When I was about 5, I remember my dad’s books. It was the 60’s and one of them stuck out to me:
The Ugly American.
I went to Kenya in my mid 20’s. I was there for humanitarian reasons. When I arrived, I met other Americans who were squabbling over a Kenyan development project. They were bitter because they felt the other team cheated them. They were even taking their matters to the Kenyan courts against each other.
I was saddened and disillusioned by the behavior of my fellow citizens overseas. The organization that brought me to Kenya wanted me to join the fray against their opposition. I opted out. I did not sign up to be another ugly American overseas. I went to Kenya to be an ambassador of good news and to give hope to suffering people. Within a few weeks, my organization had vilified me like I was a rogue and renegade, all because I refused to fight for a wrong cause. I could not, in good conscience, claim to promote good news while acting like bad news.
The leader in Kenya withheld my support funds to force me back to the States. I was up the proverbial creek without a paddle, it seemed. But I knew that I had not gone there for the reasons they wanted me there. So, against all odds, I decide to go independent depending only on God for my support.
I stayed in Kenya for 14 years as an ambassador of good news. My family of 6 was with me.
I remember asking my friend Imbayi Francis, “What do you think of Americans?” He was a humble and shy person but answered with a grin, “Why do they talk through their noses?” That struck me as hilarious, and we guffawed together heartily. Yes, we use many nasal sounds compared to Africans. He continued, “Americans seem like angry people. Why so angry when they have so much?”
His childlike candor struck me like a slap in the face. I knew he was right. I asked Imbayi, “Why are Kenyans so laid back when they seem to have so little?” He paused a moment and said, “We have a proverb that says in Swahili, ‘hasira hasara’ which means in English ‘anger is loss.’ Our proverbs tell a story. The direct translation of hasira hasara is a word picture from Mombasa. There is a fish in the ocean we call ‘hasara.’ It is a proud and angry fish that will attack anything. Though it is a small fish, it will always attack what is bigger even if it’s a fishing boat. It will beat its head against the boat until it brains itself to death. Americans need to know hasira hasara, anger is loss.”
I went to teach in Africa and was taught by Africa.