We returned from Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria tired and ready for some amenities. I am utterly embarrassed that I am so dependent on electricity. Standing in our guesthouse room on the island with no electric light, depending on the little rays that filter in through the window, trying to brush my teeth with the thin beam of the morning sun trying to scrape through the small, very smoggy bathroom window, trying to get my shoelaces through the right holes in the dimness, eating breakfast while brushing each piece to see if anything I may not want in my mouth is sticking to it (banana peel, paper, dirt, etc.), I realize that I am simply an electricity addict, or at least a light addict.

It’s not like we didn’t get any electricity at all on Buvuma – we were supposed to get generator power from 7pm to 10 pm every night at the guesthouse. But on Saturday night a week and a half ago, the first night on the island, the guesthouse generator was out for repairs. The manager who runs the guesthouse invited us to use our own generator, the one we use for our presentations during the Institute. You probably can feel where this is going. BAD IDEA, Bob, but what I know about generators I have learned in the last three years, and most of it is still over my head, electrically speaking.

The guesthouse we stayed in on Buvuma Island.

The lights did go on throughout the whole building, and then, as if to tempt fate, so did our little electric iron for a brief moment while I attempted to deal with some packing wrinkles in my Sunday outfit. All of a sudden, total darkness! I found out later that we “blew a seal” on our small generator. Now we had no lights at all and no generator. I learned from this that irons are a no-no electrically speaking, when dealing with generators. Early to bed, early to rise, makes Bob a grumpy guy.  I’ve always considered myself a night person, but I need light to do anything I want to do after the sun goes down, so  maybe I’m just a “light person.”

The next day, Sunday, the manager’s promised repaired generator appeared at the guesthouse. However, it turned out to be an on-and-off sort of affair. Some nights it cut out at 9:15 and did not turn back on. Others it would go off for twenty minutes, then come back on, sometimes two or three times. Most of the time it flickered from bright to dim continuously.

Have I mentioned that we are currently dealing with our American sense of privilege and trying to dump the arrogance that privilege breeds in our attitudes so that we can serve among these people with authenticity? This “spiritual assignment” arises from a series at our church, Mosaic Fort Worth, just before we left for Africa. It sensitized us to the amount of unearned privilege Americans enjoy, and especially American whites. The electricity thing is just one more area that has convicted me about the life I lead back in the States and the amount of privilege I take for granted every day.

Most Ugandans in the cities and towns here live with regular blackouts that last hours at a minimum and occasionally days. In the thousands of villages, shanty towns, agricultural centers, and out on the island, they are not wired at all – no electrical infrastructure. The people live without electric light all the time except for an occasional generator in a shop or bar or solar light panels which give power for brief periods. Living with darkness is normal to this culture.

I confess that we both were relieved to be back where there is infrastructure on the mainland in Bugembe where mostly the lights are on when needed. I struggle between a strong desire to serve this people-group on the island and the totally selfish desire to have access to mere light, the miracle of electricity. Should I care about this as much as my emotional system seems to? I confess also that I can’t even find the right questions to ask myself about this issue, to ponder it and extrapolate some changes in perception or self-perception. That’s how privileged we are! I can’t even come up with ways to deconstruct the vast privilege in which I live or write meaningful questions for this post.

I want to challenge myself to live without light for a while so that I can truly appreciate it for what it is and what it adds to my life when I have it. I want to challenge my current privileged ability – and apparently my deep emotional “need” – to have light always at my fingertips. Our culture even has a virtual plethora of flashlights – to the point where some stores give them away free as marketing campaigns. But such abundance of light is not available in such cheap profusion here in Uganda, and “torches,” as they call them, are even a bit of a luxury, so much so that I don’t see many among the people at night.

These people have made peace with the darkness, just as their ancestors have done for centuries. In contrast, we westerners even live in a historical time of privilege, being a generation that will likely never lack light, even though my own mother remembered living “pre-electric” out on the farm in Idaho as a child.

I think I have a lot to consider…and again, I am humbled by it. I also seem to be in a bit of darkness about how to proceed.

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