This is generally the case here in Uganda. Sometimes I don’t disclose my specific religious preference; rather I say I have a very personal faith which I practice alone. I often disclose, quite truthfully, that I believe faith is a very personal thing and does not need to be flaunted. These statements sometimes are met with curiosity, but most of the time I get a nod of approval and am left alone, for the most part.
When I moved to my site, I encountered a similar scenario. A staff member asked me to participate in the Seventh Day Adventist church services on the nursing school campus (which occur six days a week at 8:00 am and 8:00 pm). Initially I gave my standard reply and was met with the same nod of approval. Now, as you have read, I have recently been asked to speak regularly at the church services. At first I was very hesitant, but now I see it as a door to potentially create groups within the nursing school for things I am interested in, such as a meditation group, a peer-mentor group, etc. After putting a great deal of thought into it, I decided to concede to the pastor’s request and agreed to speak once a week to the students.
Before the students broke off for the winter holidays, I agreed to give my second “sermon” (which you all know about, and it went quite well). Before this sermon, I had a conversation with one of the staff members about why the nursing school made it a requirement for students to attend church services daily (it should be known that in Uganda, individuals often practice one of a number of different sects of Christianity, along with Islam and Hinduism, though Hinduism seems to be the minority). The staff member suggested it was a way to control the students and keep them in line (okay, he didn’t say it in these exact terms, he actually said something along the lines of practicing religion and being religious helps the student maintain good behavior and keeps them well balanced). I suggested maybe it would lead them to be closed off to different ideas of faith. The staff member rebutted with the fact that students slept through lectures which were required when it rained. I didn’t understand what this had to do with requiring attendance at church services, but I suggested this would happen either way, as it often does in the U.S. The staff member then rebutted with the idea that students in the U.S. have no discipline and can end up being wild (again, I am exaggerating, he said there was a lack of self-control in youth in the U.S., but that’s not so far off from my analysis, right?). The conversation pretty much ended there as another staff member somehow interrupted the “debate”, asking for help looking for a microphone. I didn’t get to really finish the conversation, but I thought it was interesting. I’d like to hear more of the staff member’s views on religion and how it affects the individual’s behavior.
On a completely different note, I hope everyone had a very happy holiday season. I hope Christmas was nice and full of family and I hope New Year’s proves to bring a renewed vigor! I spent some time with other volunteers from my training group and it was interesting to see the dynamic of the group after not being together for a couple months. It was interesting to see how everyone would come together and what we would talk about, which always seems to center around gossip. This is somehow understandable though, seeing as everyone will want to know what has been going on with people they may not have seen or talked to in quite a while. The holidays have proved to be pretty relaxing, which was nice compared to the high activity level of Thanksgiving. While it would have been nice to do something big, it was also really nice to be able to relax and just catch up with friends I haven’t seen in some time.