Simple Pleasures

You know those movie moments where old friends who haven’t seen one another in a long while run towards one another with arms flung wide, wearing expressions of joy, and sometimes shrieking with equal or greater joy? Yeah, those do actually happen. I experienced one last week.

A Ugandan volunteer at Arise and Shine and a very good friend of mine, Sam*, used to live with another girl, Jen. Jen also volunteered at Arise and Shine, which is where I met them both.

Starting about a month and a half ago, Jen started Senior 2 (roughly equivalent to grade nine in Canada) at boarding school in a town/village, Nyenga, a couple hours away from Jinja. Boarding school rules dictate visitors are allowed only on prescribed days, so none of her friends in Jinja have been able to see Jen.

Visitation day was last weekend. Jen and Sam’s reunion was a movie moment: arms flung wide, smiling and shrieking while running to embrace one another.

We stayed for most of the day. Late in the morning someone suggested I play volleyball. Eager to experience what locals do and show that I’m not a stick in the mud, I accepted.

I played with mostly boys for what must have been a couple hours. Nobody kept score. Serves were sent by whichever side had the ball at the time. Out-of-bounds was observed only when someone couldn’t reach the ball before it touched the ground. Heads, fists, and feet were all used to return the ball. Players came and left as they pleased. The only rule I could discern was the number of touches – three, as in any volleyball game.

I was the only person wearing shoes. A few wore sandals. Most were barefoot. None were deterred despite uneven ground and rocks.

Most were more skilled than me. I could serve with some effectiveness, but my overhead sets weren’t confident or consistent, and my bumps were often too strong or sent the ball in an unintended direction. The students laughed at my mistakes and I laughed with them.

I left the field smiling and sweating. Mid-day sun in Uganda is a vicious master, but I didn’t notice its heat until I walked to join Jen and Sam in the shade. They had been talking the entire time I was playing volleyball, exchanging two months of life stories.

Jen lead us on a tour of the school water pump and each classroom after Sam and I announced we had to leave soon. We lingered at each tour stop far longer than necessary. She told us when the next visitation day would be. As we neared the school gate, Sam asked her about the visitation day again even though I was sure she had already memorized it. They embraced again, arms and fingers alike pulling one another close in the way the very best of friends do in movies. Sam smiled all the way home.

*Names changed.

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Kibuye Photo-Teaser

Today’s post is simple: a tease for your eyes…and some exposition.

Kibuye is a village North of Jinja in the Kamuli district of Uganda. It takes about three hours to get there. 27 by 35 kilometres in size, Kibuye is not your cliche village.

Yes, there are huts with thatched roofs, plants and animals everywhere, and no electricity save for some solar powered radios and cell phone chargers. No, the people are not uncivilized, dirty, or stupid. Yes, there are schools in Kibuye (Arise and Shine maintains one) and there is some (terrible) cell service. Nights are silent except for insects. There are no lights at night, save for my headlamp or cell phone, so the stars are brilliant.

There are many more photos to come after my next visit to Kibuye. I just didn’t feel like pulling out the camera very often. I wanted to soak it in through my eyes, not a lens.

The Honeymoon Phase

We all know the honeymoon phase. I imagine it like running through unending fields of flowers the way they do in prescription drug commercials. It is bliss, nirvana, and unrepentant joy.

My honeymoon with Uganda has been far from perfect. I have spent more than one night fretting for hours, thinking that I can’t go home, I can’t see my friends and family, and I can’t get café mocha with a pine tree motif in the foam.

Nonetheless I wake up every day intent on making it great. I have succeeded every time short of a couple days in my first few weeks.

This week, however, the honeymoon period ended. I often feel like billions of small insects are crawling under my skin when I walk in public spaces. Like a rising chorus, I want more and more tear the head off anyone disturbing my peace.

I sense this is full-force culture shock. Last weekend I went to the sardine-can-packed streets and sprawling concrete metropolis of Kampala, Uganda’s capital and largest city. On Wednesday I traveled to Kibuye village, 27 by 35 kilometre square area with no electricity, no running water, and probably about as much concrete as Kampala has in a city block. Kampala life is driven by stress and diesel fuel, while sitting in the shade and slowly nursing a cup of tea moves life in Kibuye.

Much like Uganda and Canada, Kampala and Kibuye compare about as closely as a goat and an elephant. Yeah, they’re both four-legged animals, but even brief inspection proves they aren’t the same.

The bride, Uganda, shows its most and least desired qualities through each city. Seeing both so quickly is like compressing a decade of getting to know a person into less than a week.

This marriage isn’t over, of course, there’s just a lot to think about. After all, I just discovered some truth about my lover: who wouldn’t need some time to think?