Three days from now, the 4th of May 2012, marks the one year commemoration of that one time, in George, South Africa, when I was hit by a car while jogging. I bet you’re dying to know how I’ve progressed throughout the year, but let’s get one thing straight first: this post, although recompensing for a 7-month void in activity, will be devoid of any and all theatrical recapitulations, morals learned along the way, and themes that hint at the “end of an era.” This post simply serves as a potential, natural conclusion to Renee on Ugandan Time, because this post, unlike any that can follow, will actually take me back to Uganda, a place in which I should not think to find myself again for quite some time.
Two and a half weeks ago I was on a plane from Chicago O’Hare International Airport en route to Entebbe, Uganda. My 25th birthday passed in a haze of faux-darkness-induced slumber, an 8-hour time change and a 2-hour layover in Istanbul: we left on April 13 and arrived on April 15. I didn’t mind, though, birthdays aren’t my bag. A most unlikely companion sat next to me, the very person who disdained my willful persistence in joining Peace Corps, employing every tactic imaginable to inhibit my departure (I won’t tarnish her benevolence, but picture my pack and a baseball bat): my mother. But I was thrilled to have her with me as a travel buddy. This was the opportunity to show her the country I grew to concurrently love and hate so intensely!
And show her I did. She experienced Entebbe with its botanical garden rife with vervet monkeys; Kampala with its traffic, humidity, only Baha’i Temple on the continent of Africa, crumbling infrastructure, swarms of people, and foods hailing from the Middle East, Asia and Africa; the Southwest with its hills, crater lakes, cool breeze and face-upturning sunshine, fertile earth, exquisite fruits, slackened pace, and familiar faces and names of people and places that I’ve recounted dozens of stories of over the past 24 months; Queen Elizabeth National Park with its lions and grazers, muddy warthogs and herds of elephants, the Kazinga Channel demarcating Lake George from Lake Edward, the Equator, beautiful four-star lodges, alarming safari vehicles and pleasant boat rides; Fort Portal with its air of a bygone prime; and Jinja with a serenely beautiful sunset over the Source of the Nile and African drumming late at night to conjure up fantasies of tribalism and bush warfare. She met Peace Corps friends on their way to further adventures across the globe, kind Ugandan strangers, my students and fellow teachers at St. Thomas Secondary School, the villagers of Bururuma, many of whom, one year forgotten, are still family to me, and dozens of other people that made America appear small and far away, an island nation inhabited by a minute subset of the population. I’d like to think she learned a few things along the way, but I’ll leave that testament to her.
As for me, I learned a buttload (Fools! Your thought you were free from any educational musings on my part, but I suppose you can’t escape a good finale…). I realized that I had been unhealthily idealizing Uganda for the past year. I was ripped from my home and work with no notice or hope of return, unable to say goodbye, missing out on final projects and kids’ growth, forcing my dear boyfriend to clean up my mess and wander the same dusty roads without me. I existed in a fantasy state; I needed desperately to return to Uganda, if only for 10 days, to say the goodbyes that I never got the chance to say.
Yet I worried that “hello” and “goodbye” would be difficult to undertake within such a short period of time. But, luckily, Ugandans live quite transiently. Immediately upon disembarking from the plane, greeted by Arwen’s frantic jumping and Brennan’s curly blonde mop poorly hidden behind a dais, it felt more akin to a two-week absence than a 12-month expanse. The feeling continued throughout the trip. Sure, some things have changed. Three of my closest friends/teachers have welcomed little bundles: Enid with 4-month-old Alicia (Keys), Winnie with 1-month-old Cleverly (hilariously sounds like Clifford when said with a Ugandan accent), and Sanyu expecting in 5 months (she married Robert, the father and the man who so kindly buzzed my head so many months ago, this past weekend!). St. Thomas Secondary School has 250 additional students whom I know nothing about, as well as 2 new buildings and a new gate (gates are such an important part of Ugandan schools; I suppose because they not only keep out the riffraff but serve as the first glimpse of the potential within). But old and new welcomed my mom and me wholeheartedly. We received beautiful crafts, two trees planted in our honor, and numerous foodstuffs; we gave candy, presents, 60 new boys’ and girls’ soccer jerseys and our tears of happiness. It was comforting to witness everyone’s health, happiness and determination, and even more so to learn that I wasn’t forgotten.
I definitely will not be forgetting anytime soon. But I am finally capable and content with moving on (literally, I’m off to spend a few months in California soon), and in California I’ll be writing more about Uganda. I suppose that means that I will actually not be moving on... This definitely is not the last you’ve heard from me, so if you thought this was my conclusion, you were wrong! I fooled you again!
But thanks for reading.