Ahh yes, I have arrived. I am safe, healthy and for sure traveling on my own. Those words feel good coming out of my fingers.
I came into the Entebbe airport a week and a half ago. Struggling to stay awake, I went to see a movie with the other volunteers. I saw blood diamond. If you have seen it, then you might realize that seeing it was a strange way to enter an African country, especially when you have jet lag so badly that you are half asleep during the movie. Those first few days/hours/I have no idea how much time passed were a blur. Glad that’s over.
I think it was last Sunday that I first met with the director of the organization I work for. His name Travis, but everyone calls him the Chairman. He is a super friendly, welcoming, hospitable, typical Ugandan. We got along instantly. He told me a little about MACRO (Mukono Aids Control and Recovery Organization.) It’s an NGO that employs the youth to address some of Uganda's problems. They have many projects going on, but the main thing that they do is send groups to villages to live with the people for a few days and talk to them about their issues, inform them about health and hygiene and teach them income-generating craft skills like bead making. They recently received a computer for video editing and were very lost on what to do with it. When they found that I know something about the editing world, they were so excited. So along with going to the villages, I am also putting together their editing studio. This is all in the beginning stages, so I have no idea where it’s going to go. While I was there, I met some of the other counselors including Emma, the boy. Apparently, Emma is a boys name here (short for Emmanuel.)Emma is beyond excited that he has a name sake. He announces it every time I enter the room. Anywho, last Tuesday, I packed a bag of a few meager items including pepto bismual into my back pack and headed to the office to MACRO office to catch transport to the village. Heavy with bead-making supplies, a white board and all the water we needed for the week we set off for the village. Suddenly, I found myself packed four to a seat in a Matatoo (taxi van) with three other Ugandan counselors. We were flying down the country roads of Uganda off to some village by Lake Victoria. I would be the only Muzungu (whitey) for miles. To me, this was the exactly where I wanted to be. Finally, I was on my own. I felt that so strongly as I looked out the window at the red soil spread underfoot of all these incredibly beautiful black faces. After a few transfers and a ride on a boata boata (motorcycle for hire, common transport) we arrived on the shores of Lake Victoria. The village of Khigya would be my home for the next few days.
I set my stuff down in a brick hut and stepped back out into the scorching heat. Children slowly began to peer around corners, smiling curiously at this white stranger in their home. Within minutes, I had two little girls on my lap. Their giggles averted my attention from their dirty and torn clothing. We made our way down to the field where many of the villagers were lounging about chatting about fishing. This was all translated to me because they speak Luganda. After sitting down, I was promptly asked to marry five or so men surrounding me. Laughing it off, I informed them that I was not available and neither was my sister (I'm here for you Alexis!) We rolled bead after bead, just like I watched Tori do over Christmas break. I was served a meal of rice and fish and then as night fell we sat by the lake a watched the lights of the fishing boats on the lake. All very exciting eh?
It gets a little more interesting. This village has no running water or electricity or latrines. Making our way through the dark by the light of my headlamp we found our hut again. Sharing two mattresses on the floor I snuggled up to my new Ugandan friends. Fortunately, I am an expert when it comes to dealing with new and uncomfortable sleeping situations. This night would prove to be the biggest challenge yet. Turning off my Ipod (yeah, weird to have it there, but my saving grace) I threw my mosquito net over my body since I had no where to hang it from; a pointless attempt at protecting myself from bites but I felt safer anyway. Then, I heard the rats. What could I do? I laughed and fell asleep. Twice in the night, I had rats crawl on my face....yes...on my face. I threw the first one and then scrambled for the light. It was no where to be found. Realizing that it was probably for the best since I really didn't want to see the cockroaches surrounding me I fell back asleep. I woke up the next day with two choices: run for the airport and try to forget that night or love every second of it and forget about ever feeling comfortable in Africa. I went with the later choice of course. This is the kind of stuff I live for. I spent the next few days in the village, loving and learning about Ugandan culture. I ate fish from a dirty dirty lake, I played with kids and I danced with the women of the village while they sang for me.
I made a disturbing discovery. While chomping on my first piece of sugar cane I was informed that almost everyone in this village of a few hundred people was infected with HIV. My heart seized up. This was my first real exposure to the virus. I looked back and watched as a woman made her way to the garden with her baby tied to her back and a bundle of sticks on her head. I was devastated. I retreated to my hut feeling helpless. I cried and cried until I remembered why I was here. I'm not here to save anyone. I can't. I can only share the experience of being alive with them. I picked myself up and stepped back outside to play with the children. A sense of knowing rested within me. Pain and suffering is all around me, I can let it eat away at me and not get anywhere or I can leave this place feeling like I have experienced a part of life that most Americans are unexposed to. The swollen bellies of the malnourished children didn't get any less painful to see, but instead of blocking the feeling of pain, I embraced it.
A few days later, I made my way out of the village on the back of a truck on top of a pile of sand looking up at the stars and listening to STS9. I felt so alive and ready to take on anything. I spent the last few days in the house and around the local towns reflecting on the past weeks effects on my body and soul. I am very alone and loving the time I have to really look into what Africa is doing to me. My red stained feet are resting up for the next week in a new village and I am sure that after ten and a half more weeks of this, Uganda will be part of me forever.
I send all my love to you.
Until next week,
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