I had planned on going to bed without writing as nothing today seemed particularly “blog-worthy”, but as I was lying here inside of my mosquito-netted bed I remembered a conversation I had with my host dad, Festo earlier this evening. When I told him about my language selection and my probable site placement in the southwest he asked me if I was familiar with what happened near there in Rwanda in the early 90s. I said that I was aware, and expressed my utter disgust about the tragedy. He agreed that the genocide that took place there was terrible, but what has me thinking tonight is that he quickly replied that while this was bad, his opinion is that the most horrifying act of terror in his lifetime was the destruction of the Twin Towers in NYC.
I will tread very carefully here because I don’t want to be misunderstood. What happened on September 11 was an awful, awful tragedy. I do not mean to take away from that at all. Still, I was shocked to hear him say this. Thinking that maybe he was saying it for my benefit, I reminded him that 800,000 people (many of them women and children) were murdered in Rwanda in a matter of weeks mere miles away from his hometown village. He agreed that what happened in Rwanda was terrible, but he stood firm that 9/11 was the worst. Trying to understand, I asked him why he thought this. While he never came right out and said it, I feel like the implications of his responses were clear.
The sad truth that I’ve already come to realize is that tragedy is a fact of life here in Africa and the people accept their plot as such. There’s a sense of fatalism that I have never seen before. As Festo was showing me his photo albums he glossed over a picture of Simon, one of his children that was lost during infancy. When I tried to express my sympathy it was quickly shaken off and I was told these kinds of things just happen. After all, he lives in a country where 300,000+ die each year from malaria, malnutrition runs rampant, HIV/AIDS infects about 1 in 10 people, and 3 of the 5 bordering nations have been host to some of the worst crimes against humanity in my lifetime. For many Ugandans, life is a daily struggle that I haven’t experience for a single day in America. He may not like any of these things, but he accepts them in his way. What he cannot accept, however, is that anything as terrible as any of that should happen thousands of miles away in a country that he has never been to, and in all likelihood will never get to see. These types of things simply do not happen in America. Africa, I guess, is a different story.