Life before we left for our home assignment was a bit complicated.
I've been wondering how to write about this for some time. Even now, whatever I write seems either melodramatic or flat, or simply one-dimensional.
When traveling home ("Uganda" home)
from the airport around midnight after a surprise visit to the
U.S. for my (Janel's) dad’s birthday, something very difficult
happened. A driver picked me up from the airport—a Ugandan friend we know.
Running on about three hours of sleep from my 24-hour travels, I was still excited to see my family. The windows were down, allowing the temperate breeze to refresh my skin, which seemed coated in that thin film of mysterious traveling gunk (my son has recently coined the phrase "feeling airplany").
But about twenty minutes into the trip, we saw a taxi minibus swerving in front of us.
There was a presumably drunk man who was trying to cross the road. Considering
we were probably traveling at least 45 mph, we couldn’t swerve out of the way. The
pedestrian turned directly in front of our car. His head hit the windshield above my
lap, leaving a basketball-shaped indention in the spidered glass.
He was killed.
After reeling silent prayers and considerable pleading on my part with the driver, we stopped about a kilometer later. But
I think my driver was primarily concerned with getting out of there, and returned to his seat after checking the windshield. (Mob justice is a legitimate concern in Uganda.) He didn’t
want to stop at the police station, but finally caved to my wide-eyed pleas.
We stopped, and
spent about three and a half hours at the police station, kind of a concrete bunker equipped with a corrugated tin roof, what appeared to be a filing room of tilting stacks of paper, a desk, a bench, and a clock as lethargic as the policemen. (I arrived home at
about 4:30 AM.) Another police station found the body. I saw no one actually
concerned about the man, another passenger after already another one or two deaths on the road that evening. My time at the station, aside from the ten
minutes to take my statement, were largely me declining subtle attempts to bribe and
trying to figure out how, in the confusing and, to my Western mind, illogical system of Ugandan justice (would quotations around that word appear cynical?), to keep
my driver out of jail. The driver was also trying to convince me to
give him $500, ostensibly for the same reason. After all, I had made him stop.
The driver returned bright and early a day later trying to convince me to pay a
bribe. This was, I eventually gathered, so that the police station at which we spent those lovely midnight hours wouldn’t contact the station who
found the body: "You said you would help me!" I’ve had many conversations with both Ugandans and missionaries
to navigate how to actually achieve justice in a system where justice is rarely
found. As you can imagine, this situation is extremely complicated.
I was quite shaken. Flashbacks were superseded by a general--but only
temporary--feeling of insecurity and unease, though I believe I am past that
now (the latter, not the former). Unfortunately, the accident occurred on the busy main road by our new home, which
we must take to travel anywhere. God has given wisdom, strength, and compassionate relationships to
handle this tragic, baffling situation carefully and with peace.
Still--it took awhile to come to
grips with the fact that a man died. That people saw it as an
opportunity to make money. And that God still had a wise and loving reason for this situation in
which a man's life ended before my eyes--a more common experience for an African, but less so for me--in the vehicle He knew I'd take.
These circumstances, along with moving in the span of a week, John
climbing Kilimanjaro, preparing to leave the country and the
office for two and a half months, and a number of frustrations with
our new home (e.g. dangerous electrical wiring, poor construction and
unreliable repairmen, swarms of mosquitoes making it difficult to sleep) found us arriving in the U.S. weary, at my lowest cultural point. This speaks loudly to me, since I hope you can tell how alive I typically feel here. I've been thankful for a couple of months to step away, have a few long chats and no few tears with friends and family, and now to return yesterday--my husband calmly handling the wheel on our drive home--to the firm embrace and animated chatter of both Westerners and Ugandans.
The ensuing questions I've grappled with around all this, along with their mysteries or consolations, are perhaps a post for another day. I will say that God is unquestionably a healer, and my trustworthy Holder of Answers (whether I know them or not). But thank you, friends, for your prayers.