“Organisation ABC would like to notify the public that Mr False Acquisition is no longer working for our Organisation. Any interaction with this person is done so at your own personal risk….”
This is a common public notice in the newspapers in Uganda. Very common, in fact.
The subtext, one can comfortably assume in these notices, is that Mr False Acquisition was caught stealing money of a serious magnitude from organisation ABC, has been fired, and the notice ensures he can no longer manipulate his/her previous employment status for whatever shady deals he may wish to partake in.
Last week, Michael and I briefly contemplated having to place such a notice in the paper.
Last week, we also wondered for the millionth time if we will ever scratch more than the surface of this culture.
Last week, we parted ways with a staff member at Maranatha that had become a trusted friend, a brother almost, and someone we had always believed to be an incredibly integral protector of the mission of our organisation, Maranatha Health. Turns out we were wrong – this employee had been taking significant sums of money from MH*.
Last week, as you may have figured out, was a very sad week.
Of all the things that are hard about living in this country – I have detailed them in many of my blogs in the past so no need to elaborate here – the most difficult thing is getting used to deception.
Actually expecting people to give into the slightest temptation to deceive.
Having to assume the worst so that you can ensure finances are protected with layers and layers of accountability.
And somehow, keeping your heart and mind open to the possibility that people may not betray you. Because many people won’t.
Do I sound like a hardened cynic?
I thought I was. But this time, the betrayal hurt a lot. And so perhaps, I am not as much of the cynic as I thought (or hoped) I was.
There are always the little bumps in the road with Ugandan life. A job applicant misleads you about their qualifications. The waiter at the restaurant gives you the wrong change hoping you won’t notice. A friend forgets to mention they have a wife, or a kid, or a fake degree, or some equally bizarre thing to omit. The acquaintance asks you for a bribe to do their job. You find out the pastor who preaches integrity has a reputation for sleeping around. The child’s school fees you pay are actually cheaper than what was told to you.
But this is all just part of life. A kind of creative opportunism, if you will.
But when the people that actually join you in the messiness of life deceive you – that hurts. Immensely.
Normally I am furious at the big deceptions. We have experienced quite a few of them over the past 5 or 6 years. Normally I feel like screaming and hitting and exacting revenge and going home.
But this time, despite the closeness of this deception, I am not angry. I don’t feel like making anyone pay.
I am sad.
I am disappointed.
Maybe because I am a few years older. Maybe because I see the struggle and the shame for the individual concerned up close this time. Maybe because I have just learnt a bit more about how fragile and broken we all are.
But this time, it has been deeply saddening to see how crippling this deception is for those who commit it. To see how one stupid decision can spiral out of control and consume someone. To see, for Ugandans, how difficult it is to resist this particular temptation – no matter what the cost.
Like the employee we have had to part ways with.
This deception has renewed my deep awareness that as much as I can build community and a life here, this is not my country, nor my culture…and will never be my normal.
At the best of times, I find Ugandan culture extremely confusing. At times like this, I find it is better to simply shrug my shoulders and remember that there is much of the cultural iceberg lurking underneath the murky waters of assumptions and appearances that cannot be seen. Rather than judge: pronouncing all Ugandans thieves; ignoring the complex realities of life here that lead people to unethical choices; generalising the immoralities of this country; neglecting so much of the goodness of the culture….
I instead pray that I will find the same sense of crystal clarity about the blind spots – the logs – in my own culture.
As if to remind me again of this lesson of difference, my son was playing with some of his stacking cups at work the other day. As per usual, he stacked them downward, one on top of the other, the only way it had occurred to me to stack them. Like this:
But after a few hours and a couple of different staff at MH playing with him and his cups, I quickly noticed something different. Every staff member who played with him stacked them the same way – differently to what my son was doing. They stacked them in pairs, facing each other. Like this:
Different – each way neither better nor stronger – but definitely different.
*Our ex-employee is going to pay back the full sum of money taken