Sadly, my grant has ended. I'm extremely thankful CVI allowed me to stay an extra month, but even that has finished and I'm back in America heading to grad school in a few weeks.
Ten months ago, on the day I left for Uganda I ran this road to say goodbye to my home in NH. Today, nearly a year later, I traveled it again. The road had changed and so had I. The road was freshly paved, the overhanging branches were cleared, the grass on the side was nicely mowed, and the dead leaves and branches had been removed. I had changed physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. This time, with an infected foot and having had typhoid two weeks ago, I biked the road because I was too lame and weak to run. I possessed a deeper, stronger faith in God. I could trust that He would guide me when I was lost, provide help when I was hopeless, and open doors for plans that were better than my dreams. After living in a village for 10 months with no electricity, limited food options, but wonderful people, I was overwhelmed by the American lifestyle. My mind and heart were disturbed as I biked past large houses with beautifully mowed lawns and two cars in the garage. I was surprised when a Mercedes whizzed past me and when a large fluffy dog barked at me. It was strange that I only passed one other person not in a vehicle. Where were the pickups overloaded with people riding in back? Where were the scrawny, short-haired dogs and the cows and chickens crossing the road? Where were all the people walking, biking, and riding bodas and dressed in bright colors, carrying objects on their heads, and greeting everyone who passed? Why was everyone secluded inside their houses rather than outside talking, cooking, and playing with their neighbors? My mind was very confused. Emotionally, I was much more sensitive. I could now empathize with the poor where hunger, hardship, sickness, and early death are accepted as normal life. I’d visited the largest refugee camp in the world, talked with former child soldiers, and lived on what used to be an LRA battlefield. In the camps, I saw babies sick and stunted from malnourishment and hopelessness written on the face of their mothers. I met a sick man at church who couldn’t afford 5000 schillings ($1.39) for medicine. I read in the papers about districts all over Uganda ravished by famine and the only aid offered by the government was a few cups of moldy rice. In Lukodi where I lived, when the rains delayed, I saw people’s crops—their livelihoods—eaten by pests and the seedlings shrivel and die from heat. My friends couldn’t pay school fees for their children. Others told stories of how their huts had been burned and they lost everything they owned. Nearly everyone I talked with had lost siblings and family members from sickness or war. I saw women and children struggle in their gardens while their husbands and fathers sat drunk in the village center. I heard firsthand stories of witchcraft. When my friend was attacked by demons, I prayed fervently with the other girls and pinned her to the ground to prevent her from hurting herself. As my face was inches from hers, the sheer terror written in her eyes and her piercing screams were like nothing I had ever seen or heard. But I had also never experienced such joy as I did living in Lukodi. People may have problems so worrisome that they don’t sleep at night, but during the day, they greet you, smile, and joke because they accept hardship as a fact of life that happens to everyone, and they trust that God will somehow provide for their basic needs. Over 10 months, my NH running route had become fresher and more beautiful, but I felt more broken.
Adjusting to life back in America is hard—I’ve changed a lot. I no longer like American food. Every time I walk out of the house, I’m overwhelmed by the hugeness and richness of America. Walmart was like a nightmare. People dress strangely. I drove on the left side of the road. I’m constantly amazed that I can brush my teeth with and drink the water from the tap. I forget to flush the toilet because I’m so accustomed to latrines. It’s strange to take a hot shower, and I’m amazed when light switches work. People don’t understand my funny English. Everyone else exclaims how hot they feel while I’m wearing a sweater. I’m always surprised that I can charge my phone whenever I want and have constant access to high speed Internet. It’s strange that you can cook immediately with a gas stove rather than waiting to build a charcoal fire. But I miss Uganda like nothing. Mostly I miss my friends—the deep connection we share can’t be explained. We lived together in community every day for 10 months. When I was sick with typhoid, they carried me, bathed me, and literally spoon fed me. When they were sick, I held them, fetched their water, and brought their medicine. We prayed fervently about deep issues together. I relied on them for help and guidance in my aquaponics project. We danced and worshipped every day. We cooked together, cleaned together, dug in the garden together, watched movies together, read the Bible together, washed clothes together—we lived life together and depended on each other. I’m usually a very rational, unemotional person who rarely cries, but I’ve never cried so much in my life over saying goodbye to these people. I still cry every day. A few days before I left, one of the girls came to my hut to tell me that she wasn’t going to see me anymore. She was going to hide in her hut and when she had to pass me while working, she would hide her face and not greet me because it pained her heart too much to look at me. Likewise, during my last few days in Lukodi, I avoided the girls because if I spent too much time with them, I would break down in tears. I will probably never see some of them again before heaven. I never knew I could love people as much as I love the people at CVI. I almost didn’t get on the plane to come back to the US.
Coming back to America didn’t feel like home. I tell my Ugandan friends America is strange. While they’re flattered that I like Uganda more than America, they don’t understand why. I try to explain that I miss the chaos of Uganda—bodas cutting in front of you, trucks honking to move out of the way, roads made impassable by mud. I miss the colors of Uganda—women wearing beautiful kitenges (African fabric), buildings painted in bright yellows, reds, and blues, buses and taxis painted with decorative mottos. I miss living and working outdoors all day every day. I miss the beautiful sunrises and sunsets over open savannah and the myriads of stars illuminating the night sky. I miss singing, dancing, and worshipping together every day with unbridled enthusiasm. I miss Ugandan food—posho and beans, cassava, roasted maize, vegetables and fruits fresh from the farm. I miss the simplicity of life with limited internet and technology. Most of all I miss the love and joy of the people. I miss how everyone knows everyone in the community, how you greet even strangers on the road, how family is so important, and how people are ever smiling.
While I may be happier in Uganda, I know for now God has called me back to the US for grad school, and I can trust that He has prepared a good road for me to travel. While I may feel broken now, I am grateful for everything I experienced and learned and the relationships I made in Uganda, and I can trust that just like the road I ran down 10 months ago has been transformed into a more beautiful, newer street, He will also continue to grow and fill me with new life. And I firmly believe that one day He will bring me back to run on a different road—a dirt road lined with palm trees and cassava plants, dotted with mud huts and boreholes, and filled with beautiful, bare-footed, ebony children walking to school. Because my home is no longer only in NH—I now have a second home in Uganda.