I had an interesting conversation with a stranger this afternoon. This was during my grocery shopping for the weekend. Here is the conversation;
Stranger: Hi (a bright smile that exposes a beautiful set of teeth flashes across her face)
Me: Hi, how are you doing? (I respond with my best smile-of course)
Stranger: Am fine. Can I invite you to church?
Me: What kind of church is it, is it multinational or multicultural?
Stranger: No, it is an African church. The pastor is African and the congregation is all African-black Africans.
Me: Thank you for the invite although I may not come to your church.
Stranger: (Gives me a surprised look). Why? You are an African!
Me: Yes, I am very African. If you give me a moment to pack and pay for my grocery, am happy to explain why.
A few minutes later, the stranger is all ears.
As a little girl growing up in the beautiful, green and hilly Western Uganda, I wanted to know what lies yonder. I was often tempted to sneak out into dark and discover for myself. When I came to Kampala a few years later, my dream was to visit other parts of Uganda. In high school, the scope of my dream broadened; I wanted to visit other African countries and the western world that I studied about in my history and geography classes.
By university, six years after high school, I hadn’t visited any African country leave alone most districts of Uganda. My travels were limited to Gulu-our home village and Kampala. Occasionally, i visited Entebbe, Jinja or Mpigi because my siblings studied in those districts. My family could not afford the luxury of travel, we did however have all the basic needs and education. Mum always said that with education my siblings and I could have what she couldn’t give us, boy was she right!
It was while I was at university that I made two resolutions, resolutions that have shaped my view of the world; to make friends or talk to strangers, especially people who don’t come from where I came from, hear their stories and read books about places I didn’t know.
After university, I got an opportunity to work in Kenya. I later travelled to Tanzania, South Africa, Swaziland, Egypt, Ethiopia, United Kingdom, Norway, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and I have visited various districts in Uganda. Next year, am going to Rome for a friend’s wedding. She is from Venezuela.
While in the UK, I made a decision never to belong to an African Church. I felt I knew the African way of life, way of worship, food, music and culture or I could easily access whatever I needed even though there were slight differences in the food and culture from country to country. If I stuck to African Churches and only hang out with Africans, my view and experiences would be limited to Africa. By this time, I had also became aware of racism and my own cognitive biases, which I resolved to face head on. What a better way to face them than to engage with people who are different from me or who come from places I have never been to?
Last December, I relocated to Dubai after six years in the UK. I have met people from various countries. I have heard beautiful stories from Australia, Rwanda, Macedonia, Kazakstan, Lebanon, Syria, Nigeria, India, Belgium, Brunei, China, Germany among others. Listening to stories from these countries makes me realize how beautiful places, people and their cultures are. Even though I may never visit some of these places, by listening to their stories, I feel like I have been to their world and lived their life.
Along the way, I have become very adaptable. Am more aware of my biases and as I meet people who are different from me and whose opinions are different from mine, I am facing my biases. I believe that as we strive to thrive in a global village, we have no choice but to adapt, to put ourselves out there, to experience life that lies yonder. For this reason, my sister, I don’t belong to an African church and I won’t as long as am not in Africa. Some times I do visit African churches though, I have African friends, I sometimes eat African food and dance to African music.
Stranger: (Long pause) very interesting story. So do you belong to any church here in Dubai?
Me: Yes, I do. Would you like to visit sometime? I go ahead and tell her where the church is located.
Stranger: Yes, I would like to.
Me: I introduce myself. Ask her her name. I also ask her for the location of her church and promise to visit. We exchange contacts, agree to meet up for coffee and bid each other good-bye.