Leaving Uganda

Typed in three steps: outlined in Lira, typed in Kampala, and finalized in Entebbe on the 4th.  Finally posted – from Phoenix!

On Friday I said goodbye to a lot of Lira friends.  On Sunday I met up with the rest of them in Kampala and said goodbye as well.  Over the last couple of days I’ve been saying final farewells to all of my Kampala friends and I’ll be on my way back the U.S. late tonight.  I’m really excited to go home, but I know I’m going to miss this.

I’m incredibly excited to go home.  It was my first time on a solo trip and my first attempt to live abroad, and it’s been an experience I’ll never forget.  I made myself a tiny little short-lived life here, and I’m sad to let it go.  I’ve been aching for home, but I always knew I’d get there.  I have no idea if or when I’ll be back in Lira or in Uganda, so it’s definitely a weird feeling.

My internship was, essentially, a failed attempt.  But, in these last weeks I’ve managed to do some tangible work and I think everything has turned out okay.  Beyond work, though, I met a lot of great people who I won’t soon forget, and I really enjoy the atmosphere that Lira has, from the streets and the restaurants to the busy market and the relaxing compounds.  Here’s a breakdown of everything that has popped into my head about leaving this country, sometimes with explanations and anecdotes.  Excuse the length, as I’ve been thinking about this post for the last two weeks.  Enjoy.

I will miss my friends – I was welcomed into a great group of people in Lira who embraced me whole-heartedly and taught me so much about so many different things.  They kept me company when I was down and they offered me work when I was essentially jobless.  We cooked together, danced together, and it was really nice to actually have a social circle – something I’ve been lacking recently.  Even outside of town, I had friends in Gulu and Kampala that were just so friendly and accommodating.  Beyond the friendships, people in general were really open and kind and it was nice to just hang out with people.

I will miss bodas – Lira was covered in bicycle bodas and that always made things interesting. The idea of a bicycle traffic jam that wasn’t on a college campus was fun to endure.  Boda bodas were always a fun ride even if I was getting ripped off in the process.  The scene of flagging one boda down and then having a half dozen stop by while you negotiated prices is one that I always think of when thinking about bodas.  Plus, the bodas in Kampala were always chatty and it was nice to have a little talk with the driver whenever I was going somewhere.

I will not miss getting ripped off – Between bodas and some of the people selling things in the market, I encountered some ridiculous prices.  Haggling is a technique I know little about, and I only ever became mediocre at talking prices down to half or even a third of what was first a classic case of price gouging.  Knowing Luo would help on occasion, but in the south I was notoriously worked by bodas.

I will miss Sankofa – I never really had a “hang out” place at home, and I never had such amazing samosas.  Plus, the people that worked there were just a great set of people and it saved me whenever I needed to upload something for school or blog. It might be cheesey to say I’m going to miss a business, but hey – it became a fourth home for me (after my real home, the house in Senior Quarters, and the ILF Guest House).

I will miss the left side of the road – Although there’s little explanation why, since most drove in the middle.

I will not miss the roads – From the potholed paved roads to the ridiculous speed bumps to bumpy murram roads, traveling could be a bit annoying. This was especially un-fun on the buses, specifically the Kabale-Kampala bus I took in the middle of the night a month ago – that thing was a rattling nightmare.

I will miss the flora and the fauna – after growing up with no pets and never having a green thumb, I’ve been making progress back home.  Having recently made the leap from fish and rats to cat-ownership, the sudden change to having a goat, a dog, and five chickens (plus chicks) along with a sprawling compound with a garden was really nice.  I’ve always wanted a garden and I’ve always wanted all sorts of animals, so it was something to which I got attached.

I will miss the food – and not just the way you think.  No, I never became a huge fan of matoke or pasho, but I did become quite fond of fried cassava and became a huge fan of chappati and rolexes.  Plus, walking down the street and picking up food from vendors is a lot of fun.  In addition, I did more cooking in the passed few months with a lot of my friends and it made for some interesting evenings and a lot of great meals (I almost always needed direction, which is hopefully changing).

I will not miss the dust – the downside of getting street food was that you were on the street.  And if you were anywhere outside for more than a minute you got a layer of dust on you.  This layer thickened if you were on a boda and was a disaster if a truck drove by you too fast.

I will miss languages – I went into this hoping to learn Luo for real, but instead I’m leaving with a lot of phrases. Yes, I can greet and bargain and I know a few other things.  I was hoping to get the mechanics a bit more and really get into it, even if I was only going to be here for a summer.  I also managed to pick up a few words of Luganda wherever I could.  In addition, I quickly adopted a decent Ugandan-English accent and I know I’ll be carrying a few words and noises with me back home, by the way. (there’s one!)  Beyond the local languages, though, living here I encountered enough German, French, Italian and Swiss-German to last me a while.

I will not miss air time – the troubles of pay-as-you-go got real old real fast.  I ran out of air time on several late night occasions of trying to reach home, including right when I heard about the Kampala bombings.  The only thing that saved me locally was the cashback for MTN users.  It will be so nice not having to pay per SMS when I get home!

I will miss Ugandan handshakes – I got a lot of them upcountry and they were awesome.  If you ever want to know what one is, you’ll have to get me to shake your hand.

I’m not sure how I feel about standing out. Being an expat from somewhere other than Africa, I stand out a bit.  While I didn’t feel constantly under scrutiny, I always felt noticed.  Going anywhere, I knew there were eyes on me and when it manifested itself in harassment and begging it had the potential to wear on me.  There were a number of times where I had stern conversations with people about asking me for money or trying to cheat me, and at least a few fun conversations about cultural differences (gender equality, mostly).  But, already getting the attention of people, I kind of felt empowered that – no matter what, they were going to notice me, so why not just do whatever.

The one thing I’ll miss most is the pace of life here, and I’m talking about the so-called “Africa-time.”  Especially in the last two semesters I haven’t stopped to smell the metaphorical roses, and life here had a relaxing atmosphere to it.  I knew it’d be something to miss, but in these last weeks I realized it might be the thing I missed the most.  Last week Erik and I were having lunch on his porch and it was just really apparent to me that sitting on a porch with a friend was something I had really enjoyed for two months.  A couple of days later I was roaming our compound and it hit me again.  On Saturday I said goodbye to the goats and the chickens and I just took it all in once more.  Sitting with Alison on the balcony by Old Park was a relaxing time just like kicking it back with Ben on the porch of the hostel last night.  I am going to pursue this whole “relaxing” thing when I get home but I don’t think it will be like it was here.  If it’s in the cards, I’ll be enjoying life a bit more when I get back than when I left.

Back home, I’m excited for a lot of things, not the least of which is to see Kim, my parents and my friends.  I can’t wait to drive (on the correct side of a paved road) again.  Dr. Pepper has been calling my name, and with free refills too.  Racquetball will be a fun respite from my badminton withdrawals.  And microwaves will be a godsend when I realize I don’t have to start the stove and cook again just to reheat something.  That said, I’m worried about not being ready for school or work and having to deal with traffic and congestion that I haven’t experienced in some time.  Plus, it’s 113 degrees at home today. Lira was comparably sunny sometimes, but there was usually a brief wind or even some cloud and rain.

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