From Nuisance to Nuance


It is late noon on a Sunday. I am with my Ugandan urban host family. My brothers are about to leave for an errand. I remember that I need to read for class on Monday, so I stay back. A few minutes later, my host mother’s voice breaks through the silence. She asks, “Are you alone?” In my mind, I think, such a nuisance! I would appreciate not being distracted right now!

I need to respond, but I cannot do so in the affirmative. In Ugandan culture, alone time is not often understood as it is in American culture. It is not good to be alone. In a mostly communal culture, personal space and alone time are understood as dissatisfaction, sadness, depression, or disengagement. Hence, no one would want a loved one, guest, or visitor to be alone. That flies in the face of Ugandan hospitality. So, I respond by walking out into the hall where she is. In accepting her hospitality, we spend close to an hour looking through her photos library as she tells me stories about each picture. I learn a lot. Afterward, I politely asked to be excused so I can go back and read. She gladly gives me permission.

Another scene: after a few days of poor sleep, I finally get the chance to sleep at night. It begins to rain cats and dogs. The thunderclaps are like a mighty roar. Nobody sleeps through that, but I just want to catch some sleep. Suddenly, I find my host mother knocking on my door. Such nuisance! She has come with a blanket. I already have a blanket! Now my sleep is disrupted! I was trying hard to visit dreamland!

But it crosses my mind that this is an expression of love and care, the quintessential motherly love that can sometimes be annoying, yet mothers portray it anyway. Even if I had five blankets, she would have knocked to give me a sixth. Biological son or not, we are family in her eyes. So, I welcome her in and politely tell her that I am warm enough and thank her for coming through the dark to give me a blanket.

And then monkeys. They are everywhere on campus. Such a nuisance! But I also think of them as God’s creation. They beautify the environment. They can release some stress as you watch them be monkeys.

Lesson: Much of life’s nuisance is much more nuanced than initially meets the eye. It takes a bit of work sometimes to appreciate the nuance. If you are like me, especially during uncomfortable situations, much of what is seen is the nuisance people and events of life are, but if we look carefully, and are patient enough, we can see and appreciate more than we initially think we see or understand. Should this perspective be adopted; I wonder how many misunderstandings would be assuaged. Even further, I wonder how many wars humanity could have prevented. May God help us shift our perspectives from nuisance to nuance.