My roommate used to have this thing she would say to me when I was voicing my frustrations over various issues. She would sigh and shake her head and say, “oh first world problems.” Meaning that maybe before I complained about the internet being slow I should remember the fact that simply having a computer puts me miles ahead of where someone might be in a third world country and that I should be grateful.
Since coming to a third world country for the first time I have noticed something interesting. There are first world problems, there are third world problems and there are first world problems in third world countries. I was surprised to find that slow internet, a head battery, and a file that won’t download are still the most frustrating things to me. When the electricity goes out, as it did today, I simply open the curtains to let a little sunlight in and do something that doesn’t require too much light. When the water goes out, as it has been for the last week, I haul water in a Jerry can, and shower in a bucket and don’t think all that much about it. But when my computer freezes, the internet refuses to work or I am having other first world problems I still find them the most frustrating. I had a good laugh today when Luta asked if he could borrow my computer. After a few minutes on it, realizing how slow it was he just shook his head and he said with a truly concerned look on his face. “whenever the computer won’t work fast enough I feel pain here, in my heart!” He was genuinely distraught about the situation and looked as I imagine I must have the first time I saw the mud huts along the road and smelled the smell of the sugar cane factory. It was ironic.
Since, I think this is the first time I have mentioned Luta, let me tell you a little about him. I love him. He is one of the people who make it so that I can’t hardly imagine leaving this place.
Luta’s family comes from Rwanda. His parents fled when the genocide first started there. They moved to Uganda. During that time as refugees Luta’s mother became quite close with another woman. This woman became “grandma” to Luta. In America when someone becomes really close or fills a role in our lives we will often say, “she is like a grandma to me.” Not so in Uganda this is not the first time that someone has introduced me to a mother, grandma, sister etc. only to later find out that they are not actually related. It seems family is more about a way of life and less about blood.
Anyway, Luta grew up in a very poor district in Lugazi. Gehry Gehry is the slum. No one there had ever graduated from University. Luta will be the first when he finishes next year. In the district where I live I am told about 55% of households have running water. In Gehry Gehry it is more like 15%. As we walked around the village Luta told us stories. He told about how he spent a number of his growing up years in an orphanage, not because he was an orphan but because by being there he could get an education. He told about his ingenuity in coming up with ways to pay his own school fees from the time he was quite young.
He told about the time that he spent in a Ugandan prison on false charges and how he eventually got things straightened out. He told about his good fortune in being able to work as a caddy for golfers and how that led him to all kinds of opportunities. He calls himself the town dog, because everyone in town knows and loves him. And it is true, as we walk everyone stops to say hello to him.
He told us about two girls who came to their village, one day when things were especially bad. The well had become contaminated and there was no water. People were going to die. These two girls used their own savings and had a well built. It saved the lives of many village people who surely would have died without water. (since one of those girls was my friend Melissa, it also explains why she is such a celebrity here.)
Currently, he is a student in the capital city, Kampala. He is getting a degree in business, and doing stand up comedy along the way. He became a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints just a few months ago. To see him showing us around, wearing nice clothes, and speaking with excellent english, one would never have suspected that he grew up in a mud hut on the side of a dirty crowded street. Yet to see him go back there and sit in front of that same house with his mother and baby niece, to see him being greeted warmly by everyone there, there is no question that this boy has done something amazing.