“This is Africa”

The Bus Trip
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, we took a bus from Nairobi, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda which lasted twice as long as it was supposed to – instead of taking 12 hours, it took 24.  Why did it take so long?  Let’s see.  First, one of the bus’s side mirrors broke and it took about 2 hours to fix it.  Second, a mechanical problem with the bus became apparent so it could take us no further.  It took about 4 hours for a new bus to come.  Third, the bus came to an extremely muddy road (submerged in water at some points) that it couldn’t get through.  How did this problem get solved you ask?  Why, by transferring all the passengers and their luggage onto another bus that could get through, of course!  So we found ourselves on yet another bus (in much worse condition than the previous two no less!).  Well, there you have it.  These delays, together with some other minor ones lengthened our trip by twice its intended duration.


Coping Strategies
I’m slightly embarrassed to write about how I coped with some of these inconvenient situations.  I may or may not have borrowed another passenger’s phone to call the owner of the bus company on more than once occasion.  My coping strategies ranged from calling the owner to forcing myself to sleep until the journey was finally over, whether the bus was moving or not.  Either way, it was clear that these inconveniences were a significant bother to me.  Even when I thought I was hiding my frustration, other passengers would say comments to me along the lines of: “Don’t stress, we’ll get there soon enough”, or “Hakuna matata; don’t worry, be happy”!  Embarrassing, right?

Trying to stay positive...

Trying to stay positive…

Lessons Learned
So, what did I learn from all of this?  A few things,  but the most impactful thing for me was that, without exception, the local passengers didn’t seem too bothered by the whole ordeal.  They just accepted it.  After complaining to a passenger with a young baby, she simply said: “Yes, this is disappointing”, and that was it!  At one point she asked me for pain killers because she had a terrible headache, but she still didn’t complain.  Afterwards, when I was trying to ask for compensation from the bus company in  Kampala, the workers there pointed out to me that I was the only one asking for compensation.  “This is Africa,” they told me.  At that point, I began to tear up.  Not from the frustration of spending the past 24 hours of my life on a cramped bus (okay, that may have contributed to it), but from the frustration that people didn’t seem to expect better.  The mentality that “this is Africa” and that I shouldn’t expect certain rights as a customer drove me crazy.  I’m not sure what to make of it.  I’m sure Kenyans and Ugandans have good reasons for not expecting better.  Perhaps they don’t expect better because they’ve never had better.  Perhaps they do expect better, but their energies are devoted to more relevant areas of their lives.  Perhaps they’ve even demanded better but have given up after repeatedly failing to achieve better.  Or…perhaps this is all in my head and they’re just extremely patient.  Either way, after reflecting on this experience, I’ve decided to pray that Ugandans can achieve a society where citizens and consumers expect their rights to be upheld, and that I can become more patient.

– Krista


3 thoughts on ““This is Africa”

  1. I hear you Krista! I had a similar situation this week where I needed a STAT C Section for a second twin and the response I was given was “Well, the first baby lived so why should we worry about this one?”

  2. Hey Krista, thanks for sharing. I love hearing your news, although I’m sorry about this whole ordeal. I can’t say I know exactly what you went through. South Africa seems to be more ‘developed’ than Kenya/Uganda, and we were fortunate to have our own car. That said, I’ve experienced similar sentiments. In South Africa we have a ‘Home Affairs’ department, where we need to go to get our ID’s, Passports, etc. At times, the place can be run very inefficiently and one can wait in queue’s for hours, if not most of the day, simply to collect or apply for a document. On these occasions I would often find myself very frustrated while most of my black South African brothers and sisters seem quite content to wait patiently. Forgetting about the inefficiency of it all for a moment, I am humbled by this patience. Personally, I think this patience is less about ‘not expecting better’ than it is about being able to be present in the moment. I stand in the queue frustrated because I have important places to go and things to do. Around me, usually, I see my black South African compatriots quite happily in conversation with each other. I’m sure they also have important things to do and places to go, but they often seem able to be present to each other in a way that my ‘purpose driven’ and individualistic outlook on life cannot easily replicate. If we could add an appropriate form of ‘customer rights’ to this gracious and communal way of living, then I’d take it any day. I’m not sure, though, how easily these cohabit in practice. I think that in most Western society we have plenty of rights but an inordinate focus on it has helped nurture a rampant individualism and egocentrism. Are ‘rights’ and ‘grace’ mutually exclusive? I mean, how do we balance ‘standing on my rights’ with ‘being gracious’? I too don’t really know what to make of all this…. and now i’ve gone and blocked up your wall with a super long post! Sorry about that…
    Anyway… Beth and I loved looking at your photo’s and we miss you both.

    • Hey Etienne! We really appreciate that you are following along with our blog and updates. It is unfortunate that we can’t do the same with you guys. I trust you and Beth are doing well though, we miss you guys.
      Thanks for your thoughts on Krista’s post. I think you are right. It was very humbling to see the patience that many locals had for the unforeseen complications. It is something that I think (or I hope) we are growing in each week we are here. But, how can we be patient and at the same time be a reformer? The very idea of being a patient reformer is an oxymoron, but that is what we are called to be and that is what Krista and I are wrestling with as we live here. The West may very well emphasize reform (or individualism or egocentrism) at the sacrifice of patience, but Africa may very well emphasize patience (or complacency) at the sacrifice of reform. As with everything it seems, the truth is somewhere in between.

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