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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Running in the Dark: #COVID-19 UGANDA day 127

When we moved back to Bundi 1.5 years ago, I started running in the dark. It's too hot and humid to go later, and too public to run in the daytime while attracting "mujungu! mujungu!" frenzies from children, unwanted attention, traffic to dodge. Plus to be at the hospital by 8 while living on the equator where the sun sets and rises at 7, means that fitting in exercise, a Bible and prayer time, breakfast and hygiene requires a start in the dark. Once COVID hit, Scott started joining me, since he could no longer take strenuous distant bike-rides in the limited-movement lock-down. We step out into the cool morning darkness in a time I call star-fade, as the background subtly greys and the flickers of starlight disappear pre-sunrise. We take our dogs on their leashes, and carry a small torch (flashlight) which illuminates the pavement a few feet at a time. 26 1/2 years ago when we arrived, this would not have been possible on the treacherous muddy potholed track, but now our road is smoothly paved with a helpfully reflective white painted line on the side, and a wide verge. We are rarely passed by more than a handful of motorcycles or trucks, and we usually encounter less than ten other humans also out moving on foot. Frogs complain until we get too close, then are silent until we pass. There is one very alert rooster that always squawks.

When running in the dark, seeing only the next few seconds of roadway, the path gives one the illusion of being straight and level. So it always strikes me when I later drive in the car, how many dips and curves there are. Our road is quite good . . . but it does have to bend to the reality of being situated at the base of the third highest mountain range in Africa. There are ridges that fall down to creeks, contours that cause the road to wind. In the daylight, particularly on the way back from Town, one can note the overall trajectory, the bird's eye perspective . . which shows that our distance is not a straight line at all.

But in the early morning, it is all about plodding ahead, taking the next few strides.  

When we moved back to Bundi 1.5 years ago, we had no idea what those 1.5 years would hold. We were plodding a few strides at a time. We thought we were coming for a few months to fill a gap in leadership. It looked pretty reasonable, as far as our little flashlights could project. If we could have seen the near-implosion of the school as an unstable teacher instigated riots, or the decision of some key team members not to renew their terms or to change their foci, or the impact of this pandemic on our capacity to move, would we have had the courage to come? Maybe not.

Yet here we are down the road in 2020, which is one big blind curve. Not the story we thought we were choosing. Somehow we expected this phase of life to be one where seniority had some perks, where we could somehow hold together the needs of our octogenarian moms and just-launched young adult children with the forward progress of eleven teams in five countries. We thought we'd do that by perhaps living near an airport, having a base but frequently in motion. Instead, it's been 127 days circumscribed routine (minus three to camp and pray recently!), with no clear end in sight. In other words, exactly what everyone in the world is facing. Being in one place and staying there. Seeing patients, again and again. Attending meetings with spacing, eking out the same small palette of culinary options, music, clothes, interactions. Yes we are still thinking globally and dreaming beyond, but we are at this moment deeply rooted.

And the surprise is this: darkness is a mercy. 

We do not know how 2020 will end. It doesn't look good for anyplace right now. Uganda has locked down more effectively than most, but we've recorded our first death this week. The whole world is addicted to the reality-TV of America, us included, with astronomically increasing sickness, violence between groups stirred up to fear and hate each other, and a flare for turning things like wearing/not wearing a mask into a litmus test for righteousness. When healthy 30-year-olds die of this virus, we are reminded that while a fatal outcome is unlikely for most of us it is certainly possible for any of us. We can't see the road very far ahead. We can only see the immediate next steps. We wear our masks and wash our hands, greet from a distance and avoid most activities. We read and pray and treat and hope. We prepare Bible studies and medical teachings, reports and letters. We mentor and supervise. We listen and intercede. A few steps at a time. Until one day we realise: this road is actually good in many unexpected ways. We are in the home have had for more years of our lives than any other, the home we helped build, the home where we raised our family. We are working with young people whom we care about deeply, being invited sometimes into their hearts, their marriages, their dreams. We are helping a team carry out a vision we were part of setting in motion. We get to see the decades-long arcs, not just the moments. We get to learn to be elders, a base that allows others to thrive and embrace their own callings. We get to talk to our kids and moms and sisters sometimes, not enough but we do appreciate that technology that did not exist when we started.

Faith is a run in the early morning darkness, a commitment to move ahead without knowing exactly where we will end up. Faith is work, and a work-out, a necessary precursor to arrival and rest. Whether this stretch is a 5K, 10K, a half or whole marathon, or an ultra-marathon, we can't say. But that is the mercy of God's mystery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jennifer for your lovely portrait of the "star-fade" time of day, and for your moving meditation on running blind. Only God sees the path, and only He knows the prices and rewards in advance. I am happy that your long labor in the field has some joys at this moment. Working for justice is above all else a slow, slow process, as you know, but only the kind of labor that you have offered, steady, undeterred, courageous, following the road in the darkness, trusting His promise, produces the result that our world needs Let me add my voice from across the world to say that you and Scott are heroes of dedication and faith, and that the years of mercies that you have provided are an inspiration for me as well. May God Bless you and keep you and make his Face to shine upon you. Love, Judy in HMB