How to make a friend in Uganda. business consultant, NGO worker, former Peace Corps volunteer, activist: searching for sustainable solutions to eradicate extreme poverty

January 29, 2013

to be a friend

Filed under: Uganda — Jeff @ 4:38 pm

Can one really MAKE a friend? I’m beginning to think that is completely impossible. The best I can maybe do is to BE a friend.

I met Victor at a party last spring. We hit it off quickly but I was soon to learn that he had recently lost his business — a partnership in a spa. They just had too little capital and a bad location. As we got to know each other better, sometimes I would see Victor in Kampala. This ka guy has a lot of pride and would rarely talk of his own problems, even as I driveled on and on about mine. He had taken a job as a primary school teacher in the village. The salary was low and the payments stopped completely after just a few months. He didn’t mention it at the time, but sometimes for lack of transport, he would walk several miles across town to meet. Stupidly, I never offered a single shilling for transport. We somehow lost touch until Victor rang me a couple weeks ago to tell me that he was contemplating suicide. As we talked, he asked if he could stay with me in Mbarara. I’m no philanthropist. Hell! I’m not even all that nice, but I did send him the transport and he showed up at my apartment that night. A week later I sent him back to Kampala with four hundred dollars to start a nail business. He seems determined and, after a hellish year, he has the resources to make a new start. Somehow, though, a onetime gift does not make up for the all the times when I could not see the sacrifices he made to simply be in my life.

Yahiya is brilliant. He is manic, thoughtful, and somewhat precocious. I’m not sure when we first met –we’ve been close since we had a ridiculously stupid argument in October. Yet, I do remember the first time I saw him on stage. This guy has unbelievable flow. His lyrics are thoughtful and poignant. I love hearing him spit out a new rap as we are jazzing on my porch. He mimics my speech and my dance. He is a lot of fun. That day I watched him perform for the first time I was sitting in the crowd with another local musician. Two days later, I was calling Yahiya so that this singer could offer him a verse on the remix of a new song. The next time we talked Yahiya was expressively grateful for this somewhat small opportunity. He only asked if I could possibly set him up with another connection. A month later, I was texting Yahiya to let him know that one of the hottest producers in Uganda wants to meet him. No, I’m not starting a career in artist management. I’m simply learning to be a friend.

I’m also beginning to tear down the walls that I hastily erected two and a half years ago to protect me from people I did not know. I’ve decided that being a friend is more than spending time or sharing experiences but it is also needs to be about meeting the spoken or unspoken needs of the ones I care about most.

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