Tonight we invited a Ugandan inside for tea. I think my husband was won over when the smiling black man with teeth as white as snow told him that in Uganda Steve would be worth a lot of cows. That is the benefit of having many daughters in the African republic. Steve liked to think of himself as a rich cow-owner sitting by his straw hut by the African savannah. The Ugandan was selling books to raise money for his education. He is studying to become an electric engineer.
He was surprised by our friendliness. I was surprised that he was surprised. We only offered him some tea and bought a book. It wasn’t such a big deal was it? Apparently it was. He had experienced many more closed doors than open ones during his time in Norway. “I guess they are allowed to be suspicious of me,” he reasoned while he smiled and looked at us. “I am black.”
Some days ago a new report was released about the beggars in Norway. There are lots of beggars here from Eastern Europe. Most of them come from Romania. Our government has on more than one occasion tried to make begging illegal. They even suggested to make helping beggars illegal. One argument one often hears is that these beggars are not real beggars. They are owned by smugglers. They are dishonest and lazy. The report revealed what some of us had thought all along: None of the beggars were working for criminal gangs, smugglers or traffickers. They were simply poor people trying to make a living. They also told horrible stories of how they are being treated by the people passing them. Not with friendliness for sure.
In Burma (Myanmar, as I am trying to start calling it) people are marching in the streets demanding that the rest of the world stop telling them that they are responsible for the Rohingya people. They are asking, with the government’s help, that the whole people group be removed. All means are seemingly allowed. Murder, starvation, withholding of medical aid, drowning.
We are appalled by the stories we hear.
As I have been contemplating these stories today I have realized that we are all very similar. What the Burmese people are doing to the Rohingya is so terrible that words cannot describe it. But if we look at the root cause of all the violence and the hatred, I believe we find suspicion and fear. People act with hate and malice towards people when they don’t know who they are. They act with violence and injustice towards people they think are of less value than themselves. They act this way towards them because they don’t really know them, and they believe that these people cannot be trusted. This is why the Rohingya are hated and killed. But this is also why our new Ugandan friend is not welcome in many of the houses he goes to. Not only is he not invited inside, but he is asked to get lost. And the beggars on the street? Are they rejected, spat at and told to go back where they come from because people know them intimately? Not at all. The opposite is true. People DON’T know them, and therefore they are suspicious of them and assume the worst.
Suspicion is an attitude that has grown from insecurity and fear. There is the fear of something different, like a man with black skin and a strange accent, like a poor woman looking at you pleadingly, or a people group who follows a different religion, and has darker skin.
In my simple mind, the answer to the problem is easy. People need to get to know each other.
The Norwegians need to invite people with different skin colors home for tea and a talk. People from Uganda have great stories to tell. We all need to stop looking at beggars as parasites, but as people just like us. Politicians should be required to have dinner with a beggar at least a few times a year. So should some other people I know. And in Myanmar (Burma) the population needs to be encouraged to get to know the Rohingya, and to have dinner with them. World peace, I believe, can be obtained by more people eating dinner together.