28 Aug

“I do believe that most men live lives of quiet desperation. For despair, optimism is the only practical solution. Hope is practical. Because eliminate that and it’s pretty scary. Hope at least gives you the option of living.” ~ Harry Nilson

If you had asked me to describe Hope one week ago, I might have described a Little House on the Prairie –style scene; a young girl struggling to find her way through a snowstorm, who suddenly spots the golden glow of a candle in the distance. Hope would be that last bit of energy that keeps the girl going until she makes it to the warmth and welcome of her family home. Once spotted, the metaphorical candle in the storm would grow ever brighter, sharing spiritual warmth even before the source of the physical warmth was reached.

After a week of encounters with corruption, bribery, disrespect, patronising lies and indecipherable political webs, I feel better acquainted with the realities of both the storm and the candle. The storm is more overwhelming than I ever imagined. The candle is smaller and harder to find than expected. In fact, half the time I was quite certain that the candle was a hallucination and that the storm was inescapable.

The AVC team had a few moments in the past week where there was literally nothing left to do but hope. In those moments I became aware of how desperate and deluded Hope feels when there is nothing else to depend on. Hope is the last thing that holds us back from giving up completely and sinking into despair, even when our rational minds know that failure is the most likely outcome. Hope alone is not pleasant and warm and glowing.

Ok, now I’m gonna drop this tired snowstorm-candle-thingy and get to the point: Maybe this week I got a glimpse of what extreme poverty feels like. For a few days I was forced to feel what it’s like when the systems you are meant to trust and rely upon are actually working to exploit you, and you are left with no good choices. Every option costs more than you can afford, and so each decision becomes a pricey gamble. All that’s left is to pick the least-bad option and Hope that it won’t ruin you. But Hope still barely restrains the lingering, inescapable fear that things might never get better and you might be stuck in this place forever.

To rely upon this desperate form of Hope is exhausting and demoralising. It’s not fair that this might be the only kind of hope that some people have ever known.

4 Responses to “Hope”

  1. stoneapeYOW August 29, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Was so glad to hear that you guys finally got out yesterday aft. How’s Abu Dhabi?

  2. Harrison Diamond Pollock September 16, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    Hey Julia – so this was beautifully written of course. But putting that aside for a moment.. 🙂 So you talk about how you got a glimpse of what poverty feels like, and that makes sense to me. What I do find interesting, though, is the specific situation that elicited this feeling of poverty, which is extremely far removed what actual poverty is: you were waiting to board an airplane back to an extremely rich country, waiting for a document which enables you essentially free access to any country in the world, and with the (ok maybe not perfect) support of your country’s government. Each element would be both utterly foreign to most poor people and highly desirable. So while you might have felt you were helpless and had little support behind you, I think it’d be fair to say that wasn’t exactly the case, especially given the likely worst case scenario is that you have to stay in Uganda a few more days. (Not saying you don’t recognize this!)

    So I guess my criticism would be the tendency to make a larger point out of one’s own experiences…and I think basically everyone does this to some extent. But I feel like the JF program may be accentuating it…e.g. you are meant to find “meaning” in most of what you do, have to apply your experiences to broader concepts, etc. And I think it’s important to be extremely cognizant of these sorts of comparisons…I’m imaging an actual poor person reading this, I mean they might very well laugh, no?

    So I’m getting to this: what you felt may have been genuine and perhaps similar to what a poor person might feel…but what caused you to feel that was nothing like what a poor person experiences and I don’t think should actually cause you to feel something similar to what a poor person does. I think the fact that you did feel that way may perhaps be due to that “search” for feeling rather than the actual presence of it.


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