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Are we Dragons?


It’s 4:00am

Doctor, please come now”

I sleep poorly on a bamboo mat in our most remote health center Pwunu Dyang. The rain starts pounding on the roof, and soon also on my conscience.

Midwife Scovia has fear in her eyes and since I know how tough she is, her fear soon becomes mine too. To cut a long story short, Lucy* is in labour. She had 4 previous cesarian section operations to remove babies from her womb, so there’s no way Scovia can safely deliver her baby in the health center. If Lucy doesn’t get an operation in the next few hours, her womb might rip open and kill her and the baby.

Except that the hospital which performs the operation is 4 hours away

And the road is close to impassable, even on a motorcycle

And the rain pours

And its 4:00am

But we can overcome these challenges. Scovia’s husband had hired a motorbike for a couple of days, and is willing to brave the rain and the road to take Lucy to a halfway point, where she can catch a NGO ambulance the final two hours to the hospital. You might scream “how can a woman in labour with scars on her uterus travel two hours on the back of a motorbike on terrible road?” To which I can offer only an insufficient answer.

Because she must

But one challenge remains – Lucy has no money. And the motorbike transport needs money, as does the ambulance driver. She needs about 20 US dollars in total, not a huge amount even here but still money Lucy doesn’t have. But this time everything might just be OK, because the rich white man is here.

This dragon who hoarded his wealth, is about to flick one of his thousand gold coins towards a suffering mother who might then survive the day. Should this dragon feel good about that? Am I somehow a good person because I “helped” someone with 20 dollars?



Loads of money in this world

There is in fact loads of money in this world, more than enough to go around. The per capita GDP on this humble earth is US$11,000 a year for every woman, man and child, more than enough for us all to live very well. There’s more than enough money in this world to transport this woman to hospital today and every day.



We are dragons

A lot of us are dragons of various sizes, hoarding our wealth as we build our personal or family empire. Us dragons pour our money into bigger and bigger dragons dens (houses), bank accounts with many zeros and the kind of lifestyle the other half of the world can only dream of.

Most of us are rich, perhaps richer than we realise. If you own assets worth more than just $90,000, you hoard more gold than 90% of humans. If you have just $4000 of assets to your name, you are richer than half the people on the earth. I’m not saying this to evoke guilt, only to bring us to the realisation that yes, you and I might just both be dragons.



How did I become a dragon?

Well most of it was probably chance. There may have been sound decisions and hard work along the way, but your path to a healthy hoard was largely decided even before you were born. You won the lottery, congratulations! Two lotteries define the lions share of how rich we will become.

Lottery 1: Your birth country. I spun New Zealand and straight up won the lottery. Your birth country usually has the biggest effect on how much money you will be able to earn and save. A minimum wage earner in New Zealand might not feel lucky because they will understandably compare themselves to their richer neighbours. But by age 40 or 50, many minimum wage earners in New Zealand will find themselves in the top 10% of the world’s richest people.

Lottery 2: Your parent’s wealth. Even here in Uganda, if you are born to the tiny percentage who are rich, you will have a decent chance to amass a healthy hoard. While Uganda isn’t rich enough to provide your children with the ingredients for financial success, the good education and healthcare your children need can be bought.

Lottery 3, 4, 5 etc.. Your race, gender, orientation, neural make up and countless other dice were also rolled before you were born that might affect your potential to stash cash in this harsh world.



So how can we shed our scales?

Realise you are a dragon. This may be the hardest step of all. It’s tempting and easy to tell ourselves and others that we are in fact one of the financial strugglers, usually by comparing ourselves to an even richer dragon. I’m afraid there’s always someone richer, unless you are Jeff Bezos!

Disperse your hoard. Whether through personal connections or high impact charities, it might be time to start dispersing your hoard, giving money to people or organisations that are transforming lives. I want to personally thank a growing group of insanely generous churches, partners and friends who have given away huge portions of their stash, often thousands of dollars at a time towards launching health centers like Pwunu Dyang through OneDay Health

Shift our future focus away from stashing gold and towards making a better world. We are so blinded by all our dragon friends with their huge hoards, we feel the need to keep up with the Jones’s by making our hoard bigger and bigger and BIGGER. When we realise we have more than enough to thrive, we can choose to change our life’s trajectory. Whether it’s through choosing a job which makes the world better, volunteering for charity or our struggling neighours, or even earning money for the purpose of giving it away, we can shed our scales or at least become better dragons.

And while the committed, talented, skilled and grossly underpaid Scovia rushed around to orchestrate the saving of Lucy’s life, I put my head in my useless hands and cried. I cried at my own iniquity, I raged at the unequal, unfair and unnecessary state of this precious earth, but in the end I allowed myself more than a sliver of hope. Despite all my own issues, I trust that Jesus has the power to transform us and peel off our scales, no matter how painful that might be.

Aslan peels of the scales of Eustace -
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been… and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…”

* Lucy is not her real name
* Conservative estimates of over 7 billion dollars spent by Bezos and Musk on their space race would have been enough to buy enough to vaccinate the 1.4 billion Africans twice.

2 thoughts on “Are we Dragons?

  1. Highly relevant, Nick. Last Sunday’s gospel was about Jesus’s encounter with the idealistic, likeable man whose wealth stood in the way of his becoming a disciple of Jesus. The thoughts you have are inescapable in Africa.

  2. Thank you, Nick. Your surely were inspired to use that dragon imagery, while also quoting concrete statistics. Yes, it is salutary for us Westerners to be reminded of how wealthy we all are. May we followers of Christ, each respond by considering what we can go without that others might have the resources and opportunities we have always enjoyed.

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