Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hello everyone, this is Natalie.  It's taken me a little while to feel up to the task of blogging, simply because I sit down to journal in the evening and can't even imagine trying to describe to others some of the experiences that we've had during the past two weeks' time here in Uganda.  But I figured I would put something together for a bit of reflection now that that time is up...

This is my second trip with The Giving Circle to Uganda; my second time driving for four hours to get from the airport in Entebbe to Jinja, my second time visiting Busoga Junior and Kiira High, my second time venturing into the incredible community that is Wairaka.  I feel it's relatively accurate to say that last year, each of these experiences seemed to belong, somewhat, to the realm of the surreal.  Not to say that I wasn't wholly invested in each and every moment, or that I didn't feel the full impact of my experiences.  On the contrary, I found myself very much absorbed in all that we did, so much so that I just had to come back.  But there was, nevertheless, a certain awestruck sentiment, a sort of disbelief at all that I was seeing and feeling for the first time.  When I arrived home, an incredible distance separated my two weeks in Uganda from the surrounding time in the United States.  It was like a little chunk of time isolated from the life I am so accustomed to.  

What I didn't realize then-- didn't realize until I arrived here in Uganda again this year-- was that coming back was to have more of an impact than I expected.  As we drove for miles and miles through the dynamic landscape of cities and neighboring countryside, I was struck by my own lack of awe.  All I could think was that I remembered being so enthralled the previous year, and a degree of confusion settled over me for a while.  That was, until I processed that an element of the previously surreal had become an element of the real for me.  No longer was I observing something completely new, but rather something that I met with a certain amount of recognition.  Yes, Uganda existed as I had left it behind.  And so with that grounding understanding that something had changed in my perception of this place, my eyes took to the streets with a renewed fascination, curiosity, and excitement.  The utter sense of awe was a thing of the past, but that's not at all to downplay the new sense of stark reality that I grappled with more than before as we made our way to Jinja.  

That was probably more confusing than I intended it to be...

The past two weeks has left me at a lack of words, and so I suppose I will use a single experience to describe some of the emotions that have characterized the entire trip.  The very first day that we ventured into the village of Kagoma Gate, the team gathered around the newly-constructed school building.  After a little while I decided that I wanted to walk through the village, so Sarah and I went off on our own down the little dirt path that led between the huts.  Seeing the village for the first time was incredible in and of itself, but one moment in particular was overwhelming for the both of us.  Most of the children we saw on our walk scurried away from us, hesitant to approach the mzungus that many of the younger ones had never even seen before.  One small girl, however, came walking directly into our path, took Sarah by the hand, and got down on her knees in a little bow.  We both just kind of took in our breath and gave each other a look, pained to know that this young girl had an idea in her mind to perform such a gesture.  As if that wasn't enough, her mother soon came walking up to us and then got down on her knees in front of us, clasping her hands in front of her.  Sarah was quick to pull her back up, holding back sudden tears. 

This single moment in Kagoma Gate speaks to the unfathomable depth behind the relationships we have built, the poverty we have observed, and the optimism that prevails in so many of the most desperate individuals.  The gesture of those two females contained such emotion-- at once an outpouring of gratitude that someone was there to help them, but also a sickening hint of some subservient sentiment.  Not that I have any license to characterize what they were feeling, but I can only describe it as I felt standing there before two people who literally bowed to me.  I wanted, simultaneously, to hug them and tell them that we loved them, and to explode in frustration that they felt the need to lower themselves to the ground in front of me.  

Continuously I wonder what I'm doing here; what it means for the western world to be involved in a developing nation.  In the worst of these moments, though, I think back to Mark's beautiful and incredible conviction that our true purpose here is to ease the suffering of our fellow human beings.  It is not a political, religious, or United States-affiliated agenda of any sort.  To ease suffering.  That is all.  And that is worth any challenge.  

Anyway, I'm having a hard time believing that this is the last night here.  I can't even say how attached I am to the people I have met and the places I've visited.  I wanted to make a quick shout-out to my love, Nishtha, and to tell you that so very many people have asked about you.  They love you and miss you, and for good reason!  And now it's time to go to bed for a few hours before the long ride home!

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