My train of logical thinking was finally jolted from its tracks last night, sending it jouncing and jangling down the rutted roads of Gulu…all because of watching men play board games. This morning, I found it resting in a grassy field near a village. After a few more creaks and pops, and a final exhaling hiss, it sat quiet. Today I see that what I took for the locomotive of right thinking a few months ago now sits motionless in a kind of Eden.
At a mid-week priesthood activity night, six men showed up. They took a table and chairs outside and started playing board games. I came out from another meeting midway through their games, so I watched. That is when my train left the tracks. Watching them, I realized that these six men, with daily struggles I cannot fully grasp, were delighted to just play together.
When we came to Uganda in January, we expected to learn how the people found happiness even in the midst of misery. But now I see that they are closer delight than misery. Let me replay some of their animated banter from the chess game (sitting on the wall).
Wow! Nice move. But you just watch, I’m going to get you.
You think so? I am the master of this game. You don’t have a chance!
There! See? You cannot stand up against me.
Awwwww. You came from behind. Nice play. But look at this…
Move to the board game (in the foreground):
I am winning! I am king! Nobody can stop me now.
You talk too much. You will be humbled. Just wait.
Wow, I can’t believe I always roll a 1 or a 2.
Here I come, you cocky man. No more peace for you…
Aha! See? I told you I was the king, (jumps from his chair doing huge fist pumps into the air and dancing around the table). I am the king! I showed you. I am the king!
As I observed these men, it seemed that they had not a care in the world. They were completely joyful in living and exhaled love from their core. They might not have eaten that day, and perhaps had no means of eating today, but they completely loved life and took the greatest pleasure in the moment.
I tried to imagine our Elder’s Quorum at home having such a night as these men were having. I tried to picture the Quorum President doing fist pumps and running around the table in triumph. It would not conjure.
As all of this settled in my mind for the very first time, I saw that we at home are the ones whose life paradigm is messed up and not the native Ugandans. They have it more right than we do. They are not just enduring their hardships, but finding joy in them. They live so simply. None owns a car. Very few own a motorbike. Virtually none own a home. Many grub in their village garden to eat. There is less cash here than in the days of the Great Depression. And yet…they are happier and more balanced and grateful than we are in the states.
As Kennedy offered the closing prayer, he included these phrases:
We’re so thankful for the gift of life.
We pray that we will live to see the sun tomorrow.
Some may have thought it very strange to see me turn away from the games with tears in my eyes. I found myself envious of them. I wanted to live in a round mud hut with a grass roof and a few chickens and goats in the yard. I wanted to sweat to earn a few shillings for posho and beans, and to play board games like it was the Super Bowl.
I know I’ve said many times how much happier these people are than we Americans. But last night was the first time I really saw why. I used to think they were in some kind of denial, or were ignorant of how good life could be if they only knew. But suddenly it all made sense. They have none of the numbing clutter we have to mess up their perspective. They are not driven by a hunger for stuff. They are completely happy being with one another and celebrating life and thanking God for a new sunrise. And I want to be just like them.
When the time comes for us to return home, I believe we will experience a kind of mourning for the loss of this simple, beautiful way of living. It will not be easy to return to all the noise and competition and trinkets found in the good life back in the USA.