I ask your patience as I unfold this story of our journey. I’m going to go slowly and while telling you the story about the project and the incredible women we met I’ll be working through some thoughts on my own responsibilities to this world and about my path. I feel a lot of anxiety about writing this down; I’m afraid I won’t be able to express the profound effect this experience had on me. I realize right now that I’m talking about me me me, but that is what happened; we went to Uganda to give, but received so much more than we ever could have imagined. I get so emotional every time I start to think of it. That’s good. I want to continue to feel that emotion and be pushed into action.
In the weeks prior to leaving for Africa, I started to have reoccurring dreams about my need to be giving of myself to the community, whether that be this small community I live in or the world community. Before moving to Utah, I worked in the domestic violence field as a women’s advocate. I’ve done volunteer work regularly since my children were small. That is until I came to Utah. I’ve done very little since being here. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been here for almost 10 years. That is 10 years of selfish, ego driven behavior.
As we left here, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew what the project was, and I’d read a little bit about Uganda and the history, but that was it. I wanted to go as a blank slate. I didn’t want any preconceived notions of what to expect; I wanted to form my own opinions. It was important to me to approach this journey with a wide open mind and heart. Sponge mind. I wanted to soak up everything and experience every single moment and smoke-filled breath to the fullest. I’ll probably show you way more pictures than you want to see, and many of these aren’t really very good from a technical aspect, but they will help me to relate the noise, the smell, the frenetic atmosphere.
After 20 some hours on a plane – I don’t even know how many, nor do I want to know – we arrived in Entebbe late in the evening, around 10:30 I guess. This was the beginning of my losing track of time. We hurried through customs, got our visas, and fetched our two apiece contico boxes full of knitting supplies and hygiene kits from baggage claim. Four of us flew from Salt Lake City; we joined another member, the most adventurous spirit of the group, in Entebbe. We all met Gabriel, our first new friend and intrepid driver, piled into his van with our luggage piled on top and drove on the left hand side of the road, through screaming, careening traffic to Kampala, our first stop.
I have no photos of this first night, only memories of speeding past squiggly neon lights, music, honking cars, people walking everywhere, the acrid air burning my nose and eyes, and our first near-death experience as drunken headlights zoomed toward us on our side of the road, with my sweetheart sitting in the front seat. The look on his face here echoes the same, incredulous “are we really here?” that I was thinking.
In Kampala, we stayed at the Speke hotel. Our room was beautiful with 12 foot ceilings, tile floor, dark wood, the colonial style a stark reminder of the west’s involvement there, and a reminder to me of what I did not want to participate in. But the shower was hot and the water pressure strong to wash off the travel dust; we knew it might be the last hot shower we’d have for a couple weeks. We fell into bed to dream about what the next day might bring.
After breakfast, we piled back in the van and headed south toward Masaka. We began to get a glimpse of the world of contrasts that we had entered. Here in the capital city of Kampala there were tall buildings with storks perched on top, new cars sharing the road with women balancing bananas on their heads.
As we drove away from the city, we changed from paved road to the ubiquitous red soil that would be our companion for the next two weeks. The built landscape changed from high rise buildings to smaller structures, market stands, and shacks.
Before the trip, we probably were in a bit of denial about our relative safety. We absolutely denied any danger when speaking to friends and family. Upon arrival though, it started to sink in just what the political environment was like. The Kenya attack had happened just a short time before we left, and we started receiving emails from the department of state’s Smart Traveler Program telling us of a possible attack planned for Kampala. While reassuring friends and family that we were safely away from the threat, we still contemplated the reality of the situation.
My eyes are still filled with the green expanse of the countryside. The earth is so big in Uganda, the horizon so far away.
Our first day in Masaka we just got settled in, we made our first visit to the hospital and met doctors and nuns. Our real adventure began the next day. I’ll be back on Friday to tell you more.