|Uganda x 2

In the past week I’ve come across two anecdotes centered in Uganda that speak to me in different ways.

First, in the book that accompanies the film 180 South, Yvon shares this anecdote to describe the sub-title of the film—”Conquerors of the Useless.”
I’ll tell you what happened to Doug and me one time when we went to Uganda. I’ve always loved those great nineteenth-century explorer books – you know, Burton and Speke, and Livingston and Stanley – they were always looking for the source of the Nile. They figured the source of the Nile was Lake Victoria, but then Lake Albert drains into Lake Victoria, and then the stream that fills Lake Albert comes out of the Ruwenzori Range, the Mountains of the Moon. Anyway, the highest peak there is Mount Stanley. Doug and I stood on the top of Stanley and took a piss. For a brief moment in time we were the source of the Nile.
That’s useless, right? (p. 218)

In the film Yvon explains that the accomplishments are useless but there is value in the way time in the wilderness changes us. That is, if we are conscious about how we undertake adventure, we will improve at leading well-examined lives. For example, both Yvon and Doug now support environmental organizations (check out 1% and Sin Represas). I share more about this in my Spectrum film review.

Donald Miller tells a very different kind of tale in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In this book, Miller describes his discovery that the characteristics that make a good screenplay or movie also apply to living a good story in real life. Along the way we meet Bob Goff, who later wrote the book Love Does.

In a chapter on inviting others to join life’s parade rather than merely remaining an observer, Miller shares this story of when he planted a tree with Bob in Uganda:

When we were in Uganda, I went with Bob to break ground on a new school he was building. The school board was there, along with the local officials. The principal of the school had bought three trees that Bob, the government official, and the principle would plant to commemorate the breaking of the ground. Bob saw me standing off, taking pictures of the event and walked over and asked if I would plant his tree for him.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It would be great for me to come back to this place and see the tree you planted, to be reminded of you every time I visit.”

I put down my camera and helped dig the hole and set the tree into the ground, covering it to its tiny trunk. And from that moment on, the school was no longer Bob’s school; the better story was no longer Bob’s story. It was my story too. I’d entered into the story with Bob. And it’s a great story about providing an education to children who would otherwise go without. After that I donated funds to Bob’s work in Uganda, and I’m even working to provide a scholarship to a child I met in a prison in Kampala who Bob and his lawyer helped free. I’m telling a better story with Bob.

Nobody gets to watch the parade. (pp. 236-237)

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