‘Handwashing’ in Uganda

At the beginning of this trip I told my dad how excited I was to work in Uganda. My excitement of being in a new African country could not be contained. I am originally from Nigeria and it’s really all that I know. When I go home to Nigeria, I stay with family, I visit their homes, and I eat absurd amounts of Nigerian food (no joke, I allocate at least 10lbs to be gained every time I go back to Nigeria).

But my experiences in Uganda have been different. I traveled; I got to see the beauty of the country and all of the booming natural and tourist sites it had to offer. Be it the waterfalls of Sipi Falls , the game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the turbulent waters of Murchison “Top of the falls (quite literally named), or the booming city of Kampala. It’s all beautiful. After the prison project where we worked directly with inmates on their cases, I spoke to my dad again. I took the time necessary to digest all that I saw at the prisons we visited, the stories that I heard, and the impact we made in just one week. As I relayed the details of prison week to my dad, he broke in and said “it’s like handwashing.” I paused, tried to interpret the comparison, wondered whether it was an African proverb, but eventually asked for a translation. He explained, “I say it’s like handwashing because as you- the right hand- clasps Uganda- the left hand, you wash one another…clean of impurities, you simultaneously do work in one another and with one another. No one in this handwashing relationship is left out. No one is left unchanged or absent from the process. The left hand washes the right hand, and the right hand washes the left hand. Handwashing. You my dear, are handwashing.”

I listened on the other end of the phone and realized that my dad had so perfectly described the work that I had been doing in Uganda and the way the work made me feel. I was changing. Uganda was changing me, and I in turn (through the important work we were doing, was changing Uganda). I loved this analogy because in one simple phrase, it described the type of work that I want to dedicate my life to. For me, this was the point of life. We were all called to be “hand washers.”

This reminded me of prison week. Before the launch of plea bargaining in every prison we visited, the Principle Judge would speak. He would explain plea bargaining to the inmates and all who would listen. At some point in his speech he would relay the message that “no one is perfect. We are all sinners, capable of doing things we never would imagine.” He would continue that “because no one is perfect, if we do something wrong and we know ourselves to be guilty and admit our guilt, we will be forgiven.” This was such a simple but powerful message because it reminded us of the importance of humility and the importance of one another’s humanity. As the Principle Judge spoke, directing his message to the inmates, I realized that it also applied to us. All of the students, lawyers, prison guards, judicial members, etc. this message applied to all of us.

We are all called to be hand washers. We are all called to do good work on this earth, not only to help others but also to become better people in the process. We all have a duty to leave this earth better than we found it. As we fulfill this duty, we ourselves begin to change. We will no longer be ignorant of the harsh realities we live in or the injustice people all around us suffer. We will be part of the solution, we will wash hands… and in turn… be washed.

So in the words of the Principle Justice I say “God bless you… and bless me to.”

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