I often find myself lost in the midst of weeds and I wonder if I’ve drunk the wrong bottle from Alice’s wonderland or if the forest itself is somehow bewitched. I push past the everyday maze of Ugandan English to find its seeds sticking to my socks, continuing to mystify, mortify and edify me with supposed “English words” like “apokado” (avocado). What is the purpose of language if not to communicate? In this forest, words are linked with relationships first, communication second. The same bird sings different songs if you ask your question in public or private, if they think it is to their advantage. If you ask said bird for directions to the sky, but it has no idea what you could possibly mean it will bob agreeably and point you in any direction save up.
I uproot the weed of Ugandan labor laws only to find that it is inextricably connected to one’s understanding of law and how fluid that can be, not to mention the quagmire of being both employer and friend, disciplinarian and confidant. A large tree looms above me, “NGO” by name. Its branches are heavy with vines of audited financials in a place where you correct the accountant that writes them, rogue land and vehicle titles, and penalties for unpaid income taxes even though it’s a nonprofit. I go to water its roots coaxing them toward the freeing spring of income tax exemption only to find that an innumerable amount of the rocks of paperwork and gullies of government officials’ requirements (dare we call it red tape?) block our way. The tree bears flowers of legitimacy and work permits, lifelines that allow us to stay in the country, but require tedious tending with ever changing stipulations. Yesterday we had to wrap the petals in the right color manila folder for a work permit application to be accepted, today we must feed it notarized college transcripts and criminal background checks like some distant relative of the carnivorous fly-catcher.
The light of “should” and “right” falls dappled to the ground changing its illumination with every perspective, every breeze. Law is law wherever you go, but does it change how we abide by it if the law makers themselves put in place regulations they don’t expect to be followed or monitored? Often what seems best and right are the more difficult, arduous path and you’re never quite sure if it is leading you out of the forest or straight into a thicket.
You see, your mind is also muddled after wading through the sludgy swamp of what is required merely to allow us to remain in country in order to spread the gospel. Is it we who can rise above deftly taking a spade to each requirement, singing while we work, or is it a forest that reduces us to Lilliputians lost in its tangle and shifting shade? Today, we pray for height, for loose soil and for the strength of the Spirit who alone can guide us and bless our labors.