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 can go hiking out my back door.

Yes. I like it. But I don’t know how to feel about it.

A few days ago I heard a story on the radio about child soldiers in eastern Congo. Even after living in Africa for much of the last seven years and thinking about that reality daily, it was a jarring reminder that at this very moment – and every moment – there is a child hiding in a bush trying not to get shot. There is a woman being raped, and a mother losing a child.

It’s not fair that I can just return to my life here and not think about it on a daily basis.

That very evening after listening to the report on the radio, I got an email from a woman who had come on a Uganda trip I led about nine months ago. She has stayed in touch with her host family in the BeadforLife village where we spent time during the trip. They had recently lost their son and grandson who would be just over a year old now.

It’s just not fair.

A couple of weeks after arriving in Colorado, my five year old son and I were walking in the woods together, throwing occasional snowballs at each other. At one point he stopped and asked “Daddy – is this a dream, or is this real?”

I still don’t know how to answer that question.

About Mark D. Jordahl

Mark Jordahl is a writer, trip leader and naturalist who has lived much of the last 7 years in Uganda and currently calls Colorado home.
This entry was posted in Musings, Personal Observations and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Do I Have a Right to be Comfortable?

  1. Margaret says:

    Thought provoking. I think you deserve to be comfortable as do all people in the world. You’re already different from most because you know that it’s a privilege to be comfortable and you’re not taking it for granted, nor do you forget about others who are not. Keep living, stay healthy, work for peace and justice. It will be okay.

  2. Mark D. Jordahl says:

    Thanks for your thoughts here, Margaret. Comfort is a privilege that should be shared across the board, but we are a LONG way from realizing that goal. And you are right – it will be ok. For some of us, at least.

  3. Amelia Nantume says:

    Mark. Have to start off saying that I love your blog. You are one of the few Mzungus’ who I can relate to as you aren’t a religious-America-is-the-best-and-I-am-here-to-make-the-world-live-like-me types. I just returned from a two month sting in Uganda working at an orphanage. I totally understand your feelings. I didn’t have culture shock arriving in UG. It was instead when I came back home. I can’t get UG out of my head. It’s all I talk about. I have even changed majors so as to get a job there. It is really hard to allow myself simple things like hot showers, or movie theatre pop corn. And not to say that UG lives up to the horrible misconception that all of Africa is a slum. I saw people living very wonderful lives there, very “Americanized”, and also very humble lives. Most of the people I met were completely happy with what little they had. But I still can’t help feeling the same as you. Do I really deserve to live in luxury? And that is speaking as a middle-working class American. I just feel so guilty for partaking in the smallest things. All of my discontent with the US has simply been magnified times 1000. Do you know if the longing for UG will ever go away?
    -A mzungu missing her home away from home…

    • Mark D. Jordahl says:

      Thanks, Amelia. I appreciate the kind words.

      First of all, no – the longing won’t go away if my experience is anything to go by. My wife and I visited Uganda for the first time in March of 2004 for three weeks. Even after such a short visit, we were in tears at the airport. Six months later, we were living there for the first time. Then we came back “home” after a year, and felt very unsettled back in our lives in the States until we moved back to Uganda again in 2008 – this time for 2 1/2 years. We did three long trips over there in the years between, which helped.

      It is a blessing to feel a connection to a place on the other side of the world that is so different from our own. It does keep things in perspective. I find the biggest challenge is to take the feelings that could easily become guilt about our lives here, which really doesn’t help anybody, and turn it into a recognition of the opportunities to help that are created by our relative wealth.

      Ironically, if anything, my discontent with the U.S. has become less or, at least, more precise. We really do have a lot going for us that much of the rest of the world doesn’t have and I feel really lucky to be American, even while being very aware of our shortcomings and the messed-up ways we toy with the rest of the world.

      I hope you do find a way to work in Uganda when you finish school. You will find it to be a roller-coaster ride. The longer you are there, you will go through periods of “everything about Uganda is wonderful and everything about the U.S. sucks,” to “everything about Uganda sucks and everything about the U.S. is great,” to “well, every place has its ups and downs, but what am I doing to help solve the downs?”

      Thanks for getting in touch!


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