I arose at 4:45 in the morning; my eyes were crusted shut to the point that I could not see the mosquito net well enough to un-tuck it from my mattress. I gently rubbed away the gunk until I could open my eyes slowly. Occupying the surrounding bunk-beds draped in the white nets were the ten other teachers who I began the journey with way back at Heathrow Airport in London six weeks ago. They were mere strangers as we exchanged awkward handshakes in London; now I considered them family.
One by one, we awoke and began gathering our belongings. As I moved past massive piles of luggage I chuckled to aloud at how ridiculous it was for me to pack so much…although, I turned around at one point and noticed Jessica struggling with her large bright pink suitcases, her backpack and her African purse as the fedora she was wearing kept slipping down over her eyes…comparatively, I was a light packer. We loaded everyone’s possessions on the bus with ease, climbed into our places, and set off for the airport in Entebbe. This was it, that last ride on this glorious adventure; I was leaving Uganda.
The ride from Kampala to Entebbe took about an hour. Everyone seemed tired and sad the entire trip, giving each other glances that were almost colorless. The faces of my companions painted a picture of a group in which no one was quite ready to leave. I knew that each of us missed various aspects of life back in the States, but those were trumped by everything that had happened in Uganda. We all built friendships and relationships with each other and with the people of northern Uganda. We had all made impacts and had been impacted even greater…now we unfortunately were forced to go our separate ways…back to our lives in America…back to the routine of everyday life. The bus continued to creep slowly towards Entebbe and I began asking myself: How have I changed? Will I be different back at home now? Will I be different? Will America seem different?
As we pulled into the first security checkpoint at Entebbe, I somberly peered out the window as I thought about how badly I wanted to stay. It was 6:30 AM, and right on cue the sun was peeking over the horizon. Vibrant colors of red, orange and yellow fluttered from the east, reflecting beautifully off of the still water of Lake Victoria. The colors of an African sunrise still mesmerized me even though I had witnessed several in the past two months. This picturesque scene reminded me of six weeks ago when we were descending from the air into Entebbe. Then, I peered out the window to the east and the sun was rising, reflecting exquisitely off of Lake Victoria. I thought to myself, a rising sun represents the beauty of a new beginning. My time and work in Uganda are just beginning, make the most of it. Now six weeks later, my time was up, my work for the summer over, and yet there I was gazing out the window at another sunrise…another beautiful beginning.
I sat in Geoffrey’s small brick house which he had built himself as he was explaining the finishing touches he wanted to do to the structure. It had two bedrooms; one for his two boys and one for him and his wife. In addition, there was a common room which was where we were sitting. There were also two more huts outside he had built himself. By Gulu standards, this was not a small place to live.
A sigh of pleasure slipped out as my stomach was full from the meal Geoffrey’s wife had prepared for us only a short time ago: chicken, casaba, Irish potatoes, bananas, pineapple, Simpson paste and rice. Since I was one of the guests of honor, he arranged for me to eat the gizzard of the chicken. Jess had eaten the gizzard when we slaughtered and prepared a chicken the week before, so it was only fair that it was my turn. Although it was a bit chewy and the texture was unlike anything I had ever eaten, I managed to consume the entire gizzard with a smile. I knew I could hardly fit anything else into my stomach when Geoffrey had his wife bring Jessica and me two more beers. “Those help with the digestion, drink up,” he ordered.
Jess and I were already late to a meeting we were supposed to be having with the rest of the teacher exchange group at our house. I knew if we stayed and had one more beer, there would be no way we would be back for the meeting at all. She and I made eye contact, gave each other a shoulder-shrug, and popped open the Nile Special. TIA.
As we sat there for another hour, the conversation shifted from topic to topic. Geoffrey described to us in detail his business plan for when he can afford to start his own internet café. He told us he will rent a small room and start with three computers, and then he will expand once he has made enough profit. We discussed the war and the hardships he went through as a teacher while the LRA was ravaging the countryside. We even discussed the economic changes that had taken place in Gulu over the past five years. Geoffrey gave us an example by citing the fact that there are many more banks than there used to be. During all of these conversations, I was also halfheartedly playing a hide-and-seek game with both of Geoffrey’s young boys, one with who I shared the name Joshua.
As the night pressed on, the common room became mostly shadows as the only light source was burning in the middle of the room. I starred at the small candle as it flickered when I suddenly had a thought. “Geoffrey, what do you think about trying to arrange to have you video conference into my classroom for my students and vice-versa,” I said to my host though I did not remove my eyes from the source of light.
Geoffrey quickly responded with excitement. “That is a wonderful idea,” he said with the high pitched tone inflection which the Acholi have when they are animated. “The world, it is small now…it is…it’s a global village…a village in which we must all help and look after each other.” It’s a global village, I thought to myself. I like the way he phrased that. It is a global village.
As the sun slowly pushed its fiery rays over the horizon, I could not help but rethink my somber attitude. There is something beautiful about a new day…a fresh start. I might have been leaving Uganda on that day, but I knew right at that moment I would be back in some manner. My time and work in Uganda were just beginning, to what capacity I was not sure…
*The following comments have been added since this post was originally written.
I wanted to start an NGO in Uganda and be part of something bigger, but I did not know where to start. When two of my friends and colleagues who had also been on the trip to Uganda read the blog above, they reached out to me; they had also been talking about forming some sort of non-profit organization dealing with education and raising scholarships for children in Gulu who could not afford to go to school. We Skyped, e-mailed, and brainstormed as an idea began to take shape.
It has now been several months since those initial conversations and Educate for Change has been born. Without Laura and Kristine, I am confident that I would have never gotten anything started on my own. They have been persistent, diligent and hardworking. When work and coaching got in my way or took focus from E4C, they pressed on. They are both currently in Uganda representing Educate for Change and you can follow what they are doing from our website below. I can only hope that E4C continues to grow and I have the opportunity to give something back to a country and people which gave me so much. You can also meet the students we are sponsoring with scholarships/school supplies on our website. If you are interested in helping these kids continue to receive an education, there is a donation link on the page.
The world is a global village and the sooner that everyone realizes that fact, the better off mankind will be.