Her name is Mercy. She came to me about a month ago carrying her 3 mo. old baby, wearing torn clothes, and with haunted eyes. I was in the middle of cooking lunch and not feeling very hospitable, so instead of inviting her in, I stepped out on the balcony to talk to her. She explained that someone told her there was a mzungu (white person) living at Suubi, so she had come looking for a job. She is not the 1st person that has come to me wanting employment; most Ugandans can’t believe that I don’t want a housemaid or nanny for my kids. So, as I start to explain that I’m not interested in hiring, she asks if she can tell me her story. I go add water to my boiling potatoes and come back out. I wasn’t ready to invite her in, but I knew I had to listen…
Mercy grew up as Jemilah, a Muslim girl in Tanzania. She came to Uganda with her mom and her mom’s new Ugandan husband when she was 19. A few months after arriving here, her mom died of a sickness. Jemilah was alone here now, and had no contact with her extended family in Tanzania. She soon met a young man, they fell in love, got married. She and her husband lived in the village with his family and had two daughters and was expecting their 3rd child when her world took a devastating turn. One night her husband went out to buy milk and never returned. 3 days later his body was found by a field worker, mutilated. It came out that he had been murdered by his half-brothers who resented the fact that he was first born and would receive the family inheritance. (archaic I know!) Jemilah was soon visited by the same family members and was “abused” and threatened to be killed if she didn’t leave the house and village immediately. At this point in her story, she pulled back her blouse to show me the scars of where they had beat her that night with a panga (like a dull machete). A local pastor gave her enough $ to have transport out of town. She left with her two girls and a small bag; she was 7 mo. pregnant.
So, this was only 5 mo. ago. She is now widowed at 26, living in a stranger’s unfinished house (think shed with no walls) in Maya, a community a few kilometers down the road. She digs randomly in people’s gardens with her baby boy tied to her back. On the days she is able to dig, she makes about a dollar. Her daughters are 6 and 3. The oldest one has sickle cell disease, and you would have a hard time convincing anyone she is older than four. She had left her girls that day with a God-sent lady in her community called Mama Blessing. Mama Blessing is her sole friend in the world.
She concludes her story explaining to me that she changed her name to Mercy after her husband died, because that is all she was asking from God... for mercy. Her words to me: “I became a Christian when I married my husband, but, in those days, life was good and I never thought about God. Now, I pray to God all the time so I will not go crazy.” Then, with pools of tears in her eyes, she again begs me to give her a job. I don’t need to say how my heart was wrenched and I wanted to give her moon if I could. But I have lived here long enough now to know that my charity is best done through the hands of Ugandans. Every time I walk into the community, people look at me with hungry eyes that tell me they want me to be their savior with white skin. Many will lie and manipulate and do whatever it takes to get that. It was obvious that she was desperate, but I still was not sure if I could trust her. Call me cold and cynical, but living here 11 mo. has made me much more guarded in these kinds of relationships. I’m kinda beyond the warm fuzzies I used to feel passing out stickers and candy on short-term mission trips. So, I hugged her, prayed for her, and promised her only that I would talk to my Ugandan cell group about her. I drove her down to the main road, bought her a few groceries, and took back to where her girls were with Mama Blessing.
In an attempt to make an already long story short - I have befriended Mercy, taking baby steps and praying for wisdom along the way. I give her transport money to come to church every Sun, then I take her home – otherwise it is a 2 hr walk for her. (which is what she did when she came to my house the 1st day!) She visited our cell for the first time last week. I am praying that they will share my burden to help her. I am hoping to help find her a job here at Suubi in custodial work. I am learning to trust her and she is patient.
Today, I spent the whole of my morning with her. She called me telling me she was very sick and had a bad toothache. After bringing her to Watoto’s clinic, we found out she had an abscessed tooth that needed to be pulled immediately. There is no dentist around here, so I gave her enough money to take a taxi van into Kampala and to the hospital and get it pulled. She again left her children with Mama Blessing. I wanted to take her all the way into town, but we had previous commitments this afternoon. She thanked me profusely but I still felt terrible leaving her beside the road to get a taxi, with the fact that she was feverish and had not eaten in two days. But this is normal in Uganda.
I still have a hard time comprehending it, but everything about Mercy is too normal here. To me, to you, her story is horrifically tragic. But to most Ugandans, I relate to them her story and they tssk and shrug. She is not so extraordinary. I am far removed from the reality of my Western world, but there is still another reality of life that I am not very acquainted with.
It struck me hard this evening as I was looking through a new magazine a friend just recently sent in a care package. I was ecstatic get an American magazine – what a treat! – and I’ve intended to slowly savor this taste of home. But, to be honest, it tasted weird to me – now – here – with Mercy’s face in my mind. Every other page it seemed…
LOSE WEIGHT! Well, obviously, that is rather a non-issue here.
LOOK YOUNGER! I wonder how many weeks it has been since Mercy studied her reflection in a mirror?
STRESS LESS! Here, the mantra is just to survive today.
The reality of my world growing up was so secure and stable that the reality of those less fortunate seemed like a far- away exception. Now, I am 30, and I am finally realizing that, no – I was in the small exception category. Our Western media and pop-culture dominates everything so strongly that we feel most of the world must be like us. But WE are the minority, my North American friends.
To quote Randy Alcorn - If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a home that shields you from weather, and own some kind of reliable transportation, you’re in the top 15% of the world’s wealthy. Add some savings, two cars (in any condition), a variety of clothes, and your own house, and you have reached the top 5%. You may not feel wealthy, but that’s only because you’re comparing yourself to the mega-wealthy. (Law of Rewards)
Now, I am comparing myself to Mercy and the millions of women she represents in Africa, Eurasia, Asia, South America…
I am not struggling with my responsibility. I settled that a long time ago. I am struggling with how to put my responsibility into action – here – in this new reality I find myself in. Is it even possible to “share a cup of water” and guard my heart at the same time? Is it ok for me to ration my resources so I won’t be taken advantage of? I think yes. But, then, it is NOT ok that Mercy and her babies are sleeping on the hard dirt without a mattress tonight. I don’t have good answers, so I am using you as my sounding board.
All I do know, is I am grateful, deeply grateful, for a new reality to adjust to. Because it just makes me long for the REAL reality that is coming. I am disenchanted with the American dream and the images in my magazine. I am already wearied by the pain and injustice here. But both are fleeting in this shadow land. What we call LIFE is just a portal. Aren’t you so glad there is a higher reality than this?
So, thanks for listening … and please say a prayer for Mercy tonight.