It was this past Tuesday that my friend Dana, volunteering at a local refugee center, found herself surrounded by a handful of adults with origins all over East Africa. She’d volunteered to tutor in English, and thirteen appeared that night, their skin in varying hues of cinnamon, cocoa, and dark chocolate, and their English capabilities varying even further.
Dana coaxed them through a discussion of homophones—no doubt one of the more confusing parts of this rather complicated language which most reading here have simply had the blessing to inherit. Then, in an effort to loosen the atmosphere for relaxed conversation practice, she moved her small class onto the balcony in the cool evening air that’s so pleasant here in Uganda.
Dana asked questions of these adults from so many different cultures and places and families: living, breathing stories, each one of them, all converging on a stone balcony overlooking the winking hills of Kampala. Dana asked each of them to answer every question, in English, of course.
What would be your perfect job? One woman told the group she’d love to be a structural engineer.
What do you love about living in Uganda? The weather, a few said. I get that! A lot of the refugees are from North and South Sudan, and 120º F falls on the toasty side of things for me. Uganda is balmy and wonderfully temperate. But what most of the students said?
Peace. They are so thankful for peace.
Dana—and then myself, when she told me—marveled. If someone asked us about what we loved about, say, the U.S., would we say peace? Yet living here, in war-torn areas of Africa, is peace not an unspeakable gift?
It’s like having enough water to slake our thirst, or the blessing of rest after a long day, or the gift of good health. Or perhaps it’s worth even more. I, living in a generation apart from the ominous military draft or the clutching fear of the Cold War, do not have near the appreciation for peace as those who have gone without.
Living away from the United States has, I will admit, bubbled to the surface some of the ways I am not proud of my culture, or mindsets gone wrong. But it’s also birthed a luminous, precious gratitude, like a shining stone—for things like a general value of honesty and justice; potable water; a vastly literate country; trustworthy medical care; essential, general knowledge of first aid; taxes that (in general) actually go not to corruption, but to those libraries and smooth roads and commendable schools that I miss, and which mold a nation.
For all the things that chafe against me and the decisions made in my country, a lot of things are going right in America. This Fourth of July, I am deeply thankful for peace. And a great deal more.