Alright, friends. Stuff is about to get REAL up in here.
I’m going to offer you a choice.
Up until now, there has been no swearing, no blasphemy. Nothing except a few lighthearted jokes at the expense of the Latter Day Saints.
That is about to change, and so if you aren’t comfortable with a journey into some more, well, racy material, it’s been fun, but you probably should not read any further.
Those of you who are curious, if you’re going to read this post I ask you to read until the very end. Because if you’re going in the trenches with me, then you need to read all of what I have to say. If you can’t do that, then step away. Because while the ground we are about to cover is unpleasant and uncomfortable, the point it makes is worth listening to–especially in light of recent political events.
So, the scene shifts, and we find ourselves in a small village in northern Uganda, which for some reason I keep wanting to type as starting with a Y. Yuganda? Is that yuge?
As the boys walk out on to the stage with their bags, the music starts to slow down, fall apart…and finally stop.
The boys look around in horror at the poverty they see.
This is a point of contention in BOM criticism. On the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints website, I saw criticism that not all of Uganda is in terrible poverty. And to their credit, the Mormons have done a lot for Africa.
From the LDS website:
- The World Health Organization estimates that 884 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean water. This is a huge problem in Africa, not only because of water-borne diseases but because kids who spend hours each day walking to and from the nearest well to fill old gasoline cans with water cannot attend school. According to church records, in the past seven years, more than four million Africans in 17 countries have gained access to clean drinking water through Mormon humanitarian efforts to sink or rehabilitate boreholes.
- More than 34,000 physically handicapped African kids now have wheelchairs through the same Mormon-sponsored humanitarian program. To see a legless child whose knuckles have become calloused through walking on his hands lifted into a wheelchair may be the best way to fully understand the liberation this brings.
- Millions of children, meanwhile, have now been vaccinated against killer diseases like measles as the Church has sponsored or assisted with projects in 22 African countries.
- More than 126,000 Africans have had their sight restored or improved through Mormon partnership with African eye care professionals in providing training, equipment and supplies.
- Another 52,000 Africans have been trained to help newborns who otherwise would never take a first breath. Training in neonatal resuscitation has also been a big project for Mormons in Africa.
- Then, of course, there is the tragedy of AIDS. A couple of weeks ago [the author of the post, Michael Otterson] attended a dinner where the Utah AIDS Foundation honored James O. Mason, former US Assistant Secretary of Health. When he was working for the Center for Disease Control in 1984, a project to research the epidemiology and treatment of AIDS was established at the Hospital Mama Yempo in Kinshasha, Zaire. After visiting the hospital and examining the children and adults with AIDS, Mason described the death rate and the associated infections from AIDS as “horrific.” Mason, a Mormon, knows quite a bit about AIDS and a great deal about Africa.
Speaking of AIDS, have you seen Team America? Because if you have, I’m sure you know what’s coming here.
Sorry. I legit cannot help myself sometimes.
Anyway, this post has really gotten off track. So let’s get back to Kevin and Elder Cunningham.
They arrive in Uganda, and are promptly robbed. Their bags are stolen by two guards who work for someone who is referred to as “The General” (keep this in mind, it will be important for later).
Horrified, the Elders run into Mafala, who has shown up to take them to their lodging. With relief, Price and Cunningham ask about contacting the police. Mafala laughs in their faces and says the police are two days away. When questioned about what to do, Mafala says “Oh well, Hasa Diga Eebowai!”
MAFALA: And in this part of Africa, we ALL have a saying–whenever something bad happens, we just throw our hands up to the sky and say HASA DIGA EEBOWAI!
ELDER CUNNINGHAM: Hasa Diga Eebowai?
MAFALA: It’s the only way to get through all of these troubled times. There’s war, famine…byt having a saying makes it all seem better…
As a viewer of the play, I started to feel uneasy.
ELDER CUNNINGHAM: Does it mean no worries for the rest of your days?
MAFALA: Kind of! We’ve had no rain for several days
UGANDANS: Hasa Diga Eebowai!
MAFALA: And eighty percent of us have AIDS!
UGANDANS: Hasa Diga Eebowai!
MAFALA: Many young girls here are circumcised, their clits are cut right off!
UGANDANS: WAY OH!
WOMEN: And so we say up to the sky
UGANDANS: Hasa Diga Eebowai!
Have you figured out what it means yet? I hadn’t. I just know that I was starting to feel squeamish, and I was watching my husband’s face grow more and more amused. He figured it out before I did.
Mafala and the Ugandans get Elder Price and Elder Cunningham to complain about their trip, and they offer a few Hasa Diga Eebowais themselves. Then, our intrepid Elder gets a little suspicious.
ELDER PRICE: Excuse me, what EXACTLY does that phrase mean?
MAFALA: Well, let’s see…”Eebowai” means “God,” and “Hasa Diga” means “F*** you.” So I guess in English it would be, “F*** you, God!”
UGANDANS: Hasa Diga Eebowai!
My jaw dropped. I was horrified. Elder Price was horrified. People sitting around me were either laughing or staring in disbelief, and there was no in-between.
I was uncomfortable, but I wasn’t really sure what to do.
Elder Price, on the other hand, took charge. He explained to Elder Cunningham what the words meant and admonished him to not say them. Then he confronts Mafala.
ELDER PRICE: Sir, you really should not be saying that. Things aren’t always as bad as they seem.
Mafala proceeds to explain that actually, they are. There’s a man in the village named Matumbo who is trying to rape babies because some people in his tribe believed that having sex with a virgin was a cure for AIDS. There aren’t many virgins left.
Mafala then introduces the teacher, the doctor, and the butcher of the town, all of whom have AIDS. We also meet his daughter Nabalungi, who does not have AIDS, but Mafala warns them that if either of them laid a hand on her, “I will give you my AIDS!”
And then the Ugandans sing a line that made the whole song fall into place for me, and it has stuck with me ever since I saw BOM:
UGANDANS: If you don’t like what we say, try living here a couple days. Watch all your friends and family die. Hasa Diga Eebowai!
And that got me off my high horse. Because you know what? I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone to AIDS. I don’t know what it’s like to live in Aleppo right now. I don’t know what it’s like to have part of my sex organs cut off because someone thought that was a good idea.
I don’t know.
Yes, I don’t like what they’re saying. But I understand it. There is so much evil in the world, especially now. It’s hard to see the good. It’s hard to see God. When your basic needs aren’t being met, when you live in fear of being raped or mutilated, when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, how can you see any good?
That was an epiphany for me. That moment right there made me commit to doing more to help my fellow man. That’s why I am so disgusted with the people right now who want to take away things that help people live. That help people survive.
If you do not like what we say, try living here a couple days.
Here’s the song at the bottom of the page. Don’t listen with your kids around. But I beseech you to consider this: How the heck are we supposed to help the people in this world see God when they are suffering so completely?
Can we please stop trying to punish people, and instead help them? Isn’t that what God says we’re supposed to do?
Or is it too important to be right? Is it too important to be smug and condescending toward people who aren’t like you? Is it too important to you to insult others who are struggling because you feel superior?
Again: If you do not like what we say, try living here a couple days.
That line haunts me. It haunts me for every judgment I have passed on people who are less fortunate than I am. I will never get it out of my head. I think of it every time I want to be judgmental of someone.
Perhaps this post is making you roll your eyes, and judge me. Call me a libtard. Or a snowflake. Which, sheesh, I’m not even that liberal, but for some reason, thinking that all men and women are created equal, are created in the image and likeness of God is enough to have people on the internet insult me and threaten me. But because I am haunted by that song, I will continue to do my best for my fellow humans. And I ask you to look into the depths of your heart and examine your own prejudices. Are you helping others? I hope you are.