Friday, September 5, 2008

Letters from Uganda

It's been wonderful keeping in touch with the friends I made this summer. While I readjust to business suits and heels, it's nice to know that not too far away is this lovely world where kids still go play in the yard and women lay down fresh cow dung flooring to welcome their guests. I feel balanced, knowing that both worlds exist and I have recourse to either, and I love hearing that my friends are for the most part doing well. Some of the messages I've gotten since my return have been disturbing, though. A lot of Ugandans seem to think that we in the United States have that we have an unlimited supply of money. Actually, the perception isn't limited to Uganda, it seems to be a global phenomenon. This e-mail is one of those examples ...

hullo maisha i hope your fine this is (OMITTED) trying to communicating to you but my sisster i want to inform you thart I was stoped from work since (OMITTED) so ssister Iam just rguesting you to send for me some money because iam too brock my ssister as you know being amareid person so ssister maisha put my reguest into your considaretion and reply to here is my telephone number (OMITTED) and ssister what ever small it my be I will be glad to recieve it IF you send it by western union PLEASE SSISTER MAISHA HELP ME BECAUSE YOUR THE ONLY PERSON TO HELP IT IS LIKE YOUR MY GOD LET ME END THERE BY WISHING YOU ANICE DAY AND AREPLY TO IAM YOURS (OMITTED)

What can I do with this? I am more offended than sympathetic -- not that this individual is asking for money, but that the individual is intentionally debasing her/himself in order to appeal to me. This is a nasty power dynamic: the supplicant would control my responses, and I have a choice of two evils. I can be the heartless pseudo-friend, or I can be the condescending rich foreigner. I never asked anyone to grovel. I'll help anyone with an honest need. But how do I ascertain whether the need is honest?

I'm going to ignore the e-mail, and any others like it. It's one thing to look out for an IDP kid showing signs of ringworm and unable to pay school fees, it's a different story when an able-bodied person asks for cash for no specific reason. But aside from my personal discomfort, I am reminded of one truth:

If you want to be a respectable person, you have to earn that respect, yoruself. No one else can do this for you.

I love my Dad because he made a life for himself out of nothing. Well, that's one of the reasons. All of the people I love most have overcome enormous odds, or work hard in one way or another, to make the world a more positive place. That is the kind of person I want to be, and that is the kind of person I wish we all were. I'll have to remember that, and keep working always.


Christine said...

That is really sad to hear. It is definitely unfortunate that Americans have this image of being fantastically rich in many countries. Though sometimes I understand that what we think of as broke (as in, "I'm so broke I can't splurge on those shoes, but I can go have a beer or two after work tonight.") is to them a pool of wealth. One beer for us could probably feed his or her whole family.

I want to hear more about Uganda so keep blogging, girl!

Maisha said...

True, that. Especially a New York beer. On the other hand, this person has a car, nice clothes, and a decent place to live. I am not particularly worried about anyone suffering overmuch Although maybe that is pure bias ...

Will write more as soon as I get caught up with classes! (Maybe winter break? Ha ha!)