Love is a funny thing. It takes seconds to fall in love but years to fully understand what love is. It’s that warmth that pulses through your veins and makes you feel fuzzy. It seeps out of every pore of your body. It means accepting something for what it is, flaws and all. It’s irrational. It makes you feel invincible and ready to take on the world. It makes you venerable and open to the possibility of hurt but even more wonderful it opens you to the opportunity of feeling pure happiness.
Ask me on a different day when I’ve been woken up on a bus by getting a face full of curdled yogurt vomit slewn in through the window by someone retching out the window two rows in front of me (which really happened, by the way) and I may deny what I’m about to say, but right now where I am, I am genuinely in love with my life in Uganda. It’s been a roller coaster full of ups, downs, dips and turns, but it’s led me to one of the most rewarding places I’ve ever been.
I’ve been in a sort of “non-funk” lately and it took some quality time with a group of amazing people and a home cooked Chinese meal by a very respected fellow PCV to make me realize just how negative I’ve been. As volunteers, we go through a sometimes vicious cycle of ups and downs. Peace Corps service truly is love hate. I recently had my mid-service conference and after talking with the other volunteers from my training class, I was able to step back and reflect on my overall outlook on my life. I didn’t like what I saw. I saw this jaded and cynical person. That’s not who I am.
I’ve been holding onto this irrational sense of entitlement. So I’ve been living here for a year, who cares? To everyone else I’m just another white person, just another short term volunteer to take advantage of and earn a few extra shillings from. Just another dollar sign with the potential of paying for school fees or another sachet of Waragi. Can I blame them? Honestly, not really. With the amount of foreign aid that’s been dumped into this country it’s no wonder (most) Ugandans think white people are the cure all. Why should I work when the mzungu is going to come in and build a school for me? This is the bitter cynical side I’ve been talking about. But if letting go of my pride and even some of my feeling of self worth means I’ll have an overall more enjoyable and rewarding experience here then sign me up. I need to stop being so sensitive to the general population’s view of me. What matters is how I present myself to those I actually respect, the people I see on a daily basis, my colleagues and friends.
I’ve decided to do whatever it takes to make this next year truly count. I’m having the most unforgettable experience I could ever hope for and I’m finished taking it for granted. The last few weeks I’ve taken the time to think about my life. I live in a beautiful country. I’m able to see the stars more clearly than I ever have before. I’ve seen some of the most breathtaking sunrises. I’ve seen pure and undeveloped nature. I’ve gotten closer to people in the last 15 months than I have with some people my entire life. I’ve felt comfortable in my own skin and grown less afraid and skeptical of change. I am so privileged to be where I am.
I made sure to come back to site with this outlook and it’s been fantastic. I’m taking the time to do the things that I’ve for some reason or another been putting off. I managed to invite myself to dinner with the sisters last night and ended up having one of the loveliest evenings I’ve ever had. They are genuine people and were so happy to have my company for dinner. You invite yourself over to dinner in America and you’re not always greeted with the same hospitality. Now I have a dinner date every Sunday at the convent. Even better, through casual conversation they presented ideas for new projects and now we’re going to work together to train the community health workers to be able to issue ARVs to the HIV positive patients in the area.
My best friend, Brother Lawrence, is back. He’s Kenyan and therefore doesn’t get paid by the Ugandan government. For the past year he’s basically been teaching for free because the principal hasn’t been paying him. He finally had enough and decided to leave the college to finish his studies. The University is on holiday for the summer months so he came back to volunteer at the college the next few months. I went to greet him today and ended up spending the entire morning and afternoon playing scrabble, washing his 6 new puppies, and having lunch with the brothers.
The people here truly care about me and trust me. I’ve been taking that for granted. I’ve been taking my life for granted and for a while I lost sight of why I’m here. I got caught up in the negativity and the bitterness I’ve been harboring. A really good friend of mine recently told me to figure out what’s important and what you’re willing to give up to keep it. My relationships in this country are what are important. They’re what matters and what keep me in Uganda. If being harassed by people who don’t know me the same way Brother Lawrence and the sisters do is something that I have to deal with then so be it. I’m willing to give up my pride to keep what really matters: the friendships I have with Ugandans that continue to change my life every day I’m here. I’m in love with my life and I plan to continue riding this high every minute I’m here.