The Unsuspecting Mzungu

When I arrived in Mbale town, that’s the way the Africans say it, the temperature was in the mid 80’s to mid 90’s and it was the end of the dry season. There’s really only two seasons, wet and dry. The wet season began this year in the middle of August so now we are in the first part of the rainy season. Last week, it rained every day, sometimes all day long with the rain being torrential downpours at times. But the last few days, we have had clear skies and cool temperatures; in the mid 70’s at night and in the mornings then going up into the high 80s or low 90s during the day. It feels a lot like a late September or early October day in Alabama; the kind of day that makes me think of days spent dove hunting and telling lies about why you missed all those easy shots; a day with friends and maybe making some new ones; the kind of day when the air smells sweet and feels cool after the hot humid days of summer; a day when you’re just glad to be outside.

Bishop Gogo’s home is at the foot of a mountain called Nkokonjeru (now that’s a mouth full) which is part of the mountainous area called Mt. Elgon. Mt Nkokonjer rises to an elevation of 2348 meters, which is 7703 ft., and Bishop’s home is around 3000 ft., so it’s a heck of a view of the mountain! When the air is clear and the sun is out, the mountain is stunning! It changes with the movement of the sun. Every time I look at it I see something I’ve never seen before. I can stand in the yard and see some amazing waterfalls way up in the cliffs. After a lot of rain, the waterfalls become larger and more spectacular and some of them look to be several hundred feet tall.

Wednesday dawned cool and clear, a great day for a walk, so I grabbed my camera and took off hoping to get some good pictures of the waterfalls and some alone time. Now, when you go for a walk here you mostly walk up or down, not much flat ground for an old guy. So, I left the house and headed UP on the road that leads up the mountain. The morning stayed cool and the air was clean from all the rain, making it a great day to get out and about, even for a mzungu, which is a white guy in Africa. The schools are out which means ALL the children are home just waiting for some unsuspecting mzungu to walking by and I was it. I quickly learned that the little kids love, I mean really love, to YELL, “MZUNGU” as loud as they can and there are a lot of kids here so, when I go for a walk I attract a lot of attention. Scores of children were yelling, “MZUNGU” and greeting me with the standard children’s greeting of, “How are you?” The response is “Fine, how are you?” and then they responded, “FINE” as loud as possible, over and over again. Now this is really cool at first but I have to confess that after 5,000,000 “MZUNGU, HOW ARE YOU?” to which I responded, “Fine, how are you?” then “I AM FINE”, followed with giggles, I was wondering if I might go crazy and kill the next child that yelled MZUNGU! But then I saw their big smiles and how much fun that they were having and I just had to go with “Fine. How are you?” By the way, HOW ARE YOU?!!!! .

In the words of my good friend Fr Terry, “Where was I??” O yeah, going for a walk, looking to take some pictures and have a little quiet time, so much for my QUIET time. I headed UP hill enjoying the fresh air and smelling all the smells of Africa, of which there are a billion. Some are stunning. If you could put them in a bottle you would make a billion dollars a month!!! Some are not so great but put together they make up the smells of Africa. My sense of smell was filled with the most unbelievably sweet smells from flowers and plants around me while at the same time bombarded with some of the worst smells that humans can produce. Somehow they all come together to be the smell of Africa. I wish that I could do a better job of explaining but its way beyond me; it’s just Africa. I think you love or hate it and really, I think you come to both love and hate it at the same time after a while. The worst smells are the smells of poverty; the crushing weight of poverty that leaves people too beaten down to bath or have clean clothes or clean homes or clean anything. They have to haul water by hand up and down the hills, sometimes for long distances, just to have water to drink. Bathing is a luxury. It breaks my heart, while at the same time, it gives me enormous respect for these people that struggle so hard just to live. Sometimes they don’t make it, dying from bad water and other thing that could be cured with over the counter drugs in the US. To say that there are times when I am on sensory overload is an understatement.

Somehow, even with all the difficulties that are here, the beauty just over takes it like one of the waterfalls. It leaves me gasping at this amazing land that God has created; the smells of God’s goodness in His creation, the beauty and variety of plants, the land that they grow in, and, of course, the people, which really are the most amazing of all of God’s creations.

So a simple walk here turns into the most amazing adventure for all of my senses; me being yelled at, smelling animals (cows, goats) on the side of the road, dirty children and adults, rotting stuff, stuff you don’t even want know about, boda bodas flying by missing me by inches, and everybody but me on the “wrong” side of the road (Oh, I forgot they’re on the correct side and I’m on the wrong side). At times, I’m confused, on total overload, and freaking out, then, when I least expect it, all that is overcome by God. He gives me just the smallest of looks at, the smallest taste of, what He sees, what He smells, what He hears. See, He hears the lives of His creations living in a broken world of poverty, hate, and hopelessness but He also sees the way it’s supposed to be. I got to see just a glimpse, just the smallest of glimpses, and BAM now I am really on sensory overload. The goodness and greatness of it all overtakes me and the power and awesomeness of the waterfalls begin to look like just a slow drip.

Well that was my first 10 yards and there’s about 4 more miles to go, wonder what’s next?!!!

(You can view some pictures from the day on Flickr by clicking here or on More Photos.)

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2 Responses to The Unsuspecting Mzungu

  1. Marlene says:

    “The Unsuspecting Mzungu | Deacon Ron in Africa” in fact causes me personally imagine a tiny bit further.
    I personally cherished every single element of this blog post.

    Thanks a lot -Mellissa

  2. Dan says:

    Neat tale, and pretty pictures. I’m glad you can take advantage of the down time when you get it. Just reading about your busy ministry schedules and climbs is overwhelming to me, and I’m in relative comfort far away. I’m not sure I could do it physically. You’re the man!

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