Monday, August 12, 2013

Here's to you, Uganda

I remember asking you back, 3 years prior, if you were ready for me.  If you understood the things I was giving up to be with you.  I remember because it's a question that's evolved every day since I first arrived in country.  My naive 23 year old self actually believed that it was you who was going to have to be ready for me, and that it was going to have to require your willingness to work with me as opposed to my ability to adapt.  You must have been smiling on that day.

I've failed so much at so many opportunities to work with you and your people.  Groups were haphazardly formed, clubs started, and projects designed that were broken up, ended from within, and scrapped in as little as hours after they were formed.  Perhaps it was my lack of understanding, or your stubbornness. I associated your lack of effort with criminal levels of indifference, and I'm sure you took my misplaced passion a deep sign of misunderstanding, if not disrespect.  Some days living with you seemed like more of a sentence than an opportunity--another great idea I'd had in college which I realized only too late how silly it would be to actually carry out.  I'm sure your head was shaking, seeing me locked up in my room for the second day straight, coming out only to eat, or, worse, to find more fault in you to better rationalize my idleness.

And yet.  Amidst all of the frustrating spinning of wheels and ridiculous catastrophies of integration which seemed to overwhelm any progress at all, still that word was there.  Progress.  Perhaps more inside of myself than you.  Not at a pace I'll ever be ok with, and only in ways I'd never have planned, but we actually started to figure each other out.  You began to accept me.  Not the smiling, pet name giving, how are you mzungu kind of accepting, but something deeper.  I found myself in a village where people came to my door to learn, instead of just to be seen.  To ask for materials for their own group, instead of for me to do the work and lead a group for them.  Ever so slowly, I stopped talking about how much I felt apart of you, and I somehow started to actually feel it.

When you actually integrate into your community, the best sign of such an achievement is that you no longer have the (previously highly desirable) itch to describe it.  If you ever do describe it, you do so begrudgingly, as you realize every word of description separates you from exactly what you're trying to depict.  Once I realized I was part of Ngora, Uganda, I stopped worrying about what it meant.  I got busier doing things that I might have considered before to be parts of a "nothing" day.  Teas in the village became priority meetings.  Walks became my biggest form of work.  Follow up was my real proof of value, and my truest form of respect.

And just when I was starting to think I'd gotten "there," you'd crash down on me with reality Americans are not used to experiencing.  Or at least I had never experienced.  You showed me an extent of Chaos and Danger which I'd never imagined.  You being so unbothered, or unwilling, or perhaps unable to sand off the edges of life terrifies me, saddens me, and more than anything just confuses me.  There is no reason to it. Explanations simply aren't there.  The next week, or the next day, or even the next hour, you carry on with daily life.  These instances of Chaos and Danger, I had to realize, are in fact your daily life.

You're sure as hell not perfect Uganda.  There are many things I will only be able to respond with a shrug of my shoulders and a turn of my head.  I suppose you could say the same about me.  Ultimately, though, you've taught me to be the man I now am.  Mostly you exposed me, made me realize how proud I am to be who I am, where I've come from, and thankful to those who shaped me.  You made my limitations stick out like a, well, like a white person in a small village in Africa, and you ripped away so many ideas that I used to believe where integral into my own description.  I am stronger than ever because of this, because of you.

Here's to you Uganda, and here's to three years (and a day) of living under you.

--Opolot


P.S. I've got to ask---are you ready for these next three months Uganda?  Do you realize the amount of passion I have, and the amount of energy I'm willing to extend to make my leave be of no effect to the groups, projects, and events I've helped start?  I've developed friendships, been mentored, mentored others, started long-lasting sustainable partnerships, and they are about to be wholly on you.  Let's get to work.