I am very fortunate to live in Canada, I completely admit that. I see so many children, women, and men work their backsides off to get by everyday. Your life is simply not valued here. You live for today, to get through today, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. You live for the bare necessities, and even then it is not always fulfilled. I see all of these things as I walk through town and through the village, and then I see something stupid on Facebook, like a post from a girl who seriously hates her life because she has to walk to school, or meme in my newsfeed about a new kind of snuggie especially designed to hold your cats in.
Are you serious right now?
There are so people who would kill to be in your position, and you’re crying over that? There are people that have to live to the fullest today because their tummies are hungry, and tomorrow could be the day, and you’re looking into get that useless, overpriced snuggie for your wife for Christmas? Are you serious?
I literally have to gather so much self control with so many people I talk to back in Canada, because more than half the time, I want to fly back, smack them in the face, and say, “You know nothing, you are so ungrateful, and suck it up!”
So it’s no wonder that I feel sensitive and angry when people tell me about their first world problems, while I am living in a third world country and see real problems firsthand. It’s no wonder that I feel confused as to whether I know how to be fully grateful and thankful for all that I have, because I don’t want to have so much when I see so much suffering.
So where’s the balance? What do I do with myself?
This is the colour of my skin; I cannot change that.
“If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion–how can God’s love be in that person?” – 1 John 3:17
Conviction. I read that last week and felt so, extremely condemned. Blatant, unhealthy, not-from-The-Lord, condemning conviction. It really added onto the rest of my confusion.
So really, what am I to do? There are two completely opposite outlooks on this situation, and if I think about it too long, it hurts my head. I’ll just end up crying from frustration of not being enough to fill this need.
But you know who is enough to fill this need?
God revealed to me that I have been looking to much at the physical. This whole focus, the whole base of either perspective, is physical need. But this really isn’t about a physical need at all; it has to be a spiritual need. And that’s something so beyond anything I can do.
And that’s where I have to continually refocus; it’s not my strength, but His. It’s not my responsibility to take on this country’s poverty, but He can use me in the way that He wants. He can tell me when and what to give, and when to not. He can choose when to bless and when to take away.
But above all, my Father has shown me what my responsibilities in either situation are:
Be gracious; most people in this country don’t understand the culture of Canada, and vise versa. These are the moments that I am to be reminded to give grace, just like I have received it.
Be an example of His love; embrace the fact that I have seen both sides of the spectrum, and see it as an opportunity to love that much more as Christ does. There is a time to give, and I will obey when He tells me to give.
Be still and give Him control; I can’t do anything. I literally have no control, and it’s overwhelming to go from one culture to another. I need to be still, watch how God is moving, and continue to give Him control because He is the exact same God in Summerland, in Uganda, in Ireland, in Terrace, everywhere. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and He hears the cries of every person; young, old, rich, and poor.
Be aware and thankful; I need to be attentive to seeing the spiritual need, and not so much the physical need. I need to be aware of the fact that everyone is poor when they are without the Spirit. I need to be thankful whether I am here or elsewhere, with much or little, good or bad health, comfortable or uncomfortable, because the fact is, God leads and I follow. Wherever He takes me, whatever I may be doing, whatever the conditions may be, I will be joyful and thankful because His Spirit is moving, He is with me, He is in control, and He has a purpose for everything that happens. No matter what.
White is the colour of my skin. But that doesn’t define me; my Father defines me as His very own beloved. And whatever the colour may be, Christ is our ultimate need.
“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8
“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth . . . So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.” – 1 Timothy 6:6, 8
“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19