Originally written on 7.01.2012-
I put on my grey windbreaker jacket for the first time since I arrived in Uganda because of the slight morning chill that was hovering in the air; apparently rainy season was finally here. After I slipped the jacket over my head I noticed there was something in one of the pockets. I reached my hand in the pocket and pulled out a small, folded piece of paper. I unfolded the white, card-stock ticket and looked at it. The ticket read: Welcome to Westminster Abbey, June 8th, 2012. This ticket was from the day my dad died. Big John was right – Africa is a funny place.
What is beauty? Each individual has a different definition of the word beauty. For many of us, there is not a single definition and the meaning of this word is constantly changing, morphing, shifting. It can change on a daily basis even to an individual. If you ask me on any given day for my definition of beauty, I may tell you a different meaning each day you were to ask. I could tell you that a woman is beautiful, a diving stop and off-balance throw on the baseball field is beautiful, a child’s smile is beautiful, a topless Jeep on a sunny day in the mountains is beautiful, or just about anything else depending on what was consuming my mind at that particular moment. In Uganda, my understanding of the word beauty has evolved from a westernized, first-world train of thought to appreciating the beautiful, little things in life.
*Elang – you are beautiful in Acholi.*
I wish I could adequately describe the town of Gulu with my words, but unfortunately there are no words or descriptions to give anyone reading a proper picture in his/her head; my photos definitely do not do the city justice. One of my favorite aspects of life in Gulu are all of the sounds, tastes, and smells, which cannot be taken from a photograph either. These sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of a third-world, poverty stricken city have stimulated my senses and given me a growing intimacy with the culture. The sound of boda bodas and gas generators, coke usually served warm and only in small bottles, buildings with peeling paint and rust drip stains, the streets flooded with pedestrians, women and children carrying water jugs and other items from the market on their heads, a man on a bike carrying six chickens, children walking several miles in their school uniforms, random cows, goats, and pigs wandering around. Gulu is more than beautiful.
What is beauty? Beauty is a friend helping when one is in need. On Friday I felt homesick and lonely for the first time on my trip. I hung out at school for most of the day and chatted with my friend Aballa Godfrey. Godfrey is a teacher at SSBS who is working in order to pay his way through college. He is one of the most articulate and brilliant people I have ever met and he wants to study law in America. On Tuesday, I was actually a bit concerned about a history lesson I was supposed to be teaching the next day due to lack of knowledge of ancient east-African tribes. Godfrey took me to the school library for two hours, and he and I read about the topic and exchanged notes. His selflessness and willingness to help me is beautiful. He came out with us on Thursday night for trivia and he was there for me on Friday when I was feeling down.
Due to feeling homesick, I decided after school on Friday to have my own little mini-adventure in which I went all over the city and the surrounding areas by myself. I ended up in a remote village a few miles outside of Gulu. I walked for about twenty minutes before I finally came across a boda boda driver and he offered to take me back to town. On the way however, we stopped and picked up a few other passengers. The adventure ended with me sandwiched on a boda boda between the driver and a random Ugandan woman, with her child holding on in the very back. That ride lasted 20 minutes back to my house. TIA, but it is beautiful.
What is beauty? Beauty is a friend handing you a notebook with his life story written in it all by hand. My friend David, whose village I have hung out in multiple times, decided this weekend to share his story with me. He handed me his notebook and told me I should read what was written because he is thinking about turning it into a book. His story was intense, incredible and touching. In his notebook, he described his experiences with the LRA and how they have affected him personally. He wrote about how he was kidnapped and his attempt to escape. I want to write more details about his story now but out of respect for David and the fact that I have not asked his permission, I will refrain for now. I will say however, that through all of the adversity he has been through, it is nothing short of amazing that he pulled through and has grown into one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. David’s heart is beautiful.
What is beauty? Beauty is on the faces of the children in a village laughing while kicking a soccer ball around. Beauty is Big John trying to fit on a boda boda. Beauty is staying up all night watching the Euro Cup and sharing a Nile with friends in a pub packed full of Ugandans, even though we had to be up early for school the next day. Beauty is the craftsmanship of a thatch-roof hut. Beauty is visiting an orphanage and spinning kids around so much I almost fell over because I was so dizzy. Beauty is seeing three munu girls jammed onto a single boda. Beauty is dancing and singing at a fourth of July party in Uganda with the closest thing I have to family; Ugandan teachers and western teachers as one (side note – this Fourth of July party we hosted was the best dance party I have ever been to!). Beauty is feeling your loved ones’ presence even if they are not physically there.
Beauty is everywhere; sometimes just have to open your eyes to see it…other times, simply reach into a jacket pocket to feel it.
-We hung (students: in this context it is hung because the past tense of hanging an object is hung…unless it is a human, in which case it becomes hanged) a hammock in our two story hut yesterday…it may be my new bedroom soon.
-The hut might become my new bedroom because we now number 25 as a group, and a group of 17 high school students coming today. 15 of the 17 are girls.
-I will be the only male teacher at the house during the week; there will be around 35 females.
-See above for why I will have a headache for the rest of my trip.
-If you want to catch a chicken in Uganda, just chase it until it gets tired. Don’t believe me? Here is my evidence:
-I thought my athleticism and speed would make up for the fact that I have no foot-skills in soccer. Yep, I was sure wrong. On the Brightside, instead of just looking like an idiot, I look like an idiot with speed.
-My mom would be shocked, and I mean shocked, at all of the foods I am trying here.
-We saw a boda driver hit a kid outside of the Ethiopian Restaurant while we were eating dinner. The kid appeared to be okay but was rushed away in a car. A massive crowd gathered for several minutes around the scene trying to work it all out. There is mob/street justice in Gulu, luckily we did not witness any on that occasion.
-It has been hotter in Colorado than Uganda since I have been here. My beautiful state is burning to ash with all of these wildfires.
-I am the palest I have been during the summer that I can ever remember. I am not quite sure how that is possible when I am at the equator. I suppose I can thank the malaria medicine and heavy rains.
-Speaking of malaria medication, I have had five nights in a row of crazy dreams that seem so real and vivid. Unfortunately Natalie Portman was not a part of any of them.
-I walked through the market place for an hour by myself trying to find an American flag for our Fourth of July party. Finally I came back with an American flag in the form of a bandanna. Whatever works I guess, TIA.
-Some idiot Canadian rugby players who we have run into a few times in the pub at trivia night crashed our party and stole the “flag”. Big John ran into them at BJ’z Bar and saw one wearing it as a bandanna. Needless to say, I have my flag back again.
-Today a random little girl, who was no more than 8-years-old, started following me down the street when I was walking to town. She began saying greetings to me in Acholi from about 10 feet behind me and when I started answering them she decided to walk next to me. She then spent the next 15 minutes of our walk teaching me more of her language. We parted ways at the main roundabout as I thought to myself: something like that would never, ever happen in America. It was beautiful, however.
-I had a boda boda take me as close to Collins’ village as I could get. I wanted to visit him since he had returned home from the hospital (If you do not know what I am talking about, take a minute and read this blog). I then hopped off the boda boda and started walking around, having no idea where I was going or where his house was located. I searched for nearly forty minutes and frustration began to consume my mind. When I was about to give up, I turned to the right and found a gate that looked vaguely familiar; it was Collins’ house. Apparently my subconscious sense of direction is better than I give it credit. Finding his house reminded me of a time when I was visiting my friend Phil at Purdue University. We got separated in some random bar and somehow I made it back to his place by myself after the night on the town. I would give more details about that story, but there may be a student or two of mine reading.
Until next time, find the beautiful little things in life. Elang.