After a 7 hour bus ride, plus an initial two hours of waiting for the bus to actually get off, and including an unexpected bus change (I saw the driver holding a part to the bus in his hand...) in Mbale, I stepped off into Kumi Town. After receiving a ride (no, PC, it was NOT a boda-boda ride), 30 minutes time placed me in Ngora district, near their "shops." These refer to about 4 dukas, or open buildings that can be used for either modest housing or extremely limited markets. Traveling about 3/4 of a mile...which at this point it feels much more comfortable to say 1km...up a dirt road, I had reached my site.
I'm in a Catholic Diocese, affectionately called "the mission" to everyone in town. It is known to be the main site of the parish, and thus these two names are also quite often synonomous with each other. I rolled up to a nun sitting on the veranda of the Fathers living quarters, drinking ajon (local brew beer) from a 4.5 foot straw and a plastic pitcher beneath her. After she escorted me inside and went "back to the straw" as they call it, I sat in the dark (the light had gone off in town) waiting for the Father to come out. Before he did, the cutest. baby. you've. ever. seen. walked into the room, silently. She came over to me, put up her hands...and before i knew it, and without her even making a sound besides a slight groan when i greeted her in Ateso, she was asleep in my lap. Never had such a good welcome.
Eventually, the lights would come back on, shedding light on both my surroundings and my situation and responsibility for the next 2 years of my life. The HCII (the lowest level of actual possible facilities in Uganda) in the diocese is in need of some serious work...almost as much as the house that is supposed to be my home. I'll get to that later. The health center is run by a staff of 8, and the Father told me that the majority of the 33,000 people in the district, catholic or not, consider it their only source of healthcare. There are also 3 schools within a stones throw of the church, from primary to high (5-20). The convent is just behind the church, which is just beside the father's quarters. My "house," is about 20 steps behind where the Father sleeps.
So my house. It's 3 rooms, not including a small bathroom area where water is (apparently) going to be put in for a shower and running toilet. I have used probably 2 running toilets in Uganda, up to this point, as a point of reference. The rooms are all quite small, big enough for a bed in one, a desk in another, and a stove and possible guest hammock/bed in the other. The main problem with the house is pretty evident when you first look at it: there is no roof. As in, when it rains...yeah, my floor is what stops it's fall. No problem, they say. A couple of weeks, the ensure. I'm guessing about 6-8 months.
I'm staying in the guest room, located inside of the Father's house, until that time comes. Oddly enough, in large part because of how welcoming and honest Father Robert is, this doesn't actually make me to apprehensive to the whole idea. I have a nice, single room, with a double bed, my own bathroom. More than that, I have a home. Even though it's not my own house, yet, when I walked in, part of my stress and weight of being in Uganda was most definitely lifted. I could live there; I can exist and find success and sustain myself in that amount of space without much more than minor inconveniences in the day. An incredible feeling, to be honest, to be assured that there is a home for you to make your nest in. After 10 weeks of living out of a bag, with the constant reminder of the percentage of people who quit before swearing in, then the even higher percentage after the first 3 months...it's nice to finally feel like things are being put in their place. And yeah, fine, it's nice to know that i'll be able to drink at my site. The Father keeps a fridge stocked full of Bell, and the ajon is something i've already grown quite accustomed to, even in the first two days.
Walking into the church on friday, for morning mass, there wasn't a single eye that wasn't on me. For many of these people, it's the first time they've ever even seen white skin. At the end of mass, with a previous warning the night before, the Father called me up to the front to say a few words. Haha never will I ever be a rock star, and never will I be able to get up in front of thousands of people and amaze them with a skill that will keep them entertained for hours...but for the 5 minutes that I was speaking in front of the 300 people or so inside the church, that's exactly who I was. Every five words that I would speak in Ateso, they felt compelled to stop me, beat on their drums, and scream at the top of their lungs in excitement. It was pretty sweet, and I'm not going to pretend that I didn't like it, a lot.
My group and I have become extremely close, as the end draws on our community atmosphere inside the country. In a matter of days, we will all be 1-15 hours away, and I didn't expect to be so nervous about it. It's not so much that I will feel lonely, but more just that I want to somehow find the time to make sure that I stay connected with all of the amazing people that I've come to know so well, in so little time. Within the larger group, there is definitely a smaller group of friends that I've connected with more, and I'm excited that I am so confident that we will remain in touch.
So. C/o Matthew Boddie, (Father Robert Ecog), St. Anthony's Catholic Diocese P.O Box 50 Ngora District, Uganda. Packages are welcomeeeeeeeeee. Always report there to be less than 25 dollars of value, and don't be afraid to emphasize the religious nature of the destination on the package to reduce a person's temptation to steal. "air mail" in all different languages also helps.
Thanks to all those that have responded to me in emails. I haven't emailed all of you back yet, and I promise that I'll get on that...but don't stop sending emails! It's really nice to have rememberences of home everytime I get on the internet.