Journal Entries from South Africa
Journal Entries from Uganda
Journal Entries from Zambia
"I send my words into the world and wait for whatever new words will come."
Georiga Heard, Writing Toward Home
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1 new journal entry posted December 1, 2005
"We, the children of Uganda, are created in the same vision of God as your children. Help us like we are your children." - Phillip, 12 year-old child from Gulu, Uganda.
I apologize for the delay in sending this update. To be honest I have been dreading writing it. Writing the weekly update was something I looked forward to each week. It was my way to share my experience and connect the unknown world I was living in with the people who helped me get there. Not writing this update has allowed me to imagine that my fellowship is not over and that my adventure will continue. It was only this afternoon that I realized my adventure is not over - it is just beginning. After this realization I suddenly had the courage to try to find words to summarize the feelings that accompanied leaving Africa and returning home.
Leaving Uganda was much more difficult than expected. During my seven months in Uganda I had gone from hating the country to giving myself and my heart to the people. I felt like I was leaving the people and all of their problems behind. Here is a brief excerpt from my last journal entry from Gulu, Uganda. One courageous boy changed my life forever when he described being forced to kill one of his best friends?
We (mom and I) spent the rest of our time "hanging out" with the mothers and children. I wrote each woman I interviewed a note thanking her for telling me her story. I encouraged one woman, Evelyn, to go back to school; her English was amazing after being in the bush for 10 years. Later that day she came to me and told me that she wanted to talk. I agreed and asked for an interpreter. She quickly objected and said that she wanted to show me her English skills. Later she told me that during her 10 years in the bush she forced herself to think in English so she wouldn't forget what she had learned. As we sat down to talk she thanked me for the letter. She went on to say that she could get kicked out of the World Vision Camp (the only thing that was protecting her from the rebels) for doing what she was about to do but she believed it was worth it. She reminded me that I encouraged her to go back to school and told me that she would not forgive herself if she let me leave camp without asking me to assist her with school funding.
We had a lengthy discussion and I finally decided to approach the director of the camp to get more details on school sponsorship. I told the director that I had approached Evelyn about school. An inexpensive boarding school in Northern Uganda will cost between $300-400 a year (depending on the quality of the school). Evelyn has four years left because she would have to repeat the year in which she was abducted. I promised Evelyn and a few other mothers that I would search for school sponsors for them. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor please contact me. I know all of the women personally and I am certain they will make the most of any opportunity they are given. I could also put you in contact with the mother you are sponsoring so you could follow her progress.
As we were saying our final goodbyes a young boy greeted me. It became apparent that he was very special. Surprisingly, he spoke excellent English and he began telling me how he had spent the past year. Phillip, who is 12, was abducted when he was eleven years old and had spent a year and a half in the bush with the rebels. I immediately wanted to bring him home with me. He is the most charismatic person I have ever met. After talking to him for 45 minutes I asked him if I could videotape the rest of our conversation. He agreed and I have a 30 minute interview with him on camera. He answered every question I asked in English and in detail. Towards the end of the interview I asked him if he had ever seen one of his friends killed. He misunderstood my question and thought I asked if he had ever killed one of his friends. He gave a detailed account of the night he was forced to stone to death a 16 year old girl who was one of his best friends. I felt my skin begin to crawl as he described having an AK-47 shoved into the back of his head and stones put in his hand. Phillip knows he didn't do anything wrong, and more important to him, God knows that he didn't do anything wrong. One of the first questions I asked Phillip was, "If you could say anything to the people in America what would you say?" Phillip's response was, "We, the children of Uganda, are created in the same vision of God as your children. Help us like we are your children." A day does not pass that I don't think about Phillip. I wonder where he is, what he is doing, if he is safe, if his heart is beginning to heal.
My spirits were quickly lifted after leaving Uganda when we arrived in Nairobi to spend four days with Conor, my boyfriend. We took my mom to nearly every tourist attraction and good restaurant in the city! We visited the orphaned baby elephants, we spent quality time with the giraffes, we watched over 20 different traditional Kenyan dances, and we tasted exotic cuisine at The Carnivore.
My return to South Africa was all that I had imagined and more. When we landed in Johannesburg I felt like I was returning home after a long journey - it was a strange feeling. The cold air of the South African winter took my breath away as I stepped outside the airport. The smells of Africa are too difficult to describe in words - my mom said the smell of Uganda was the most difficult part of her adjustment to Africa (that and the missle launcher that was being pushed down the street in Uganda). The smell of South Africa is one of earth and I am certain it is the richest air in the world. During South African winters the government has controlled burning along the highways to prevent wildfires. The smoke seems to bring the earth it just burned into the air allowing it not only to fill your lungs but your entire soul. A deep breath after a South African storm always made me feel as if I was a part of the earth. It is a feeling of being home, grounded, and light enough to float away. If I could bottle up this smell I would bring it home and share it with America. The air is the first thing I remember as I recall my first trip to Africa. It's as if I took a breath deep enough to make Africa my home. I am yet to exhale - even in the USA I feel like part of my heart remains in Africa.
The readjustment to life in the USA has been challenging at best. The first night home I stopped in a gas station on the way back from the airport to get a granola bar. I stood in the "granola aisle" as tears formed in my eyes. There was an ENTIRE AISLE devoted to granola bars! There were too many options to choose from, I left empty handed. That night I crawled into bed exhausted, but knew that sleep was not going to come easily. It was the unfamiliar feelings of comfort and safety. My sheets smelled so nice and my best friend, my dog, was at the floor of my bed. My luggage had gotten lost on the way home and I didn't have the knife that I usually clutched in my fist as I slept. There was no mosquito net and the air conditioning was set at the perfect temperature. Fortunately, the 40-plus hour trip home set in and I feel asleep to a rerun of my favorite childhood television show, The Cosby Show.
Upon returning to the USA I made a few trips to the hospital to visit a friend. There remains an enormous gap between the quality and access to health care in the USA and developing countries. It was strange to see patients on beds (and not on concrete floors), computers everywhere, and IV machines that were more advanced than anything I had seen in over a year. I realized how fortunate I am to live in the USA - and how fortunate I am to have experienced life outside of the USA. As I watch the news updates from New Orleans I am reminded of Africa. Hospitals without air conditioning, no access to life saving medications, food and water are all too common in developing countries. Conditions that no one should have to experience are suddenly much closer to home.
As the days pass I continue to readjust and am frequently shocked by some aspect of American life. For example, jogging through my neighborhood boggles my mind. The multitude of American flags seemed strange at first. In Africa I was frequently asked if "all Americans have flags in their yards?" I usually responded by saying that there are some but they aren't everywhere! But after living without American flags for over a year I realized that they are everywhere! I also had to get used to having cars parked outside on the streets. In South Africa there are fences everywhere and you rarely see a car parked on the street at night - it would be stolen in a flash. Of course massive SUV's, washing machine, dryers, and air conditioning all seemed excessive at first. Without a doubt I miss the people of Africa the most. The women in the camps in Uganda changed my life forever and will never be forgotten.
Because of the impact they had on my life I plan to keep my promise and continue to tell their stories. I will be giving presentations and speeches about my experience in the hopes of educating others and sharing the experience of a lifetime! Angela (who I wrote about frequently), the woman who directs the Mercy Home for Street Children, raised funds and is currently in the USA trying to raise money for her children - all 120 of them! She asked me to find churches for her to speak at so if your church is interested in having her speak please contact me and I will be happy to set everything up.
I will continue to send updates and post journal entries to my webpage. There are several exciting projects in the making and I look forward to sharing these in the upcoming months. Feel free to email or call me (812.841.5988).
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