This past weekend marked the 10th Annual Nile River Festival, hosted by Kayak the Nile at our very own Nile River Explorer’s Backpackers Camp. Ugandans and expats from all corners of Uganda converged on Bujagali Falls for four days to watch the region’s best and most intrepid paddlers barrel down crater-sized rapids and floor the sun-baked audience with their ability to traverse some of the world’s most treacherous waters. Much like other extreme sport cultures (think snowboarding, surfing, skateboarding) these paddlers generally spend all day honing their skills, and all night partying. The festival provided the biggest and craziest stomping grounds for such a lifestyle that East Africa has to offer.
As with any of the aforementioned extreme sports, a certain degree of ‘meatheadery’ tends to come with the territory. The final night of the festival, I stood along the bar at NRE chatting with a British aid worker who teaches in Kampala. We sipped our Nile Special lagers and amused ourselves by commenting on the crowd around us, making up stories about what their lives entailed. This was an easy use of time when we were targeting the heavyset screaming South African bros pounding funnels of beer and vomiting on the ground in front of us. Or the scores of women dressed in attire that would keep the village outside the camp’s gate talking for weeks if they were privy to witnessing the scene.
I guess it was her soft British accent that made the commentary seem jovial enough to be harmless. However, the music soon became a bit more danceable and I was quick to join the bros and the scantily clad on the dance floor for a bit of groovin’ and shakin’…when I realized how much more fun it is to be letting loose than to critique people for doing so. This behavior should of course be enjoyed in moderation, but the turn of events made me ponder the discourse that has inundated our lives lately: conversations of race, of color, of culture, of gender, of religion, of sexual identity and orientation. These categories we fabricate to generate a divide of “us” and “them.” These othering ‘isms consistently plague our societies and build walls between us where mutual understanding and compassion become increasingly difficult for the average human mind to fully embrace.
I pride myself on being able to fully be myself in this community I live in. I am really weird, I dance while I eat, I call every woman in the village “maama,” and I hug EVERYONE. The openness and lack of judgment with which I have been met is incredibly inspiring to me. Then again, the term mzungu still abounds, regardless of whether it is wed to any connotations about foreigners or white persons. While I do not necessarily feel judged here, I feel that judgment exists everywhere I look. It’s no fun to be on the receiving end of it, and it’s no fun to be on the delivering end of it either. It’s just quite interesting how quick we as human beings are to engage in the practice.
So tomorrow I’m going to wake up and I’m going to try going an entire day without judging anyone. I will operate solely from a place of compassion, understanding, cooperation, and acceptance (not to be confused with tolerance, a word which has no place left in our world – we shouldn’t have to “tolerate” anyone for any reason, we should accept). I think it will be more difficult than I think…update to come.