|This corner is like the eye of a needle through which hundreds of stories of war, torture, rape, disappearances, suffering and even happiness have looked back at me.|
Kampala, 8 January 2016 - For more than one year, I have worked for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Kampala, Uganda. I have observed multiple realities faced by refugees and tried to comprehend the many gazes of thoseI work with –sometimes those gazes are sweet and kind, other times bitter and inquiring. I have come to the conclusion, however, that these gazes do not bring one single reality or single story, but rather they bring complex layers of reality. Their stories have reminded me that what we see is not always what is real.
To look at, to lean into these infinite realities, demands practice, courage and most importantly, humility. It requires that we reconsider how we look at the world and to start truly seeing for the first time. To deeply look into these eyes can be risky, and too often it is painful. We may find something we never wanted to see or could not see. What do we see and what do we want to see when we look at Africa?
Polish reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski once wrote: "The continent (of Africa) is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say 'Africa'. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist."
There are multiple 'Africas' contained in an endless number of cultures, countries, languages and people. There are as many 'Africas' as there are gazes. In reality, our world is a cluster of millions of gazes. Yet, with every gaze, we take in the whole world. Too many times, however, we don't see things exactly as they are but as we are. And therefore, my experience in this part of the continent is –inevitable and- imperfectly limited. This is only the experience from a particular perspective in an exact place, and for a specific moment.
This is my gaze from eastern Africa, one of the world's most ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse regions.
This is my gaze from Uganda, located in the heart of Africa, rich with lakes, savannahs, and sprawling, evergreen landscapes crossed by the river Nile, where nature paints its own aquarelles.
This is my glance from Kampala, a modern, vibrant city in never ending motion, always full of colours and dialects from every corner of the world, a vivid collide of people coming and going, where sun rarely delights us with a sunset.
This is my glance from Nsambya, my humble neighbourhood for more than one year, a home with no pavement, away from the luxurious downtown - a hub for Congolese refugees, largely neglected by the local authorities.
This is my glance from my small Jesuit Refugee Service office which I have decorated with maps of the Great Lakes region, friends' pictures and a Palestinian flag which daily reminds me why I am here. This corner is like the eye of a needle through which hundreds of stories of war, torture, rape, disappearances, suffering and even happiness have looked back at me.
This is, once again, my limited gaze, located in specific time and space, and the consequence of crossing dozens of different gazes: from the African woman – "dressed in your colour that is life, in your form that is beauty" as the Senegalese poet Senghor wrote- who represents thousands of other women; from the African girls who tie their hair in dozens of braids as if they wanted to contain in them the meaning of our existence; from the African wisdoms who absorb their century-old traditions and the elderly who are living encyclopaedias of knowledge, traditions and stories; and from the African teens who aspire, hope, dream, who sometimes seem to never stop and sometimes just simply await. Each of these people contain in the timeless immensity of their eyes, every corner of the world, every question and every answer, all that exists, has existed and will ever exist, seen from all perspectives, from all gazes.
Beatriz Arnal, JRS Kampala Emergency Coordinator