This morning while my eggs simmered over the gas stove in my new Kigali kitchen, I looked out the window into the pouring rain and saw my neighbor’s newly hired guard. He was sleeping on his back on pieces of cardboard outside my neighbors door. Surely, he is being pelted with rain, I thought, poor guy! I scooped up my bright yellow eggs, poured my coffee with coffee creamer bought at an American Walmart many months ago, and sat on my couch next to my Chinese cat, whose imported food probably costs more than an entire Rwandan family's monthly food budget.
And then the thought hit me again. That aching thought that has haunted me since nearly the moment I landed in Africa. Why am I in here and he is out there?
The answer in reality is simple, I live here, this is my apartment that I pay for with the job that I have. He is working, sees no pity in resting on cardboard, as I do, and is happy to be employed and to have a leisurely job.
But there is so much more to the answer.
If there is one thing Africa has taught me so far, it is that life - the lot we are each individually dealt - is incredibly, incredibly unfair. The dialogue of my conservative Christian upbringing would say that God created us all, placed us within our families, and has a “plan” for us. But what about my students whose families were slaughtered in front of them by their neighbors? What about the farmers who fear growing new crops, as instructed by foreign NGO’s, because they fear growing too much yield and being accused of witchcraft by their neighbors? What about the children who follow herds of goats each day after kindergarten and will never see a playground in their entire life?
In Africa, I have clung to my faith, even when it is unpopular in vagabond circles to do so. I do not doubt that God loves me, loves all of us. I do not doubt that divinity is alive and working. But the role that God has in our lives…that belief base of a God with a “plan” has been shattered and is being rebuilt. (Not that I will ever find a true answer, as a fallible human being). If I praise God for success, what about those who suffer? This takes us down a path of discussion of free will, divine intervention, etc that is perhaps too deep for my baby blog, but you get my point.
A few weeks ago after my class at Women for Women I was escorted by Eugenie to the side of the road where I would await a mini-van bus to take me to the large bus stop in town. Eugenie is a genocide widow and mother of 5 sons and one daughter. She has done well for herself, she works at the Opportunity Center as a secretary and is able to converse with me in basic English. She wears full gowns of colorful kitenge fabric and has a smooth, sweet face. While we stood by the road, I asked her about her children. She proudly informed me that all the boys were in school. And the girl stayed home to help in the house. Deciding to avoid the topic of gender equality, mostly because I was tired, I told her she must be so proud of her children and encouraged her for doing a great job as mother. “Jesus took care of me,” she replied. She pointed to her heart and said again, “Jesus.”
My guts shook with a mixture of anger, true understanding, empathy, and awe.
Your husband was hacked to pieces with a machete and you think that Jesus has taken care of you????
I took a deep breath, looked into her eyes, and I felt it.
She’s right. He has.
If you take away the belief that every singular act is caused by God, or divinity, then perhaps you can accept the good, the bad, and the ugly of life and learn to rely on God’s provision throughout.
I don’t know. I’m still mulling through this. Surely there are books and articles by religious scholars on this exact topic. But have they sat in a room of women whose husbands were brutally slaughtered? It’s easy to repeat rhetoric and say the world is broken and full of sin, but these culturally-manipulated sentences have real-life implications for humans. Real people. Who live through shit. Who sleep on cardboard. Who eat only beans and bananas once a day.
I am thankful my faith remains, through the questions that arise when faced with other realities. And also thankful for a broadening worldview that includes people and cultures that are vastly different than my own. Finding a faithfulness that includes all people, that allows for a world-wide God, who acknowledges the mini-van mommas in America and the baby carrying mommas in Africa, is my mission.
I want the world to be more fair.
I want Eugenie’s daughter to go to school and for countries to stop killing their own people.
I want to not feel guilty when I eat eggs on my couch with my spoiled cat.
Perhaps this is the price of exposure. Exposure to other peoples and cultures, exposure to poverty, exposure to unspeakable acts.
I guess all this is to say… I felt guilty and sad while eating breakfast today. And I needed to write it down.
walk slow. xoxo.