Author’s note: This post, originally posted around last year’s American Thanksgiving, is not at all intended to be a political statement regarding the recent controversy over refugees (see this article for a Christian point of view on the tension between security and compassion). It’s simply a memo to myself as I look at Thanksgiving any time of year, in light of what I’ve learned from the crazy-fun group of refugees I teach on a weekly basis in Uganda.
Sometimes I’m as much a student of them as they are of me, as they sprawl in their chairs there in the sticky heat or the lazy afternoon sun.
Sometimes when they stand next to me, I have nothing to do but laugh out loud at the picture we must make: me with my German build and American clothing, my skin that best stay out of the sun after fifteen minutes, sky-colored eyes—and them, some even built like ebony marionettes, towering above me at six feet-two or –four, their toothy ivory grins and an arm around my shoulder, their tribal language to a friend resounding like African drums.
And so I think of them this year, even as I look online for the best recipes for our feast with family. Thanksgiving is a bit of a personal journal on the year for me. It seems like a good occasion to contemplate the year stretching behind me: What has God done? How do I remember Him being faithful? What must I be vigilant not to miss?
So my friends who have fled here from all over East Africa have reminded me, just from their own stories, the journal of their own lives. Don’t forget. Count every single one of your blessings.
Count, they would tell me, your ability to speak fluid English—the doors it opens for you, the jobs it gets, the ease it provides you in so many places around the world.
Teacher, count that you have been born in a time of relative peace in your country, not war. That justice is often done when you go to the police or in your courts; that people do not have to take the law into their own hands. Justice in your country also means most of your friends and/or relatives are still living; thriving, even.
And that because of all this, you have received an education—and not just any education. You went to a school that has books and lunch and can make photocopies and has less than thirty students per class!
Count that your basic education means you know basic first aid, means you have a certain degree of reasoning and logic skills. That you have a mass of essential knowledge that, even finding yourself in a place of sudden poverty (the developing-world kind), would not leave you there for long.
You can be thankful, Teacher, that your life expectancy is beyond 49. That in your country, if someone steals, they keep both of their hands.
My friend, count that your home has a floor, that you have a car and know how to drive it, that you have been to a dentist in your lifetime. Remember you can easily find doctors who know what they are doing; the money to pay them and not draw it from something else you need, like your child’s school fees.
Thank God, Teacher, that you got to choose your husband! And he is a good man, with a job, who has never laid an angry hand on you. That you got to choose your job. That you have driven on smooth, safe roads. That you don’t worry much about your children dying; that malaria is no longer in your country, or typhoid, or cholera, or ebola. You have clean water—in your own house, right from your own tap!
You might think these are simple things, Teacher. But to me, they are not. Thank your God for these things on Thursday. They are sweet things, Teacher. So sweet.
 This is life expectancy in the Congo. South Sudan is 54; Somalia is 55.
 See Sharia law.
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