This is a petrol station. At various intervals along the road, one sees little boxes or tables with two, or at most three re-purposed plastic water bottles now filled with fuel. In the mornings the gasoline glows pink with the rising sun as I drive east towards Bundibugyo Hospital. There is usually a quarter-litre (1 cup) or a half-liter (2 cups) option. Which means, people are buying gas a cup at a time. For comparison, that's 1/16 of a gallon. And when was the last time you only bought ONE GALLON of gas, let alone one sixteenth of that?
My first reaction to these stands is that they are the picture of poverty. Poor people buy in small, small increments, because that's all they can afford. A boda-boda (motorcycle taxi, interestingly the name is literally "border, border!" because that's what taxi drivers called out to attract customers, hey, who needs a ride to the border?!) gets a passenger, then stops to top up his tank with a cup or two of petrol. There is no margin to keep a full tank, only the eeking-by lifestyle. Sadly this means the poor pay more. No Costco-bulk discounts are possible when you buy your sugar, your washing powder, your oil or eggs in tiny packets.
But when I step back, I also realize these little stands represent progress. Hope. Development. I notice them now, because when we lived here before, they did not exist. The road didn't really exist; it was a muddy marrum path winding up and down the terrain twisting around potholes and boulders. Certainly bodas were much fewer; and there was no easy and available transportation to town. Petrol stations did not really exist, we had to lug extra jerry cans of fuel from Fort Portal. When we first came, plastic water bottles didn't exist, and while I can't see their proliferation as development at least recycling bottles is better than throwing them on the ground.
So is the tiny petrol bottle half-empty or half-full? Is this a picture of poverty, graphically demonstrating the limited purchasing power of the people moving about in Bundibugyo? Or a picture of positive change, that there are roads and motorcycles and people willing to buy rides?
Zoomed out for perspective, I think these stands represent can-do innovation (note the creative balancing here), entrepreneurial spirit, appropriate provision of resources, efficient transportation, and the harbingers of change for the better.
And this parable probably represents most of our life. It's easiest to focus on on the half-empty nature of all that is wrong. Where is the staff, why is there only one nurse on a ward of 50 patients showing up at 11 am? Why is the power off so the laboratory shuts down? How do I respond to this mom telling me the children's father abandoned them and her own father died, so her child is hungry and she's desperate? Where did the day go, as I try to finish rounds, and am stumbling over words, hours in Lubwisi leaving my brain drained? What did I miss on the patient that died yesterday? How do we confront a system in which staff were busted for falsifying a patient chart in order to steal medicine? How can I get the clothes dry when it rains incessantly? What will we eat tonight? Where will the money come from for the needed improvements at Christ School? How can we recruit more people to pour love into the floods of school kids around the district? Will the judge decide fairly about our disputed land? Will Ebola pop up on one of our teams this week, as another patient from Congo crossed into Uganda with the disease? These are real concerns of this afternoon. A lot of half-empty vessels. An aching sense of the not-enough. And lamenting them is both important and Biblical.
But the truth is more complex, and more hopeful, more half-full. Here are examples from yesterday and today:
The hospital staff this morning, engaging with those hard questions and coming up with ideas.
An opportunity to teach makes me glad to be on the team.
Fresh paint, even half-full-up-the-wall, definitely improves the classroom block.
Fixing a leaking roof morphed into re-doing this block of staff housing, and it is unrecognizably better.
While we wait to welcome new team, enjoying the sweetness of our summer small-team.
Sampling of new text books for CSB, thanks to donors.
New doors for the dorms to enable us to move the new metal beds in and out!
Scott on his never-ending project inspections . .
And working with the school bursar to parse the budget, helped by a new computer.
The nutrition team teaching moms to mix milk for their hungry kids-thankful for partnerships that bring food to the hungry.
Action photo in the nutrition office, lots of energy poured into evaluating and treating all these kids as this is the hungriest season.
While we pray and hope that one day rampant thievery and rebel threats and disobedient students will cease, so that we can live in easy harmony in our urban school setting, for now we really need the safety of a stronger fencing wall, first section in progress.
Day three of therapeutic feeding, and he's holding the cup with appetite! Still a lot of swelling in his body, but this cup is definitely half full.
Hope you can look at your day and acknowledge the half-empty places, but then get a perspective on just how half-full your life might be. And thank God for that.