Complex, Confusing and Contradictory…

This is my experience in a nutshell: The Ugandan culture is complex, confusing and contradictory.  Parts of it are endearing, warm and wonderful; others I can’t even begin to wrap my head around.

On this trip, the OTM Uganda Seva Challenge group traveled pretty extensively through the cities and countryside villages, and what grabed me most is the resounding spirit of a resilient and strong Ugandan people.  I have witnessed extreme poverty, deadly pandemic disease, ungodly sanitation, as well as toxic air and water quality, yet wherever I went, I also noticed an underlying authentic joy, trust and a richness in community that I actually yearn for in my own community at home.

That said, there is a very strange dynamic; a juxtaposition of customs and morals.  Some of what I’ve heard and observed that exemplifies this is below.

A local land owner and village community chairman (kind of like a Mayor) called Sam,  told our group about the incredible Central Ugandan customs and rituals to honor the dead.   Ugandans will often exhaust everything they have for funerals, even going without eating,  to honor their dead. There are days and days of sacred pomp and ceremony. As Sam explains the rituals, I am filled with a sense of awe.  I think: ‘Wow, in States its typically a 2 hour viewing, then a couple of songs, a prayer or two, a few kind words and done.”

In contrast, I’m told that in Uganda there is stigma and dishonor in being widowed.  A widow is often chased off the land she rightfully inherits, and is forced to surrender everything after her husband dies.

Another example. One of our amazing guides and guardians for this trip was an Ugandan man named Joseph.  He is the Country Director for Building Tomorrow, the international NGO  which builds schools for vulnerable children all over sub-Saharan Africa.   As our group was returning from an excursion one night, we noticed that for the most part local shopkeepers leave their goods outside rather than locking them up indoors.  Joseph explains that the goods left out won’t be stolen because there is a community agreement about stealing.  If the thief is caught, community members, not police, go after the perpetrators.  Men caught stealing are beaten, while a female thief is forced to walk down the street naked after community members rip the clothes off her back.  As he told me about the community agreement my first thought was:  “There is no way that anything left unguarded outside a store in LA or New York would be there the next morning, no way!”

However, this is the same Uganda where it is common and customary for a woman to be a chased by a man and if she can outrun or outfight him, she wins her freedom, but, if he physically overcomes her, she is raped and forced to become his wife.

One more.   The able-bodied men, woman and children of Gayaza Village sing and pray as they haul wheelbarrows, carry bricks on their heads, and build walls for their Building Tomorrow/OTM community school.  Again, I think: “In my town, this is done by a company that has little connection to the actual community. How incredibly cool would it be to have community members working on our local schools.”

Yet, although up to 65% of people in communities like Gayaza Village have HIV – men, women and children known to have the disease are often humiliated, shunned and disgraced. Further still, this is the country that has introduced a law so punitive towards homosexuality that some human rights groups say that it would allow authorities to imprison and even kill homosexuals.

Yes, this culture is complex, confusing and contradictory.  However, the more that I think about it, I recognize that there is a good probability that statement is true for all cultures.

And then I re-member my yoga.  Yoga classes around the world often begin and end with the greeting Namaste’.  For me, namaste has become so much more than a nice word or greeting.  It is a way of being, a foundational way of life that invites me to find God in every moment, person, event or circumstance – even the complex, confusing and contradictory ones.    That’s what the mystics of old did and those of today do.   So that’s what I practice –  right here, right now – even though, I often can’t explain, don’t understand and many times don’t succeed.    However, in every cell of my being I know that in the words of one of my favorite teachers “everything happens exactly the way it is suppose to happen in order for our souls to transform.”  So I just keep doing what I know to do – practice.


2 Responses to “Complex, Confusing and Contradictory…”

  1. 1 michael
    February 25, 2010 at 10:27 am

    wow, thanks for sharing Nikki…can’t wait to hear/ read more! namaste, Michael

  2. 2 Lea-Rae Belcourt
    February 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Sweet to travel and witness with Namaste consciousness! I see you, I hear you…FULLY! Just when you think something is one way, you’re gonna find out it is another way too. And stories unfold, and we all get to heal. Thanks for sharing!

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