Tuesday, August 31, 2010

before we move on...

A lot of people ask about my summer, and I wish I could do it justice, but the truth is, if I had to sum up Africa in a word, even five, I don’t think I could do it. There aren’t words to describe this place, the people there, or my experience this summer, and yet when I think about it, the only way I think I can get it all out is to write it down. Use my words. My heart gets achey just thinking about it. The past few weeks, months have been a literal roller coaster of emotions and relationships and projects and perspectives. I went out there to do development, well at least that’s what I was hired to do. To manage a team of volunteers and facilitate a life changing experience for them and the people we were privileged to serve for four months. But the truth is, I went out there for a lot of reasons. A lot of which are personal, and not all of which are noble. But at the end of the day, they were my reasons and noble or not, they got me out there, and that has to count for something. In fact, it counts for a lot, because regardless of what got me out there in the first place, I went, and now I know why. HELP’s mission is “a life changing experience through service to the poor.” My life has been changed forever. Not all of it has felt good, in fact a lot of it has been painfully difficult, but all of it has been for the best.  I still don’t fully understand all of the reasons why, and I’m ok with that, because I think I will spend the rest of my life finding out. I do know a few of them though, and for now they are more than enough to feel me with overwhelming gratitude and expanded awareness. I am thankful for the lessons I’ve learned, and for the people that have helped me learn them. So that’s why I’m trying to find the words. So I can remember the people, and the lessons, so that I can remember Africa; the distant continent that served as the bridge between my past to just about everything I can imagine for my future.      There's a lot I didn't have time to share, between the hectic days and unreliable internet and power, emails and blogs weren't exactly easy, but at least from time to time I think I'm still going to try and  share things as I remember them. Either way, I started this blog to share experiences from my summer in Africa, and before I moved on I felt like that chapter needed a more poignant conclusion. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

We don't need no stinkin plans.

My apologies to Mr. Bogart for misquoting his all-too-{mis}quotable line. But it just seems like every time I am going through something that almost seems too overwhelming, I meet or talk to someone who is going through the same/not exact thing! It seems too good to be true. Emotions run high, experiences are shared, and in that sharing of mutual experience, I somehow feel better, lighter even.

But what is really enlightening is when I realize that it's not that one kindred spirit that I can relate to and draw meaningful connections with, it's the majority of the human population. And with this realization I feel a little less alone, but a little less unique too. And I find that trade off a little disconcerting. This is the only way I can describe my reaction to this NYT Mag article, shared with me by the lovely Ms. Wirthlin.

So maybe I'm a twenty something, and emerging or not, I'm the last person to ask what's up with us. And while I can resonate with a lot of the issues in this piece from the NY Times, I am naturally prone to push back on even this mean-well attempt to figure "us" out. I think the minute someone does that, they defeat the whole point of "emergence." So no more labels or research, and please no more stages of development. Psych 101 is painful enough as it is.

Leave me to my hushed and hurried conversations over over-priced salads with my favorite friends, where we discover that we're discovering all the same things in completely different ways and still feel the comfort and familiarity of thinking we're the only ones who understand.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

This very white woman's burden.

Aside from the neatly contrasting lines across my feet that reveal my all-terrain sandal of choice, I have no tan to speak of. 
chacos. duh.
My tan was one of the lesser of physical sacrifices made to my appearance this summer, that and my hair that grew out to frightening lengths and was photographed more than once in braids that look startlingly similar to a polygamist. I am indeed a very white woman. And like the gender-neutral man of William Easterly's acclaimed philosophical approach to international development, I am feeling guilty.

How does one gain weight in a third world country where 90% of the population doesn't have enough to eat?!?! I have been asking myself this question since I got home and the answer is simple. Matoke, posho, G'nut and oil. If you don't know what three of those things are, just be grateful. Oh yeah, and no scale or mirror. Regardless of any explanation, I still feel guilty and am determined to neither overeat nor waste food ever again. The End.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

dear diary.

So, I'm 

Sort of.

I feel something akin to someone standing on the edge of a pool and dipping one toe in the water to make sure it's...palatable. The thing is, all of my friends are in there swimming. It's warm, and everyone looks to be having themselves a grand old time. I want to want to dive in head first. Yet for some reason I'm reluctant to jump back in as if by doing so I will wash off all of the memories and experiences I'm wearing on my sleeve. A sleeve which, by the way, is shall we say just a wee bit last season. I feel sheepish that I didn't leave it behind in the mountain of donations given to the branch in Jinja. For some deluded reason I thought it was cute at the time and that I might need something to wear when I got home, but now looking in the mirror on a daily basis (which is an adjustment in and of itself) I am reminded that oversized and horizontally striped polos from DI aren't a good look on anyone. I have yet to unpack my room, and it took me nearly a week to turn my phone back on. Objectively I know that by reconnecting with my "old" life I am by no means neglecting my summer in Uganda. But I guess a part of me is afraid to plug back into the social network and professional pipeline completely and by so doing disconnect from everything Africa. I'm just trying to process exactly what it is that I don't want to lose so that I can be sure not to let it get lost in the shuffle. And I've got a lot of shuffling to do. I need to find a job, grad program, hobby, purpose, SOMETHING. I need a plan, and for the first time in my carefully coordinated life, I don't have one. Which is scary and liberating all at the same time. I can feel overwhelmed by all the options or I can feel free. I can feel dejected by the rejection or grateful that I didn't take the logical next step on the track that never really felt right. Sure I have a lot of decisions to make, but I make decisions everyday, and with time, I will make these big ones too. I'm still not sure what I am going to do with my life, but I probably won't understand that completely until it's over. So for now, for today, I've decided to stop worrying about how I'm going to make sure I don't lose the meaning and lessons I learned this summer, because I'm pretty sure the only way they can truly be lost is if they are wasted on someone who never does anything of value ever again. Not to say this is the direction I'm heading, there is value in catching up on Mad Men, reading Hunger Games and rediscovering dairy in every one of its purest processed forms. I'm just sayin. The only way experience has any real value is if it is parlayed into progress. And the only way I'm going to progress is by simply putting one foot in front of the other. By jumping in.

So I was considering starting a new blog, since I am obviously no longer in Lugazi. But I decided to keep this one. At least for a while. Who knows, maybe when I finally reach some new plateau of personal achievement I will have something worthy of a new blog title. For now I think somehow this will keep me connected to a place where I discovered and rediscovered everything meaningful in life and serve as a reminder to live and work and love with as much passion and commitment as I did this summer.

I think I have officially committed a cardinal sin of the blog world, as I feel this entry is more of a journal entry merely moonlighting as a blog post. I guess there aren't really rules, but I do feel slightly hypocritical as I have done my fair share of blog stocking mocking, but hey, maybe this is my first big jump back into the real world, err, the online world, which ironically is kind of like the new real world. That's deep, which hurts my head. But everyone else IS doing it now. Next stop, twitter. Ok, I'm not really there yet. I am so obviously not an early adopter. So sue me, I crave nostalgia. If you are rolling your eyes at this, it's ok. And if I've made fun of your blog, I'm sorry. That's just bad manners, and karma, ma'bad. Seriously.

So to bring some cohesion to my ramblings, I will leave you with this little nugget, nay pearl, of wisdom from someone far wiser than I.

Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.
                                    --Mahandas Ghandi

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chicks and Chids.

So Ugandans pronounce their "ki" like "ch". Some examples are the popular name "Kizza," or the city "Kigali." Since the national language is English, most people are at least conversant, however there are a few pronunciation issues that don't always translate, like the ki/ch dilemma. Once I knew that Mr. Kizza and Mr. Chizza were in fact the same person, I started to understand and auto-interpret in my head. It wasn't too much of an issue until the chicken coop. I spent an entire conversation trying to determine if Paul was talking about baby chicks or orphans. The "chids" are so excited for the "chicks!" he would say. I would reply with some reference to picking up "chicks" in Kampala, and he would just look at me confused. Chicks! Chicks! Er, baby chickens. Awwwwwww. Now we understood each other. Other than some minor negotiations, the rest of the chicken coop building adventure was a blast.

It was literally the last project I started and the last thing I finished before leaving Uganda, and I was so excited to be able to see it through. The "chicks" are still on order and won't be arriving for another month or so, but they have this little beauty of a coop to come home to. I spent three glorious days out in the village of Buwala hanging out with the "chids" and building and grinding g-nut for dinner and it was pretty much heaven. Part of me was expecting to feel sad when I had to leave, but it was interesting how the only thing I felt was overwhelming satisfaction. This is why I came to Uganda. It is so fulfilling to be able to see tangible results to your work, and we aren't always lucky enough to see the fruits of our labor, so to speak, but in this situation I was able to see the structure as well as the smiles on the faces of 30 beautiful little "chids" that can't wait to raise some baby "chicks" to lay eggs. Hopefully this time next year our little coop will be a regular egg factory.
Sitting on the site of the future chicken coop!

Framing the coop
Cecily leveling the ground in her construction uniform.
Taking a break inside the new coop.
The coop is taking shape!

We've got a window!

Ok, I have to be honest, these guys did most of the work.
Collins didn't want to miss anything.
Neither did they.
I love this one of Rose & Paul.
Arrived at 6 a.m. Finished coop at 4 p.m. Phew.

Friday, August 13, 2010


This IS a story with a happy ending. I'm trying to convince my self of this more than anyone else. But, in any event, this needs to be shared.

Remember Fahad? If not, he's right below this. Last Friday we went back to Rose & Paul's to begin construction on the chicken coop. I was like a kid on Christmas, I was so excited, in spite of the fact that we had to get up at 5 to meet the supply truck and construction workers. We headed off in the dark into the morning mist and through the Mabira forest on our way out to Buwala. I was so excited that things worked out with the coop (we'd faced a few challenges working things out), but I'm not going to lie, I was mostly excited to see my baby Fahad! It had been 2 weeks and I seriously missed the little guy. As we pulled up all of the kids came running out to greet us. All of the kids, except Fahad. He's a toddler, he must just be a little slow. I asked the kids, "Where's Fahad?" Everyone just shrugged their shoulders. One thing I've learned about kids here is they just don't ask questions. As I rounded the corner, I saw Paul with a distressed look on his face. My heart sank and I assumed the worst. "Last time I saw you I forgot to tell you some news. I'm so sorry. Fahad's mother came here last week and picked him up."

What? Unlike the orphans, I do ask questions.

Where is he? Why? Why did you let her take him? I was more than a little distressed. This woman abandoned him. She doesn't deserve him to have him back? Where was she all this time? Can she take care of him?


Then I paused. His mother came for him. She came back for him! Apparently, she wandered through the village searching for her baby until someone directed her to Paul. Initially he was harsh with her and refused to turn him over. She cried and apologized and begged for her baby. She was living with other family in a village 2 hours away and had walked back to Buwala to find her child. Rose intervened at this point, and mother to mother, talked to the woman until they could trust her sincerity in reclaiming the child. She agreed to bring him back if she was unable in anyway to care for him. She also asked if she could bring him back when it was time for school so that he could benefit from the school fees Rose & Paul provide. At this point in the story I was in tears.

Fahad was gone, but he was exactly where he needed to be. With his mother. And what a miracle. I have heard that people who have lost family never stop looking for them even though they know they are gone. Even though Fahad is young, I know he felt the loss of his mother. I know he looked for her face in every stranger that passed by. I can't imagine the joy that must have been felt during that sweet reunion. I am in awe of the parent/child bond and even though she might not be able to put him through school, she will be able to hold him during his formative years. Which is exactly what he needs.

I love Fahad.
I hate that his mother abandoned him.
I love that Rose and Paul cared for him.
I hate that I won't ever see him again.
I love that his mother will.