Lugan. Family. After 8 months apart, I finally got to see my family—they came to visit me in Africa! It was truly amazing how God arranged the timing and made it possible for them all to come. In the weeks leading up to their arrival, I was at first really excited then became scared…I’d changed a lot in 8 months—what if they didn’t understand? What if they didn’t like Africa? But when they piled out of the van at 2 am (a delay in their flight was agonizing for me), all those concerns faded away, and we hugged like we’d been missing each other forever.
I couldn’t wait to show my family around CVI and introduce them to all my friends. The girls were so excited to meet them—they greeted them with the Acholi yell and exuberant dancing then all shook hands and introduced themselves. It was one of the happiest days of my time here in Uganda when my family from the US was together with my family from Uganda. I couldn’t stop smiling—it was like heaven on earth because the people I love most from different continents were together in one place.
After experiencing life at CVI, my family and I set off for Murchinson National Park—one of Uganda’s preserves full of animals. As we drove through the park, everywhere we looked there were antelopes, water buffalo, warthogs, zebras, baboons, giraffes, elephants, and birds. We even saw a couple of hyenas and lots of hippos and crocodiles in the Nile. In the afternoon, we took a lovely boat cruise along the Nile, saw lots of animals, and then hiked up to the top of Murchinson Falls. The falls are really impressive because an immense amount of water is pushed through a narrow opening making it the waterfall with the highest pressure in the world. There’s even a smaller waterfall called Independence Falls that broke off from the main waterfall in 1962, the same year Uganda gained its independence from Britain (hence the name).
While I loved being with my family, I was surprised how much I missed my CVI Lukodi family too. Throughout the day I’d find myself thinking about them and what they would be doing at that moment. “11:30 am: Oh, it’s break time. I bet Opandi is trying to knock the last of the mangos from the trees for a juicy snack. 4 pm: Stephen and Kazungu are probably feeding the fish. I wonder if Knight finished weeding all the crops? 8:30 pm: The girls are starting prayers.” I even missed eating cassava and posho and beans. Sometimes my face would settle into a somber, reflective visage, and my family would joke that I’d rather be in Lukodi than be with them. While they were kidding, there was some truth to their statements. I dread the day when I have to say goodbye to everyone in Lukodi for good and go back to the US.
The next day, we woke up very early, drove to Kampala and flew to Tanzania to continue our safari adventures in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and surrounding parks. After an unexpected night in Nairobi (the airline canceled our connecting flight, but at least we got Kenyan stamps in our passports and the hotel had the nicest bed I’ve slept in for 8 months—even if it was only for 2 hours), we made it to Arusha, met our guide, and headed out on safari. The animals were amazing! They weren’t as prolific in the Serengeti as in Murchinson, but we saw so many lions! We would drive right up to them—they looked so lazy and serene, like big pussy cats. You felt like you could nearly reach out to pet them and play with them. We also saw lots of wildebeests, gazelles, antelopes, ostriches (they have the funniest feet), zebras, warthogs, water buffalo, and a few giraffes and hippos. We even saw a mother cheetah and her cubs, and at the last minute our guide found us a leopard hiding in a tree. It was like watching Lion King in real life. Next we moved on to Ngorongoro Crater, which was stunningly beautiful. While the Serengeti is mostly flat, dry plains with some rock outcroppings, Ngorongoro is the world’s largest caldera (collapsed volcano) full of lush green grass and colorful wildflowers because of rainy season. Here we saw many of the same animals plus two rhinos, a 50 year old elephant with massive tusks, flamingos, and many other kinds of birds. The rhinos looked like huge, ugly, prehistoric tanks—I was torn between unbelief and laughter as I watched them meander through the grass. The Masai people live in the surrounding area, so it was neat to see them walking along herding their cows dressed in their iconic checkered blankets and copious jewelry. It was so cold though, I don’t know how they wore just their blankets—in the early morning, I would wear all the layers I had and still be cold!
Finally, we headed to Zanzibar—an island beach paradise that makes one think you’re in the Bahamas instead of Africa. After wandering around cute, historic Stonetown for a day, we headed for a beach bungalow. While the water was a little disappointing (after navigating around spiky sea urchins for an hour, we gave up trying to find a spike-free place to swim), the beach walks and tasty seafood were amazing. The next day we went snorkeling on a local, wooden fishing boat called a Dhow. Sailing on the water was a blast, and the tropical fish were amazing! We swam through schools of brightly colored fish, spotted two lion fish, and found nearly all the characters in Finding Nemo. :)
While the safari and ocean animals were neat, my favorite part of the trip was simply being with my family. Seeing them, talking with them, hugging them, playing cards, catching up on their lives, laughing and making funny faces together—these were the best moments (although they say I talk funny now :) ). It was hard to say goodbye, but I’m so thankful my family was able to visit. Now they understand a little bit of Africa and why I love it here so much. When I rode into the driveway of CVI on the back of a boda boda (motorcycle taxi), the girls all started yelling and ran to envelop me in an avalanche of hugs. They nearly pulled me off the boda, and when I could finally stand we couldn’t stop hugging each other, smiling, and saying “abedo ka pari matek!” (I missed you so much!) I was back in Lukodi, and I couldn’t have been happier. While I’ll miss bike rides, beach days, hikes, and ice cream dates with my family in the US this summer, I’m also looking forward to the next couple of months of football games, chapatti making, fetching water, working on aquaponics, studying the Bible, and dancing to drums with my CVI lugan.