I love to write. I love to tell stories. I love the connections that are made when words are strung together in just the right ways. I love when language just makes you feel it, whatever “it” may be, which is why I was so eager when asked to write about my time in Uganda right before departure.
I was thrilled that I would have the chance to retell the story of an over-seven-thousand-mile journey that would undoubtedly introduce me to fascinatingly inspiring people, places and experiences.
However, on the long-haul flight home, when I finally cracked open my journal to unleash (what I thought would be) magnificent prose on my African pilgrimage, I was greeted with a true loss for words. The time had finally come for me to put my raconteur skills to the test, yet I could actually feel the tumbleweeds rolling around my mind-scape. For anyone that knows me, it’s not too often that I’m scrambling for words to convey my feelings. When passion strikes, the floodgates open and I can’t/won’t shut up. But something about Uganda was different.
Upon reflection, I was stunted because I thought that anything I said would be a watered-down version of what actually happened.
To put it frankly, I was afraid of giving a Diet Rite rendition of a Coca Cola experience because I couldn’t string the right words together to show the reader the unadulterated truth and beauty of the Pearl of Africa.
It’s not that I haven’t told important stories before, it’s just that this trip was transformative in a way that needs to be shared. There is a vital nature in the lessons I learned from the beautiful people in Uganda that I now consider friends. And, believe me, I know the cheesiness and triteness in saying “Uganda was just life-changing for me,” but I also know that the person I am now and the person with pink hair who boarded for Entebbe at JFK are two separate entities (in the best way possible). The difference between who I was before and who I am now is simply the spirit of Uganda that found its way into my heart. And if I can find the right words to say here, I hope that whoever is reading this can find some space for a Ugandan metanoia too.
The ideal story-telling situation would be introducing you to everyone and anyone I met on this journey. But since I didn’t have access to the new Sony video-recording contact lenses, I’ll try to convey what I would have wanted you to experience.
I want your hands to feel the tears on the children’s clothing, but I also want you to see the joy in their eyes and their absolutely blinding smiles. I want you to hear the pride in the schoolteachers’ voices when speaking on advancements in their schools, but I also want you to hold a small student and feel every rib in their chest because they hadn’t been eating enough. I want you to wave and shout “Agandi!” or “Oli Otya!” to the men and women walking along the road, and be greeted with absolute fervor as if you had known them your entire life. I want to show you that while there are immeasurable sufferings in a developing third-world nation, there is infinitely more joy, love, kindness and happiness circulating in that atmosphere.
I want to try to explain how a child can be so happy to the point of dancing, even when they have nothing to their name beside their name itself. And even more so, I want to explain that what first world-ers might see as “nothing” might very well be “everything” we all so desperately need in our lives.
I don’t know if it’s because we tend to get lost in the hustle of the 9-5 or lost in the “success” that capitalism wires us to become addicted toward, but a lot of first-world “everythings” are rather empty when seen for what they are. We work so hard for money to buy the latest object of our infatuation that ultimately gets forgotten after months, weeks or even days. We give up time with our loved ones for a solo Netflix binge. We derive value from likes, comments and retweets, leading to feelings of disappointment in ourselves when the numbers aren’t high enough. We compare ourselves to others and deplete any confidence we may have. We have such a desire to be constantly connected and detached from our own thoughts that time apart from our cellular devices can seem like the 7th layer of hell. We are told to put on the makeup, to put on the expensive clothes, to put on the general “mask” so we can play the American part of effortless perfection. While we’re not like this all the time, it’s easy to slip into a routine like this in the current state of our society. We are continually conditioned to believe the lies of what it means to be truly and irrevocably happy. But it’s not our fault, it happened over time in small inoculations that are now treated as canon.
Although this is starting to sound hopelessly negative, I know from my time in Uganda that these instances are just minor, easily alleviated, blips in our first-world radar.
I see these negativities as “blips” because I encountered glimpses of genuine and lasting happiness in Uganda. It’s real. It’s out there. And it’s ours for the taking if we can only remember that it comes from the giving, i.e. the unbridled giving of ourselves to others. Whether it be lending a helping hand or a listening ear, or even just being completely present for someone who needs it, there are ample opportunities to bring joy into the life of another. All it takes is a keen eye to spot the places where the joy can be inserted.
I genuinely think that the souls in Uganda have something pretty magical going on when it comes to finding true joy through love and togetherness. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think “every man for themselves” would even translate. The type of community that they share can simply be defined as “family.” If you’re going through it, everyone’s going through it, and if someone asks you how your day is going, I promise you that it’s not just being said as a conversation-filler, they really want to know how you are.
I’m not going to over-romanticize their lives, as I have witnessed their very real sufferings as well as their joys, but I refuse to ignore the beauty that their culture of shared humanity emanates. They showed me the weak parts in my soul and then gave me a map as to how I could fill those voids with something truly fulfilling through their selfless, “all-in-this-together” way of life.
While this truly fulfilling something often feels elusive, my time spent in Uganda pointed me in the right direction of capturing it. Looking for personal happiness straight-on is tricky and usually can lead the ego astray. You’ll get so entangled in the webs of perceived “happiness” that you’ll feel even less fulfilled. However, looking for happiness through the art of bringing said happiness to others is the optimum route. You find true happiness by giving it away.
If I had to sum up the ultimate lesson from this journey, I would have to say that the people of Uganda taught me how to recognize the whole person; to see someone, not just to look at them. They taught me how to genuinely recognize someone’s existence in a way that makes you want to enhance that existence through selfless acts of service.
Ignorance is definitely not bliss, it’s the downfall of much of humanity. We can’t ignore people, and we can’t ignore their blessings as we can’t ignore their times of suffering.
By some odd chance we’re all existing on this planet floating through space, and sometimes life can be a little more than difficult. The absolute least we can do is be there for one another. The absolute best we can do is to try to be active channels of happiness for one another, which, luckily for us, does not always need a seven-thousand-mile trek across the globe; it can be done right from where our feet are.
And as for how I’ll tell the story of my travels with authenticity ala Coca Cola, I’ll just have to do it the Ugandan way: completely from the heart.