I think I believed I would “find myself” in Uganda. I mean I traveled here as part of a post-grad fellowship and to work- truly- but I believed self-discovery would be an inevitable byproduct. How could it not? I was being thrown so far from my comfort zone. I was leaving everything familiar and venturing into the unknown for nine months. I was going to “Africa”. I was going to make my mark and make a difference. Without even intending to, I had quickly established an elaborate checklist of goals and plans.
But, you see, traveling puts you at odds with yourself, makes you realize- in your grand pursuit of self-fulfillment-how insignificant the “self” is. You quickly lose your pride. The expectations you inevitably created are inevitably destroyed. You fail. You become optimistic, then cynical, then optimistic. You realize you know so very little. You break down. Again and again and again.
And yet, it’s through this humility-this destruction of the “self”- that the world reveals its pure magnificence. Because you become aware that you are part of something more beautiful than anything you alone desire. Something grand and unfiltered and distinctly human that bares itself in the most transient of moments:
Dancing with 1000 children in Ddegeya (even if they are 100% better at dancing than you). Drinking a cold beer and watching the sun dip behind matoke fields. Feeling uncomfortable as you try and fit next to twenty five passengers in a fourteen-person taxi. Feeling confident as you flag down said taxi and haggle the driver for a lower fare. Making your first chipati. Disemboweling a chicken. Feeling small in the presence of a giraffe. Killing a terrifying bug (or rather having Matt kill a terrifying bug for you). Bargaining in the local language. Learning how to “properly” wash clothes by hand.
Watching a child’s eyes as she describes her dream. Watching an adult’s eyes as he continues to dream. Watching your brothers as they teach their new friends how to play cards. Watching 10 episodes of your favorite tv series in a single day.
Reading to fifty eager children. Singing “the hills are alive” in a very hilly place. Meeting a Ugandan pop star. Giving a hungry child a heaping plate of food. Realizing you resonate most with your sassy, two-year old neighbors.
Falling on the stoop next to your house for the third day in a row. Wearing the same shirt for the fourth day in a row. Entering the wrong data into the EMR system for the fifth day in a row.
Hugging a mother who has just lost her child. Doubting your most fundamental beliefs. Trusting instead in undercooked meat and unmade plans.
Observing the daily persistence and determination of your coworkers. Seeing a project take hold. Hearing your name change from “mzungu” to “Brianna” to your Ugandan name, “namukwaya.”
Embracing some of your best friends as you gather your belongings and get into your car. As you prepare to leave a place you, for a time, got to call a home.
I believe it’s these fleeting moments-these universal sensations that etch themselves in your memory and your memory alone- that make it all so staggering..
So thank you Union, Engeye and Uganda, for your many moments. For deep joy amidst deep pain. For relationships. For some knowledge and more questions. For a renewed sense of wonder and gratitude. For contentment in uncertainty.
For forcing me to lose myself so that I could become a part of something greater.
I’ll miss this country and its people more than words can say.
….On that note, bring on the Ben and Jerrys and Chipotle. I’m coming home. ✌🏻️