Sunday, July 1, 2012

Foreigner in a Strange Land

 Walking into Entebbe airport and immediately trying to find the nearest restroom to prevent 1)throwing up everywhere and 2) pooping in my newly machine washed boxers, I couldn’t help but think it an appropriate “welcome back” from Uganda. 

My trip back to America was very many things.  Here’s a couple of the more prominent feelings I gathered from it.

Inspired.  Seeing my brother get married to the perfect woman for him was extremely touching to everyone that was able to see it.  It becomes easy to define success, when you see such happiness between two people.  My brother has always been someone I’ve looked up to, and getting to see him in such a rare mode of outward exuberance was something I won’t soon forget.

Proud.  So proud of the country where I come from.  America is great because of the people which reside in it; people are emotional, honest, and most of all, proud of themselves and where they are from.  Not just locally, but also as a whole.  Immediately I found the mindset of self-reliance and independence, and more so  a knowledge and empowerment from the two ideas that a) no one is going to help me succeed in this world and b) I wouldn’t want them to anyway, because I can do it myself.  What an amazing way to live; I no longer take that mentality for granted.  Come to Uganda and you’ll know what I’m talking about---and you’ll be upset as I am that it’s not here.

Nostalgic.  Obviously, right?  America is a pretty cool place, and seeing a couple of my old stomping grounds was pretty tough on my “Can’t wait to get back to Uganda” mindset.  It was a bit strange being in Chapel Hill for as long as I was.  It seemed to cycle between being the place I knew and loved, a place that seemed familiar, and a place as foreign as Amsterdam every 5 minutes.  I still haven’t figured out if I loved liked or hated my time there. 

Healthy.  Getting to eat calzones and burgers and proteins and greens and ranch and bleu cheese and mayonnaise and ice cream and donuts…man it felt good.  Surprisingly, my body loved every minute of it.  I never had any food-related illnesses my entire trip, which is pretty crazy considering the change in diet.  It wasn’t all about deficiencies from a foreign land, though; my whimsical nature in walking 2 or 3 kilometers in Downtown New York with all my bags let me know Uganda has trained me well.

No question, I did feel a bit strange on my first days in New York.  The number of cars was staggering.  The fact that everyone veers to the right while walking, instead of the left, caused many sidewalk collisions on my behalf.  The amount of options for ANYTHING was absurd.  The amount of beautiful people was also staggering (and a little intimidating).  In the first hour I saw more exposed knees than I had in my entire two years in Uganda.  I quickly realized that picking your nose in public is not common practice, nor acceptable when you are mid-conversation.  This doesn’t mean I was able to stop doing it…but I did realize I was breaking norms.  Clothes that people wear actually WERE a declaration, either big or small, of whom they were.  People either did not smell, or smelled amazing.  Staring is apparently considered rude.  Rolly suitcases makes sense.  Public transport is FAST.  No one greets before getting down to what they want---they just ask for what they want.  Doing otherwise, confusingly, actually upsets the other person.  People are happy to help but not to sacrifice.  Privacy is paramount.  So many cars. From the first day to the last, I could not handle a grocery store.  I became anxious, got lost, was constantly overwhelmed.  I eventually just gave up.

Thanks so much to those who took me in, showed me around, bought me a drink, or gave me a call.  It is an incredibly warm feeling to know that I had so many amazing friends in different places all throughout America.  It is easy to forget when you are on the other side.  

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