Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Words are flowing out like endless rain

into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe" (guess the song?)

The trouble with writing is, inspiration seems to come at the most inconvenient of times. Yesterday I had a wonderful experience at another graduation (they're endless, I know), and for the whole matatu (small mini bus; public transportation; crowded, remember?) ride back to Kampala I had words and stories and descriptions flowing through my head like water. Driving through bustling market centers on the outskirts of the city, marveling at the hilly, green landscape, reflecting on a day packed with hilarious and memorable moments, it would've inspired those least inclined to reflect to sit down and record it all on paper. Alas, over bumps we went, potholes galore, swerving suddenly to spare the lives of pedestrians and boda drivers, and so crammed in that there was hardly room to reach for my wallet to pay the whole 75 cents for the hour long drive. Writing wasn't exactly feasible. Yet, I was determined to come out of this matatu drive with my narrative in tact, ready to be posted only minutes after arriving home. I had re-written it in my head probably a thousand times (hyperbole, to aid your understanding and evoke your sympathy). Finally, I had made it home. Dark and stumbling over rocks in the road, I walked up the driveway, still determined. I opened the door and the first words I was greeted with... "There's food in the kitchen."

And you can imagine what happened next. I ate, I relaxed, I talked with my friends. I didn't even rush to check my email (I probably only had messages from Barnes & Noble or Amazon anyways), I didn't even open my computer. As my belly got fuller and the conversation grew more interesting, I saw my story, my grand blog post, being pushed out of my mind. I saw it floating off into the distance, never to return. My carefully chosen words and my grand inspiration disappeared as quickly as my food (very quickly). Then I went to bed.

So, friends, forgive me if my blog is updated inconsistently or infrequently--it's not that I'm not thinking about it. It's just that my house isn't quite as thought provoking as my matatu rides.

(But I'll give you a short recap anyways! The inspiration may be gone, but I think I repeated it enough times in my head to give you a brief summary of this over-hyped blog post. But of course, this will be the "I'm late to go do something, chopped up and poorly composed" version).


I spend most of my days planning what I might do and where I might be a few months from now. My thoughts are perpetually in the future, imagining scenes a few weeks ahead, planning out what is point B and how do I get there. Even on the most exciting days or in the middle of the most intriguing conversations, there's a little bit of my mind dwelling on the past or reaching towards the future; wondering about a distant place or absent party. Even in meeting new people, I find my thoughts instantly turn to comparison, dragging in someone who isn't there. Oh, she reminds me of my sister! But every so often, a moment, a place, a person draws you into the moment, back to present tense, so thoroughly that you can almost physically feel the weight of all those other times, places, and missing people lifting off of you; and I think it's those moments that let you form the most long-lasting connections with a place; or a person, or a time.

Yesterday, I made another long-lasting connection with Africa. This time, quite obviously, it was Uganda. I've fallen in love with places before, of course. I've had these moments in almost every place I've ever been (which doesn't make it any less special!). I've had these all encompassing moments skiing through Hubbard park in the winter, speeding down hills past snow covered branches, feeling more like I was in a scene from Narnia that in my home town. I've had them in Burlington, dancing down Loomis St. at night with my best friends, picking flowers and taking pictures. I've had them at the boathouse, watching fireworks from our VIP section on the docks and being unsure whether to laugh or duck for cover when the firework shrapnel starts raining down on us (I kind of did both).

So, it's wonderful to say that Uganda has given me one of those moments as well. The graduation I went to yesterday was just outside of Kampala, and despite being so close to the city, it appeared very rural. After taking a matatu for an hour, I had to take a 20 minute boda drive to the school. I went over bumpy dirt roads, trying not to get hit with branches and waving at the occasional little kid yelling "how are you mzunguuuu!!!?". When I arrived, I was early, so I offered to help the scholars set up for their party. Although they thought it was hilarious to see a mzungu sweeping with an African broom (straw tied together, basically just a broom-head so you have to awkwardly crouch over to sweep), they let me help. The mentors showed up and as we waited for the party to begin, we laughed and talked about marriage ceremonies and "introductions" in the different tribes in Uganda (if ever in a position to ask about it, ask about introductions rather than marriages. They're like engagement parties and way more entertaining!).

Finally, the event started and then ended (surprisingly quickly given the affinity for speeches) and I left with mentors Hawah and Charlotte. Of course, we were in a pretty rural area, so bodas weren't exactly in high supply, but we managed to flag down one... One. Now, as a quick precursor to this, Ugandan women, especially when wearing skirts, usually ride... mm, side saddle (that's what you say for horses, I guess I can apply it to bodas?). But we saw that rain was approaching and it was a long way to walk back to town! So, after much laughing and contemplation, the boda driver scooted up as far as he could to the front, I jumped on behind, Hawah followed me next, and Charlotte, protests aside, hopped on last ("Eh, but we're sitting like men!"). So over the bumpy dirt roads went the four of us on this little boda. People were looking from their houses, joining us in our laughter and amusement at the sight. The closer we got to town, the more of an attraction we became, before we finally got off, just before the matatu station.

It was this little moment, a fifteen minute boda ride, that made me fall in love with Uganda. Of course you don't fall in love with anything immediately; I've liked Uganda from day one, but it was laughing on a cramped boda that forced me to be totally in the present, not missing anyone from abroad, not waiting for anyone to text or call and not composing any emails in my head. Just one of those times that feels so specific to a place and seems to sum it all up. The hilarity of three people riding on a boda isn't hypothetical, isn't illegal, isn't really anything that out of the ordinary, but it's funny, and no matter how long I live here, or how many times I visit Africa (because I did this in Benin, too), I will always find it amusing to see so many people balancing on a little motorcycle. It just couldn't happen in the States (for good reason, of course. I imagine things could go horribly wrong), and so it becomes a TIA (this is Africa) moment--but the kind that makes you happy to be here (unlike, oh no, the door of my matatu just fell off and there's a goat underneath my seat... TIA...). So, safety concerns, future, thoughts of home aside, it made me pretty happy to be where I am right now. Thanks, Uganda!

So, there's a not-so-shortened version of my story and I don't have time to proofread it (email me if there are any glaring errors), but I hope you took away from my rambling story that I'm having a lovely time over here and I had wonderful day yesterday (don't worry though, I won't stay forever, I'm still planning to come home!). That's all for now!


  1. Ahhh...I finally got to catch up on what you've been up to! It's officially the Fall season down here at the Boathouse, just minus all the floor scraping. Funny, that didn't make it in to your fav Burlington moments!

  2. Erin, fall just isn't fall if you're not chipping away at paint all by yourself in a creaky old boathouse! And yea, I thought "across the universe" was an appropriate song for the story, plus it was stuck in my head..