Friday, March 16, 2012

A Note On Arriving

Could it be? I'm home! Unscathed and back in southwest Virginia. I, for some reason, expected this transition to be fairly straightforward, run-of-the-mill. I was remarkably confident that this would be the case, and have been excited to get home and get on with it, so to speak. The actual process, the reality shift, has been profoundly mind-boggling, and has left me reeling and perplexed.
Waking up from my life in Africa and being thrust back into this all too familiar American life has been jarring, effectively shocking my brain into submission. My first full day back, while wandering around the streets of DC, I found myself randomly leaking, as I was hit with waves of "Oh God, it's over, and it's not coming back." The mulitude of memories and lingering emotions from the trip were swirling with ferocity, but the abrupt return triggered a short curcuit, and I was left oddly blank. I haven't felt this intensely shaken by homecoming since my first jaunt abroad, a six week stint in the UK during college, which consisted of frolicking around castles, seeing Shakespeare performed at the Globe, picking thistle in the Scottish highlands--basically living out my Braveheart-inspired Celtic fantasties. I fell into a sort of depression, revulsed by the trappings of my normal existence, eventually taking off on a cross-country trip as a way to cope.
Since then I've experienced multiple international transitions, and have grown into myself sufficiently to develop the emotional tools needed to deal. It's not that I necessarily dislike what I'm coming back to. I love this country, in the sense that being a United States citizen has enabled me to do incredible things. I have the freedom, and the ability to work and save enough money to do things like take personal journeys to Africa. This is astounding! I'm also blessed with a couple of wonderful parents who gladly allow me to nestle into the comforts of our family home while I'm in transition. I'm exceptionally fortunate. But, there is no way around it: Coming back from Africa has rocked my world. I keep returning to the dream comparison--being deeply involved in a pleasant, vivid, bizarre dream, then being abruptly woken, blearily blinking back into reality, disoriented and grasping for the last bits of the dream as they inevitably fade away. I can still recall such a dream from my adolescence. A girl, the girl for whom I had so longed, was suddenly, inexplicably mine! It was manifested as something as simple as holding hands in the back of a school bus, but the residual feelings that dreary morning were as real as any, and the return to reality was devastating. But my experiences these three months were certainly real, if starkly different than from any other portion of my life. This recent life abroad has been a beautiful moment-to-moment existence, replete with poignant moments, set within an exotic land and culture that kept me constantly amused and fascinated.
While discussing homecoming, a friend recently conjured the image of a soul walking, trudging back across the great distance that the body has so quickly, unceremoniously traveled. Within 24 hours, thanks to modern technology, a person can be ripped from one culture and thrust into another with great ease. I had been gone for three months! I want to vomit my experiences all at once for everyone I meet, in a desperate attempt to share what had happened. When the customs officer at Dulles airport asked where I'd been, I was prepared to be interrogated about the wooden carvings I was toting, about the two kilos of tea tucked in my luggage. I responded, "Africa," and he merely grunted and motioned me on. Really? Couldn't you hassle me a little? It's not that I'm yearning to feel important, it's that the spectre of the experience starts to evaporate so unsettlingly quickly. Understandably, everyone has been neck deep in their own lives, their own troubles and joys, and it's difficult to relate to something as nebulous as "three months in Africa." My sense of urgency to share my experience is tempered by the glaze that appears on friends' eyes whenever I start expounding upon far away things.
Homecoming has always been one of my favorite parts of traveling, and I continue to treasure the process. I've always found it useful, but especially in this case, to get as much written down as possible. In order to function properly again, to move forward in a satisfying way, one must fully arrive. Funny anecdotes must be told, pictures and videos must be sorted through and shared with loved ones. In order to fully arrive, this time I've found it necessary to analyze the process a bit more, but only after allowing myself to be "blank" for a day or so. I'm happy to report that I've flipped the breaker in my mind, and have reclaimed the voracious desire to process the trip. Having accepted the end, I can continue savoring and sharing the juicy middle part. Coming down can be rough, but the experience is absolutely worth the withdrawal. So now, friends, forgive me if I feel compelled to force a couple of stories on you--you'll be doing me a great service by listening!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Your words are handsome"

A moment!

Sitting at an outside table at the Highway Restaurant here in Kyenjojo, Uganda. I've been envisioning feasting on a large plate of posho and beans since I arrived in the country, and I found a place to make this reality.

"Do you have posho and beans?"


"How much?"

"Two five."

(Roturo chatter aside)

"What did you say?" Smiling, addressing the woman sitting in the corner.

She chuckles, "I was saying she should charge you 5000, because you are rich!" Hearty laughter. I glare at her, and turn to confirm my order. I thank the hostess in Rutoro, turn, and head to my table-with-a-view.

"I'm not rich!"

Am I?

Outside, I am almost immediately served a huge dollop of posho with a side of baked beans. Perfect!

"Do you have any peri peri?"

"It is over."


A newsie wanders over, drops a paper on my table. Yes, I will buy this paper, thank you! As I read Museveni's snarky "State of the Union" address, I can feel eyes on me--the inquisitive, but oddly passive eyes of young boys. I raise my eyes to meet theirs, shoot out a greeting, drop my eyes. Posho, beans, chew. I

It is only a matter of time.

"You! Hey!"

I squint at the two boys. "Hey! How are you!"

"I'm fine."

Posho, beans. Museveni is insisting to me that he has brought about fundamental changes. Anyone who says otherwise is sick.



"From where do you come?"

"The United States!"

Occasionally a passerby will stop to join the boys in staring, perhaps hoping I'll do something exotic, or start spewing 100 dollar bills. Quickly they lose interest. Am I rich?

Gesturing for some reason at my food, I declare my love for posho and beans.

"No, no. Us? We dislike it."

Of course they do. There is Mountain Dew here in Uganda, and they've almost certainly tasted it. Nothing will ever be the same.

"Give to me your hat as a gift!" A wry grin, cock of the head.

"You give me a gift!"

Hearty laughter. What a ridiculous suggestion! An older man stops by long enough to tell me he has friends in Houston, Texas and New York City. I tell him how wonderful that is! The massive amount is posho is slowly dissolving.



"Your words are handsome."

"My words? Are...handsome?"


"Thank you! I have been speaking English for a long time."

The smaller boy wants me to know he has a friend in Singapore. In Singapore, their English is...(looking up to the right, scrunching face)... "very strong."

The older boy tells a nearby man about my hat. My hat is very expensive. Two men shuffle over and sit at my table, ignoring my greeting. Is my hat in danger? I don't want to share my table with two surly, silent men. Two more bites, a scoop of beans, and a swig of treated water, "Goodbye!" I assure the hostess that her posho and beans were very tasty, placing the palm of my hand on my stomach as proof. See? I love it.

And just like that my hat is atop my head, safe from lustful children and sullen men, and I'm strolling down the dusty street, rich as hell.