This was the opportunity I had been looking for. I had gotten to know Juuko our bus driver well enough to ask some questions about what his dreams were. This was something I was excited to write about. I had seen the Dubai dream and wanted to see the Ugandan Dream. I wasn’t sure what Juuko’s dream would be but I was convinced that it would be really profound and meaningful and make me think that us Americans are really screwed up and selfish as a whole. I had a blog post already outlined in my head about the Ugandan Dream, and it looked something like the John Lennon song Imagine without the “no hell below us and above only sky” line.
“Juuko, what is your dream? Like not the things you have at night, but the thing that you want, the thing that you’re trying to attain.”
“Ehhhhh yes yes dreams. I know about dreams, Vince” he replied in his thick Ugandan accent.
He then went on to tell me about how he wants to become a real estate agent, because real estate agents have been doing really well there lately and there was this one guy he read about who went from rags to riches by selling real estate and now his face is on a billboard in Kampala. He went on about how he could make his house bigger for his family and send them to better schools and go to the beach with them more often.
This wasn’t really the answer I was looking for. It sounded a lot like the American dream and not very much like a John Lennon song.
I was talking with my friend Felix on the trip and asked him what struck him the most about the people over there. He said that the thing that surprised him the most was how people aren’t very different wherever you go. Cultures are different and place emphases on different things but people stay mostly the same. What is it that we all have in common? Donald Miller, in Searching For God Knows What writes
Humans, as a species, are constantly, and in every way, comparing themselves to one another which, given the brief nature of their existence, seems an oddity and, for that matter, a waste. Neverless, this is the driving influence behind every human’s social development, their emotional health and sense of joy, and, sadly, their greatest tragedies. It is as though something that helped them function and live well has gone missing, and they are pining for that missing thing in all sorts of odd methods, none of which are working. The greater tragedy is that very few understand they have the disease. This seems strange as well because it is obvious. To be sure, it is killing them, and yet sustaining their social and economic systems. They are an entirely beautiful people with a terrible problem.
This is what drives dreams. What is special about Juuko and Uganda isn’t that they have avoided the comparison game. Juuko still wants more money and a bigger house than the people next to him. What is special is that they place less emphasis on the game. Juuko wants to be a real estate agent, but right now he drives a bus. Substitute Juuko for an American named Jimmy with the same dreams. Jimmy is either going to do everything he can to become a real estate agent and let that completely consume his life or dismiss that goal as impossible and be unhappy with where he is. Juuko, on the other hand, lives differently.
Every day at the worksite, Juuko worked alongside us as we shoveled dirt and rock and cement. I found out at dinner with him that night that he wasn’t getting paid for that work. He told me that he worked because “it is good to bless children.” But it wasn’t so much that he worked that struck me; it was how he worked. This dude was a machine. He did twice the work we would do in a day, and he did it all with a huge smile on his face, laughing with children and joking with us mzungus. One day he got a malaria attack, an all too common thing in Uganda, and worked right through it.
We are never going to stop comparing ourselves to others. It’s engrained in our nature. It’s a coping mechanism after we fell out of a perfect relationship with God. But we can, like Juuko, place less emphasis on it. And we can, like Juuko, place more emphasis on living and serving and loving with joy.
Juuko and I