Greetings from plot 96 on Bunyoni Rd, Kataza district Kampala, Uganda! Finished up a load of hand washing as the morning rain finally ceased and the sun will shine for exactly 4 and a half more hours- just long enough to take the heavy dampness off my two boldly printed, safety pinned waistband maxi skirts and pair of light weight cotton pajamas drying on the rusted metal clothes line we share with the neighboring apartment housing two brilliant young sisters- both university graduates still seeking employment opportunities after two years. Seems the complexities of my first three weeks in Uganda- and first time in sub Saharan Africa have finally brought me to a moment of deep contemplation, even fearful realizations I had to address. I am writing from the comfort of my humble abode today, recognizing the need to hit the “pause and process” button on my African adventure transistor radio. Monday’s completed field visit to Bulogo women’s group was the pinnacle of this “Awakening” – an expression I borrow from shame researcher and author, Brenee Brown. I returned late that evening after a difficult return trip stuck in hours of typical rush hour “jams” as they are called here. The nights can grow so dim, literally no street lights, only the burning flames of small kerosene lamps aglow lighting small tables of smoked fish, unrefrigerated meats, fruit and vegetable stands, and the scent of burning piles of rubbish in the air thick and heavy with the darkness of night. The traffic in Kampala hits a head in the am for three hours and at night for at least 3 hours. The city streets are literally gridlocked- with cars, matatus, bodas, cyclists, and people scrambling for a place to inch forward. I liken crossing one of these streets to a human game of “Frogger” – without the slightest bit of exaggeration in the analogy.
It was bound to hit me- the wall. And so yesterday morning brought me to a halt. I landed in Uganda and have remained a human funnel – wide at the top desiring to take in as many fluid experiences as I possibly could these first 3 weeks that I was like a cheerfully colored latex birthday party balloon gorging down air filling to the widest stretches of itself before bursting in excess – in my case – emotional overload. I sat paralyzed at my desk in the inventory room shared by a young American named Steve, and began to think I may not be able to handle any more. My arms and neck stayed stiff like boards, hands felt like jittery fingers in the middle of a cold winter’s day. The “clip clip clip ” of the gardener’s shears on the bushes outside my office were literally fraying my nerves. I grabbed my phone, plugged in the little white earbuds and attempted to drown out the surfacing feelings with some orchestral Italian harp music I downloaded in the early hours the morning of my departure from home- unable to sleep. Recognizing the signs of anxiety- I reached for two things- my phone and two calming homeopathic sleep tablets called Calms Forte. Unsuccessfully skyping my husband and parents with whom I had not communicated in two days – for lack of wifi access- I had to follow the normal self- soothing protocol and realize this time was bound to come and was totally normal.
Today’s working from “home” has allowed me to experience tremendous insight into my work here, as well as space to process the varied experiences so far. I think I arrived in Uganda with my ” wow this is all novel! ” lenses, then transitioned to ” hmmm, that’s odd but I understand its part of life here”, to ” oh my word, life is just so difficult here, and I am totally overwhelmed by the daily realities for so many Ugandans” lenses. Humans don’t share much in common with these transition lenses outside of the different cast of light they let in your frame of view. I am learning and experiencing the time- consuming tasks of hand washing, line drying, and ironing every piece to be sure to singe any trace of mango fly eggs that were hatched on your damp clothing – lest you forget and it buries itself and hatches underneath your skin like it did to our neighbor Lee the week we arrived- requiring a small incision to be made to remove the worm under her skin that had grown.
I am learning to allow myself to feel the raw feelings of fear – as they relate to embracing change and accepting discomfort. Living with roaches, armies of ants, geckos on the walls, mosquitoes everywhere, all while viewing the injustices all around of people living in abject poverty will take it’s toll. Each day for the past 3 weeks as I leave the iron gate of my compound in Kataza and walk down Bunyoni road to begin my Teva- sandaled trek to work, I am confronted with the horrible realities of life in the developing world. I have lived and worked abroad in Israel, and various places in Europe for extended periods of time, but none of those trips would be able to properly prepare me for the sights I would witness in sub-Saharan Africa. I’d love to be able to insert more specific and startling statistics on things like the lack of indoor plumbing and running water data,or the rates of incidence of untreated bronchial infections in women and children due to daily cooking over and inhaling charcoal fumes, in the country- which I know would be astounding, however I very quickly became used to the fact that I do not have instant access to wifi when and wherever I want.
Today’s quiet day allowed me to reflect and write stories on the members of Bulogo Womens group. Space to process. Space to pause and to revisit my commitment of coming here in the first place. Humanity is a shared experience- this is proven to me over and over again as I make it through another day on the ground.
I love the write up by Tara Sophia Mohr called, “10 Rules for Brilliant Women”.
Rule #1: Make a pact.
She writes, ” No one else is going to build the life you want for you. No one else will even be able to completely understand it. The most amazing souls will show up to cheer you on along the way, but this is your game. Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul, as your own supportive friend at every step of the way.”
This piece of advice aligns with the core messaging of the Street Business School training I attended in Mutungo last week with the 12th enrolled class of over 75 women and some of their children. YOU are the business. YOU are the capital. YOU must believe in the power YOU have in YOU and make a commitment, a pact, with yourself and trust in it’s potential.
I challenge you to think about a pact you would like to make with yourself. What would it look like? What would it say? What would be the impact of this self commitment? Know it may be scary along the way, but in retrospect, an adventure worth the risk it took to get there!
Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to be transparent and real with my thoughts- we don’t help anyone by acting like we have it all together all of the time- vulnerability and truth lead to connectivity!
Make a pact to implement a small change and share with someone you love!