Freedom Towards Myself

I have a new job. I am the interim director for Wesley/Canterbury Fellowship (W/CF) at Vanderbilt University. This is the Methodist/Episcopal campus ministry. This past Thursday night was our first worship service and I left feeling so much joy for students and ministry. But these past few weeks have been extremely overwhelming!

During these first three weeks of doing my best to build relationships and get the word out about our open and loving community… nothing could be more true than this is the quote from The Spirit of Life, Jorgen Moltmann pg 201-202:

But the people who throw themselves into practical life because they cannot come to terms with themselves simply become a burden for other people. Social praxis and political involvement are not a remedy for the weakness of our own personalities. Men and women who want to act on behalf of other people without having deepened their own understanding of themselves, without having built up their own capacity for sensitive loving, and without having found freedom towards themselves, will find nothing in themselves that they can give to anyone else. Even presupposing good will and the lack of evil intentions, all they will be able to pass on is the infection of their own egoism, the aggression generated by their own anxieties, and the prejudices of their own ideology. Anyone who wants to fill up her own hollowness by helping other people will simply spread the same hollowness. Why? Because people are far less influenced by what another person says and does than the activist would like to believe. They are much more influenced by what the other is, and his way of speaking and behaving. Only the person who has found his own self can give himself. What else can he give? It is only the person who knows that he is accepted who can accept others without dominating them. The person who has become free in herself can liberate others and share their suffering.

I hope I can grow to know myself so fully that I can open space for others to be fully themselves. This is why most of the books I am reading right now are not for school but to help me hold in faith my questions and my doubts. To care for myself and then care for others. Nothing could be harder in a time where there are so many demands on my time and my life!! But I must first free myself so I can free others.

Empowerment Theatre

Crazy how my loves are connecting — women’s empowerment and theatre!

My new friend Ana leads three types of theatre to educate and involve rural families to agrarian reform and promote alternatives to agribusiness in Brazil.  The first type of play is what she calls “political” theatre where her team of volunteers with MST landless workers movement writes plays educating families on the injustice of land grabbing and empowering families to reclaim rights to land.  1% of land owners have more than 50% of land.  The agribusiness corporations buy a plot of land in the middle of rural family farms and push out local farmers.

The next type is called “forum theatre” where a group or community addresses a specific specific, oppressive situation and improv a play.  When the play is acted out they ask for volunteers from the audience to react the play trying to have a different result.  For example, they might act out the life of an indigenous girl who is not able to get education because her father does not educate boys, in addition to the fact that she speaks a native language and would not be able to keep up in classes.  There is someone who is cast as each person who has a stake in the story: the girl, mother, father, siblings, teacher, government, etc. and the actors can bring in people as they improv.  Despite the serious issues, the point of this type of drama is to be overly dramatic and fun.  It allows a group of people to think critically about the systemic issues, share in the story of another person, and find solutions in community.

The last type of theatre (and possibly my favorite) is called “invisible theatre.”  Ana described a time where she and a few actors got in line for tickets at a train station.  She mentioned to her neighbor in line about how she thought that the tickets were overpriced.  This allowed the person in line to address their concern with rising train ticket prices.  A few other “actors” in line also expressed their concern.  Before long, there were policemen actively watching the whole line.  She says it can be a form of “public disobedience,” but it allows people to address racism, sexism, and oppression of the poor in powerful and real ways.  My friend, Tomoko, from Japan had wide, excited eyes when she explained invisible theatre.  I said to her, “Can you imagine this in Japan?!” If you know Japanese culture, public disobedience quite taboo, she answered, “No, but I want to try it!”  I answered, “Me too!”

I may or may not gripe next time I’m in the food isle of my supermarket wondering why none of the food is locally grown or ask the butcher if my chicken ever saw daylight.  But now that I met Ana and heard about her work, it makes me want to write some type of play educating Vanderbilt students about the University investing in land grabbing in Africa.

Driving Miss. Nancy

I did not anticipate how much time I would spend in a car traveling to and from Kampala with the driver George.  George is the most patient and calm Ugandan man that I have ever met.  Which is ironic because Ugandan drivers are extremely aggressive and the vast majority of drivers whip around people and push their way into your lane.  Ugandans drive on the left side of the road.  The majority of the population does not drive because cars are too expensive and public transport is avaliable.  The UMC Conference has arranged for the interns to have a car.  4 people sharing 1 car and driver does not always work out… we’ll see what else can be arranged in the next few weeks.

It is very strange to be driven around everywhere… it reminds me of the play, “Driving Miss. Daisy.”  Not just in the fact that I am driven around… but the fact that there are stereotypes of musungus and Africans who drive musungus.

I have seen traffic lights in Uganda, but no one follows them so you have to have a police officer, dressed in all white and called “the white men,” direct traffic.  People turn off their cars and wait it gets so jammed in areas.  George allows other cars to get in the lane and is always cautious.

As I mentioned before, there is one main road and one “by-pass” road.  The main road is filled with jams and the by-pass is filled with police officers that will stop you for the smallest infraction.  We were pulled over once (which is more like a person in a white uniform waving waving his/her hand at you from the side of the road).  George had passes a truck going 5 miles per hour in a non-passing zone (ha ha… everywhere in Uganda is a passing zone!).  He told them that he didn’t have any money.  They said that the musungus could pay.  Culture note: In Uganda if you have white skin, it is assumed that you have lots of money.  He said that these musungus are students and that they don’t have any money.  And the police officer let us go!

George grew up in Western Uganda, so he speaks a different language than Luganda which is spoken in Kampala area.  He never went to formal school, but taught himself English.  Last Saturday night it was planned for me to go to Nabulagala UMC to worship on Sunday morning.  The car needed to be serviced, so they were trying to find another means of transport to church.  George received a phone call from Vincent saying, the group from Texas at the hotel in Seeta has room for Nancy.  So George told me that I would be staying at the hotel in Seeta and go to church with them.  I arrived at the hotel and went in to find the group leader, whom I had briefly met a few nights ago.  He said that he did not have a room for me to stay, but he could figure it out if he needed.  I went back out to George.  He had just ended a phone call with Vincent and realized that the “room” they had for me was on the bus in the morning!  They have room… not “a” room!  Ha ha ha… So he took me home, picked me up in the morning, and dropped me off at the hotel to go with them to church.

I have learned a lot asking George questions about things that I see.  He usually asks what things are like in the states after he explains.  Things you might see on the road:  People selling sugar cane and time cards for your cell phone.  Cattle frequently walk on the side of the road.  There are small mopeds called boda-bodas and they weave in and out of traffic like racecars.  Women ride “side saddle” on the back.  You will also see them carrying anything from pineapples, wounded people headed to the emergency room (it’s the fastest way to travel), wooden planks that sit horizontal on the back of the seat – and they still weave in and out of traffic!, jugs of oil or water, furniture, and pretty much anything that needs to be taken from point A to point B.  The stores are like open garages with about 4 feet of space to paint an advertisement – the name of the store is not relevant the advertisement is always bright, painted with detail and usually corresponds with what they might sell inside.

OK… My next blog will be about the AMAZING WOMEN I HAVE MET!!  I can not upload music or pictures because uploading and downloading information with my modem is difficult… but I will tell you all about it!!!