Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Best of Us & the Power of Social Networking

Years and years ago (although somehow it was really only 23 months ago) I moved to Northern Uganda for a short stretch of time. Before moving there, I read lots of books about Northern Uganda. Many books were Good Books. One of the books was wonderful. Somehow I dug through my busy schedule and found time to write an inane two-sentence review on

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Very informative.
I bought this book (and many others) before moving to Kitgum for four months. This was my favorite; I found this book to be interesting, informative, and unbiased.

Brilliant, right? (Ha.)

Andbutso. A few weeks later, I got a Facebook friend request from a woman, C. She wrote that she looked up my name from that tiny little blurb of a review. She wanted to ask about Northern Uganda. She’d heard about Kitgum on the news or from Invisible Children or something. Who accepts friend requests from strangers on Facebook? Not me! Andbutso for some reason – somewho, somewhy, somewhat – that day I was in a good mood. I accepted. C and I chatted a bit. Not in depth. But I did like her. From then on, sometimes C would write little comments on my Facebook wall. I would write little comments on hers. Why not? Friendships are funny. You should cultivate them wherever they spring up. C is a single mom of two lovely, beautiful boys in a southern US State. I clicked “Like” on the cutest of the photos of her kids. C looked at my photos. Sometimes she would write slightly religious comments beneath them. I’m not a believer, but if somebody looks at a photo of a sunset or a rainbow and says “Praise God” – well, hey, who can’t appreciate that sentiment?

(Story thread jump.  Now I’ve traveled to Congo. I’m living in the East.)

If you have read this web log from the beginning, you’ll be familiar with A, who was my very first friend in Goma. He’s one of those geniuses of language and intercultural competencies. He’s a very young man – just 23, 24 years old. His English, which he learned in a Goma high school, is amazingly strong. When I first arrived, his ability to empathize with me was incredible, despite his never having traveled and my initial complete cluelessness. We hung out. He helped me a lot. We became Facebook friends. A is very religious. He’s very confident and self-assured in his belief. (I’ve seen another colleague take the piss out of him for praying and A has laughed along, never flinching, joyous and fervent in his faith.) Sometimes, if on Facebook I posted a particularly lovely photo of the green-blue-purple waters of the lake, A would write something religious beneath it.

(Story threads merge.)

One day both C and A wrote something vaguely religious on a photo I posted. Sitting in my bedroom next to Lake Kivu in Goma, I clicked the Facebook webpage open and read the comments, and (with my atheist feelings of faux-superiority) rolled my eyes. I thought to myself “Gosh, they should just befriend each other.” I didn’t say anything. But I didn’t have to. They apparently had the same idea.

C and A became Facebook friends. They wrote on each other’s walls. They commented on each other’s photos and links. They asked each other questions about their respective, and very different, lives, and their respective, and very strong, belief systems. They became friends on Skype. They talked every day. One day I walked into the office while they were talking aloud to each other and I heard C’s pretty, lilting voice for the first time. A talked to C’s young boys on Skype. He told them a bit about life in Goma. C learned several phrases in Swahili and talked to A’s brothers and sisters. This is nothing romantic – this is pure friendship. Mutual curiosity, reciprocated respect, shared support: The loveliest things in the world.

They talked about their desires. A talked about how he wanted to go back to his studies. C suggested he come to college in the States. What an opportunity! That’s the dream. C helped him research schools. A filled out applications. C offered a spare bedroom. A wrote her name on sponsorship forms. They chatted. They prayed. They hoped. A got accepted into school, which wasn’t a surprise, but then there was the visa process. Standing on the porch outside of our office, I took photos of A for the US government. He made me take what seemed like hundreds until he was satisfied. And then – just a few weeks ago – as I was back here in the States deep in reverse-culture-shock doldrums, A got accepted for a visa. Bada bing, bada boom. And now all of a sudden he’s in this country, too, living in C’s spare bedroom – meeting her family – meeting his new church community -- buying pens and notebooks – preparing for school.

Life is, our lives are, so funny. Sometimes people are just so wonderful you could die. What I typed above – it’s not a story. It’s a chapter. What happens now? Brilliant A, young A, has never been out of Eastern Congo before, except once, to go to Rwanda, and now he is in University in a southern US State (with all that THAT entails). Lovely C, warm, open C has just welcomed a new brother into her family – why? Why has she done that? Why would someone do that?

With the evidence I have been given, what follows is my best guess as to the “why”:

Because that is what the best human beings do. They befriend and love, and then they support, the rest of us. The best of us, the top people, don’t give assistance out of pity for their neighbors. The best of us don’t write checks to charity because some organization has mugged their emotions with photographs of naked children, flies on their eyelids.

The best of us give assistance because they respect the rest of us. They believe in our abilities. They recognize that we are all tied to each other – there is simply no Me without You – we are joined, we are one, we are in this together.

Oh gosh – the hi-jinx that will result for A and C over the next year. The intercultural miscommunications. Oh! the adventures. Oh! everything that is yet to come. The good that is yet to be born and the crimes that are not yet committed. The future – that wonderful, terrible, joyous, limitless stretch. The beauty, the death, the life, and the love and love and love and love and love and


Penelope said...

What a lovely post, and what an amazing story. Thanks for sharing.

Monique said...

this is really beautiful. this is what i think real solidarity looks like. thanks for sharing.

ds said...

I'm kind of a jaded and cynical person after all of these years working in the aid industry.

But this story brought tears to my eyes. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for the reminder of the good around us, even when we are trying not to see it :)

Meg said...

Such a great story. Thanks for sharing it with all of us. Good luck on your big move!

nasreen said...


i came across this blog post through a friend's reference, and i loved it :) a wonderful reminder that the unexpected is still possible through the good of the human heart...and if i may say so, with help from above :)

best of luck with your endeavours...

jblp said...

Great post RayRay. Love it. Keep up the writing. I love your voice.

Rachel said...

:) :) :) Thanks everyone!!!

Aaron Ausland said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing. Came by to read after a friend tweeted your post. Hope you don't mind a comment from a stranger.

Some people just have the capacity to embrace people far outside of what we'd consider a normal circle of empathy. Last year I was giving a talk on Global Citizenship and I talked about this being an important aspect, the ability to push out and expand our circle of empathy to encompass the whole of humanity present and any rate, reading your post just now I realized for the first time that this definition of a global citizen doesn't require any special global travel or knowledge - just curiosity, a natural care, a capacity to embrace and love without regard to differences that would stump most folks. Your sweet C and brave A may very well be model global citizens.

jen said...

not to be cliche (or to be completely cliche)

Praise be to God.