I Have Been Blind

Personal Blog Nosh Magazine{Originally Published on Ali’s African Adventures}

To “The Poor” : An apology, for I have been blind.

I have always come to you with my heart full of your suffering. I came with my guilt, all so carefully amassed over the years as I sat at my table and despised the abundance in front of me, knowing that you were going hungry. The eyes of your children, liquid black windows to souls I thought were haunted, haunted my dreams when I saw them from my sleep.

I thought it was right to come with my arms full of things, shirts and stickers and little plastic cups with handles. When I saw your need from across the ocean, my soul was stirred to bring you something to fill the void in your lives. I brought shoes to cover feet accustomed to feeling the warmth of the earth beneath their soles, cartoon character band-aids to cover wounds as deep as time.

I have always seen myself through what I thought were your eyes. I was a ministering angel, there to bless the masses, and your faces and stories swirled and mixed in my mind as I moved among you, touching and greeting and unseeing. If you asked me now to share your stories, I wouldn’t meet your eyes as I searched to call out your names.

What must you have thought? Each of you with your history, your life as real to you as the breath catching in my own throat. I came with my whiteness and I held your hands as you spent your time with me, and then you walked away and I couldn’t remember your mother’s name. I worked beside you to hand out medicines in villages filled with your own people, stood shoulder to shoulder with you as we prayed against the passing of your sisters and brothers. But you have never seen the inside of my house and I have never asked to see yours. We have shared life and death but not our tables.

I have been so blind. I saw you as one. You were “the poor” to me, a myriad of people neatly packaged between a set of quotation marks, bundled together and taken as a whole. Instead of Kukenga and Gift and Greg and Isaac and Nyakamwengo, I saw you all as a shifting crowd of humanity, as one vast story of heartbreak and pain. I have been so blind.

I have not seen your creativity. I walked past your children pushing cunning cars made from milk bottles and coat hangers, and I felt my heart grow heavy when I thought of so many babies living without toys. I have not seen your intelligence. I tucked books back into my bag, shaking my head because you could not read, even as you looked to the sky and told me when the rains were coming. I have not seen your love. I scolded your mamas when they pulled you so roughly by the arm; I was not there to see them do the same as they wrenched you from the path of the rebels, risking their own lives to guard yours. I have been so blind.

Please, when you see me standing next to you with my eyes shut so tight, come to me. Take my hands and pull them from my ears. Sit with me, speak to me in strong words, and tell me your stories. Tell me why you named your child Peace. Tell me why you live outside the village with your lip all twisted and split. Tell me why you spoke those words over your daughter, why you cursed her and why she cries at night, her empty arms reaching for those three babies in the ground.

Tell me over and over and over again until I listen, until I understand. And in ten or twenty or fifty years, when I come back from my wanderings and sit again at your table, ask me your mother’s name.

I will tell you.

Editor’s Note from Samantha at Samanthics: I found Ali Chandra’s blog and must credit pure serendipity. She is a twenty-five year old, New Jersey born and raised pediatric nurse with Mercy Ships (on board the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the M/V Africa Mercy) who writes. This is lucky for the rest of us. When I was twenty-five I was far from a charity worker worlds away from home sweet home. I was a bridezilla, working a catering job, living a pirivileged life while I acknowledged – sometimes – that terrible things happened outside of my own very small world. Ali makes me proud simply to be in the same human race. She knows in a very short amount of time what it has taken me years to (almost) figure out. If blogging were Pandora’s Box (isn’t it?), Ali is what you found after everything (everyone) else has left. Read the original post here. Her Blog, Ali’s African Adventures, is an antedote for apathy.

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