Reflections on Kenya and Uganda: Two Musings

August 29, 2013

Two unrelated observations today . . .

Lots of Children.

One thing that strikes you as you drive the countryside of both Kenya and Uganda is that there sure are a lot of children around. Schools both public and private, day schools and boarding schools, dot the landscape. You can’t help but notice the kids in their school uniforms walking along the highways and byways, acting as young people do everywhere. After making this observation, when I got home, I looked up the statistics provided by the Central Intelligence Agency, of all places:  Uganda’s median age is 15.5 years (birthrate of 44.5 births/1000 population), and Kenya’s is 18.8 (birthrate of 30/1000 population)! In both countries only between 2 and 2.7% of the population is over the age of 65.[*] So this wasn’t my imagination; there are lots of kids in Uganda and Kenya compared to the United States, where the median age is 37 and the birthrate is 13.66 births/1,000 population.

Our foray to Kampala and deep into rural life focused primarily on ministries and services to kids. Half the population is dependent on the other half for nurture, education, and security, so it’s no wonder there is a crying need for schools and teachers. Perhaps you might have missed one detail in yesterday’s report. There were only about 20 teachers at St. Mbuga Primary schoolStudents of St. Mbuga School  (enrollment 625). Do the math: that’s over 30 kids per class, on average. They’ll survive; I have fond memories of my first grade class of 50 kids (at the height of the Baby Boom) and only one teacher.  

But augment that statistic with the awareness that AIDS is still taking its toll on parents (and their children). At the end of 2009, according to the CIA, about 1.2M Ugandans (adults and children) were HIV/positive or had AIDS, 6.5% of the population. By year-end, 64,000 had died of the disease. Many of the kids benefitting by Raise the Roof, for instance, have lost at least one parent; and we saw street children begging in some of the larger towns along the roads. [I have to say, though, begging was not as prevalent as I expected. But when we did encountered the practice, it was children, not adults, asking for spare change.]

High stakes are involved here: taking care of children and educating them is an essential priority for any culture. If a society does not own that responsibility, and orphaned children grow up abandoned, insecure, angry, in pain, and very possibly exploited, what kind of world will they be building? But I can attest that the ministries we saw in action are offering the kind of love, discipline, security, and education these children need, and it shows in their faces and manners. This is a responsibility the church is owning, big-time, and well it should be. Jesus blessed children and welcomed them as a priority in his ministry, and so should we.

An Amusing Irony, After You Get Over the Shock.

I mentioned two days ago that our Sunday in Kampala got off to a rough start. Here’s what happened. We had a beautiful, spacious room at one of the city’s best hotels, the Imperial Royale. Imperial Royale Hotel, KampalaOnly seven years old, in a nice part of town, the Imperial Royale hosts conventions and meetings. It was deserted on a Saturday, demonstrating its focus on business travelers well in evidence two days later. The hotel has massive internal spaces Imperial Royale, Atrium (none of them is air-conditioned) and a sleek, modern look. Our room (which was air-conditioned) was a lovely retreat and a welcome sight after such a long drive to get into the city. We had dinner and tumbled into bed for a Sabbath rest before my preaching the next morning. I slept through this part, but Andy was awakened at 4:20 a.m. by a pitter-patter of little feet in the ceiling above our room. I became alert (understatement) when, ten minutes later, a 1-square-meter metal ceiling tile came crashing down onto the tile floor in our room’s foyer. Andy sprang out of bed to investigate, found the tile and set it back in place on the ceiling. Took us awhile, but we got back to sleep. An hour later, the same tile crashed onto the floor again. This time, now 5:30 a.m., we resigned ourselves to the new day, left the ceiling panel on the floor, and, as we went down for breakfast, we let the front desk know it needed attention. A half-hour later we returned to our room and thanked the two nice stewards as they completed the task of securing the ceiling tile. We went about our preparations for the day, until Andy exclaimed, “Mary, oh my gosh, come and look!” There on the floor next to his side of the bed was a motionless rat, estimated to be about 2 kg (4½ pounds).

I am not sure I have ever seen a rat before, but this experience was nauseating and upsetting. Americans have a revulsion to rats, which represent to them squalor and contamination. We went straight down to the front desk (do not pass Go, do not collect $200) and told the astonished clerk what had happened. Long story short, they gave us a new room in another wing of the hotel and explained that they had fumigated and trapped the hotel for rats three days before. This one, poisoned, came crashing through the ceiling and probably scurried under our bed until we left for breakfast, and died trying to escape.

Aside from the entertainment value of this story, which is considerable, the irony of the situation was not lost on me. The only place we saw a rat anywhere in our travels was here, in Kampala’s best hotel, a sleek and modern gem giving hospitality to an international clientele. We had visited homes, villages, farmlands, and driven through poverty-stricken areas of both Kenya and Uganda, but in none of those places did we encounter what you would call squalor. (We saw from a distance the great slum city near Nairobi’s center, and I don’t know what we would have encountered there.) People took care of what was theirs, asserted discipline over their space and their possessions, and rats were simply not visible anywhere we went—except here, in Kampala’s finest hotel. To keep the record straight, the staff handled the situation in an exemplary fashion and took good care of us. I point out the irony not to damage a hotel’s reputation, but to observe the possibility that just because something looks good on the outside doesn’t mean there isn’t an unpleasant secret within. Jesus’ indictment against the Pharisees included this accusation: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean” (Matt. 23:25f). And so, with this musing and “bringing the Word to life,” I am reminded once again that attention only to appearances and neglect of the spiritual life is a road to ruin. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2). Make it so, O God!



One Response to “Reflections on Kenya and Uganda: Two Musings”

  1. houstonhodges Says:

    Re the rat-fall in the luxury hotel: God teases hard.

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