Category Archives: Musings

What Would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Think of The Expat Life?

On this day 44 years ago, April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. It is interesting reflecting on this sitting here in Uganda where sometimes it is hard to tell he ever lived. I’ve been … Continue reading

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Do I Have a Right to be Comfortable?

I have been back in the States now for over 2 1/2 months. Life is comfortable here. Things work. The roads are safe. Our power is on most of the time. I am surrounded by beautiful mountains and trees and … Continue reading

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Is it Better to be Poor in a Poor Country?

Let’s face it – it sucks to be poor anywhere. But I think a lot about relative poverty. Very frequently here in Uganda, people will ask me to “take them to America.” I know the vision in their minds. They … Continue reading

Posted in Musings, Poverty, Society | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Birds Don’t Know It’s Election Day

It’s hard to keep things in perspective when you are human. Everything in our lives feels monumental, and when we have a bad day we are convinced that “the world is going to hell in a handbasket.” Our own, individual experience gets transferred to the whole planet.

There are monumental things happening right now on a human scale. Protesters in Bahrain are being gunned down by their government, Egypt and Sudan will never be the same, and South Africa just parked a gunship off the coast of Cote D’ivoire. It’s even monumental that for the first time in recent history, the world’s eyes seem to all be on Africa.

But I think it is important and humbling to remember that not everything happens at the human scale. This aggrandized sense of our own importance is what makes a dictator willing to kill a hundred more protestors to stay in office long enough to skim a few more billion dollars. It leads people to rig votes to stay in power and can lead to murder when our feeling are hurt or our egos are bruised.

But we are a blip in the history of this planet. There are trees on this planet that are 6,000 years old. Mountains date back millions of years.

Uganda is going to the polls today. It might be peaceful, it might now. But let’s just try to remember, when all is said and done, the sun will still rise in the morning, the tides will still ebb and flow, and what really matters is how we treat each other every day. Continue reading

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I’ll Trade you a Cracker for your Faith

Many of the international organizations doing charity and relief work in Africa are faith-based. On the positive side, one can see this as driven by the injunction in many religions to commit our lives to those less fortunate than ourselves. The darker side is represented by a comment made by an American Christian missionary here in Uganda to my in-laws. He said he works here because “the souls are cheap.” In other words, the per-conversion investment, in dollars, is much less than it is in countries with more robust economies.

I like to believe that most of the people working here for religious reasons are motivated by the first drive rather than the second, and many charities of all religions dispense their services without regard to the faith of the recipient. There are, however, a number of organizations that require recipients to convert or proclaim a certain faith before they will help them.

Excuse me for my bluntness, but that’s just dumb.

Can you Buy Souls?

A recent article makes my point here without even going beyond the title: “Several Christians Hastily Convert to Islam for Clothes.”

A group of Christians has suddenly converted to Islam in order to receive free items donated by a Dubai-based company and the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent.

This comes after Muslim landslide victims from Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda (locally called Baduda) who were relocated by the government to the western Ugandan district of Kiryandongo received items donated by a Dubai-based company called Al Crownfolest and the Red Crescent society of United Arab Emirates.

The donated items, worth over $500,000, and solicited by a Ugandan-based local NGO called Iganga Islamic Development Association were distributed last Thursday. Among the items donated were over 3,000 new pairs of trousers, 1,000 copies of the Islamic holy Koran, 500 T-shirts, 2,000 belts and thousands of skirts. The items included no Bibles.

That’s some good stuff, if your home just got washed away by a landslide and you have nothing left.

[As an aside, notice the Christian bias of the writer. If you read an article about World Vision distributing Bibles, would you ever expect to see a mention of the fact that “the items included no Korans?” It wouldn’t even warrant a mention.]

The article goes on to quote one of the converts, Isaac Kule, who says he “converted to Islam because of two reasons. One, so that I get some of the donated items, and two, because ministry of health encourages us to get circumcised as one of the ways of reducing on the risk of getting infected by HIV-AIDS.”

I have to wonder, though, if it “counts” as a conversion if you are doing it because of the goods you may receive rather than because of the God you may receive.

Who Should God be Mad At?

If I were God, or Allah, or Zoroaster or whoever (and I’m not, by the way), I wouldn’t be mad at the people who converted. I’d be proud of their resourcefulness. The people I’d be pissed at are the people who withheld services from those in need because of their faith.

Again, while this example happens to be Muslims only providing services to Muslims, it could just as easily be a Christian or Jewish aid group doing the same. Is it really just about the numbers? Is it really doing “God’s Work” to add names to a tally sheet regardless of what it took to get them there?

Professing a certain faith shouldn’t be a prerequisite for receiving services, it should be a result of it.

Walk. Then Talk.

Since you asked, here’s what I would like to see. I would like to see missionaries of all faiths live such inspiring lives, rooted in the values taught to them through their Holy Books, that people come to them asking what drives them in life. You shouldn’t have to go out of your way to tell people about your faith – it should be evident in your every action. And if you live this way, you will get far more “real” conversions than any “faith for services” program you might have set up.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala
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Uganda vs. Oregon: Size Does Matter (when you’re talking about population)

As a reference point for how big Uganda is, one frequent comparison is that it is about the same size as the State of Oregon in the U.S. (not that that means anything to anyone outside the United States). Usually I quote this statistic to talk about how amazing the birding is in this country: “Did you know that Uganda, which is only the size of Oregon, has over 1,000 bird species and all of North America only has 810?) or something like that.

However, it came up in a new context recently in a conversation I was having with someone about the population pressures in Uganda. The current population of Uganda is just over 33 million. I tried to picture 33 million people in Oregon, but I had no idea how many people actually do live there, so I had to look it up. It turns out that there are only 3.8 million people in Oregon. That means that Uganda has nearly 10 times as many people living in slightly less space than Oregon, not even factoring in that Uganda’s surface area is about 20% water, which can’t be lived on or farmed. Combine that with the second largest population growth rate in the world and there is a crisis afoot. Now try to imagine 100 million people living in that same space, which is Uganda’s projected population in 2050. Yikes.

This little bit of research made me curious about how these two entities compare on other measures, and here is what I came up with: Continue reading

Posted in Environment, Musings, Society | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Cut a Forest and Put a Man on the Moon

Yesterday a Ugandan man and I were planning an environmental education training for teachers. He was lamenting the poor state of the environment in Uganda and said that he wished Ugandans had the same sense of responsibility towards the environment that Americans have. He said “why can’t we Ugandans see the value of the environment and the forests?”

I pointed out to him that the United States has actually cut down 98% of our original forests, and that we aren’t exactly model citizens from an environmental perspective.

His response was “Yes, but you have something to show for it. We cut down our forests and have nothing – you cut down your forests and put a man on the moon.”

He has a certain point. The rampant resource extraction of the 1800s in the United States made us a very rich country, and until recently that wealth was spread much more evenly across society than it is in many other parts of the world.

So here’s my question to you: Why was the United States able to create national wealth from our resources when Uganda’s resources are just making a few people very rich?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala
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The Silence of Birds

I heard the roar from below, at a distance Loud, like an elephant in the water or a boat being pulled up on shore. Looking for the source, I saw nothing until I saw the cloud Of small birds A … Continue reading

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You Can't Cram for Christmas

I realize that this might seem like the wrong season for this post (and, frankly, a bit off-topic for this blog). But, really, it shouldn’t seem that way. For those of us in the United States, we still have two major holidays between now and Christmas – Halloween in October, and Thanksgiving in November. No matter how early the retailers try to convince us to start our Christmas shopping, it somehow feels like we don’t really need to get prepared until after Thanksgiving.

But Santa’s no chump. He’s not easily suckered. This morning my son woke up singing a Christmas carol – you know, the one about him knowing when you are sleeping, awake, being good, being bad, when you are picking your nose and when you told your boss you were sick so you could go fishing. And then we got talking about THE LIST. And then we got talking about when, exactly, he starts working on that list.
And it came to me. Sh*#!!! I have to start being good now! If Santa knows all these things about us, then presumably he doesn’t wait until after Thanksgiving for his surveillance.

So, let this be a gentle reminder to you – it’s never too early to start being good.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala Continue reading

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I Made it Into Orion Magazine!…Sort of

My favorite source of inspiration, Orion Magazine, has an on-line department called “The Place Where You Live.” I was very excited this morning to get their e-newsletter and notice that my entry on Uganda is one of their featured pieces. Continue reading

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