Monday, August 20, 2012

The bodas

I was pulling out the other day from the butcher shop with C. in the car. A taxi--here, a fifteen-passenger van, also known as a matatu--waved me into the oncoming lane of traffic. This is how it's done here often; if one lane of traffic is clear in turning, the vehicle pulls out until it can go into the desired lane. The rest of the traffic was stopped.

...Except for the motorcycle that just then attempted to go around the front of my car.

The driver and rider went down. In settings like this, Africans often swarm around, shouting at one party or the other. Even to think about it, fear surges in adrenaline bursts around my heart.

As I backed my van into the parking lot to talk with the driver--protocol is not to contact police here--I simply started praying. My heart knocked in my ribcage. Accidents make anyone nervous, but I also had two people hit me last fall before I left. (Note: I will never claim to be a good driver. The last accident that was my fault was when I was sixteen, but that's by the grace of God. No joke.) A guy had hit me three weeks ago with a boda, and with the scary reality of me not knowing the protocol here. Now, there was gathering crowd of people, passionate whether they'd seen what happened or not. 

Was it my fault? I wondered. This accident made three drivers that have hit John or me in six months. That's an unfortunate average. I kept remembering a quote from one of John's human resources books: If Bob has a problem with everybody, the problem is with Bob. I felt lost, foreign, and scared.

Just as in the last time a boda driver hit me, the driver aggressively demanded money. He said he needed "treatment" for his knee, where he'd scuffed a knee on the concrete without breaking skin. The rider also demanded payment for the 1/2 inch cut on her knee. In light of the reading and various conversations with nationals and missionaries I've had since both incidents, I now feel relieved that I did the right thing in not giving money--and simply by gently responding.

No, it turned out, neither accident was my fault, in my understanding and from the primary witness' perspective. Both times, the drivers rode away without visible injury or vehicle damage. (They actually damaged my car.) Boda drivers have deplorable reputations around the city; some people, when hit, have been known to get out and deck the boda driver. One source tells me that an incredibly high percentage of the accidents--as in, 70-80%--at the local hospital are caused by these drivers. (Few wear helmets, too.) Credible sources recommend to me that I not allow boda drivers to assume they can drive recklessly and then be paid for it.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing moments was when a well-dressed Ugandan leaned in toward me. "Madam, the question is really, do you have money?" Please excuse the cynicism of my inner voice, which replied silently with a frown, Yes. That is really the question, isn't it?

God was so faithful to answer me with the wisdom I asked for. Of all the people I don't know in Kampala from living here six months, just then a manager of the coffee shop I visit--twenty minutes away--was pulling out of the same shop. She embraced me, greeted me in Luganda, and quickly stepped in to help.

Soon the crowd disseminated, and while I was on the phone with John to see what I should do, the driver left. (Oliver explained that this was another sign that it was not my fault: They would never have left, because they would assume they could get a lot of money.)

I felt relieved, but deeply shaken. Combined with some of our staff's recent break-ins--one quite intrusive--I was reeling culturally and in my security. Two questions kept ricocheting through my head.

1) What if the next time, it is my fault?
2) What if I kill someone?

In truth, a friend of mine here knows three or four women who have had accidents that killed people, including one where someone simply walked into the road without looking right or left. Since the accident, I've talked with a number of people to formulate a plan in case something happens--which includes calling local friends.
The latter question, in my mind, was exaggerated by the fact that--as I anticipated--most of my impact here is similar to that which I had in the U.S. Yes, God's helping me to love deeply here locally. I also write. But the center of my impact is on my home. So what was I going to say? Nah, I didn't make a world-altering impact here. But I did manage to kill somebody.

To which my faithful husband looked at me skeptically, and loaded his voice with appropriate sarcasm. "I think that you should change your strategy to make such an impact here that it justifies the taking of a human life."

Thanks, Hon.

But as I have prayed and thought about this fear that closed itself around my heart, I realize that we learn a lot about a person through the questions they ask. First of all, I was going back to an old way of thinking: that life impact is measured by change in people, or by quantity of some sort, or doing something "big"--instead of a successful life being one that glorifies God by loving well. As Galatians reiterates, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Secondly, Hebrews 11 keeps reminding me of men and women like Noah, who used his resources and energy to invest in building an obscenely large boat in the middle of dry land. I am not building, God tells me, something I can see.

And thirdly, I can become idolatrously focused on my "impact", which quietly commandeers the purposes that God has for me--or supersedes God Himself. My dreams, my significance are at stake.

Plus--the reality is, in all of my fears, God is greater. The kids have been memorizing Romans 8:28. So my question becomes, if God would allow something horrific like a fatal accident to happen, would He not still have an entirely loving purpose? Would He not still have it gently, purposefully woven into His perfect plan? Wouldn't He only allow it to happen if it was in the truest sense, "for the good" (Romans 8:28)? Even before that fateful trip, singing Seeds' "Do Not Be Anxious" with C. in the van, I'd realized the anxiety that curled its bony little fingers around my chest. I'd asked for God's protection, then plopped the trip in His hands. This was part of the story He'd written for us that day.

So Friday, I finally emerged to at last retrieve some groceries. If it hadn't have been for local dinner guests coming, maybe I would have let my family get by on PB&J's for a couple of days. Hebrews 11 came to mind as I rounded the corner. By faith, I mentally quipped, Janel pulled out of the driveway.


Michellis said...

Hey J, have those kiddos memorize Romans 8:29, also. The "good" He intends is for us "to be conformed to the image of His Son." Then do a little research on how the human Jesus was perfected, (or how is His perfection was proven) - He was tempted, tested, and He suffered, but "for the joy set before Him."

Miss you!!

John and Janel Breitenstein said...

That was, in fact, the next verse we memorized, Michelle! Good words--esp. "the joy set before Him." Hugs to you and Mark.