Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lessons Learned

My family sent me to Uganda with a few special gifts: two books and a journal. One of the books, Water for Elephants is special-not only for its charm and ease of read-but also because I have given it to Molly to practice her English. By the look on her face when she received this book, you would think it was an original transcription of the Bible signed by God Himself! The second book, Eat Pray Love, has provided me with a platform to question and examine various aspects of my personal journey of self-exploration through reading about the author’s own journey. The third gift is perhaps the most special. This journal not only houses some of my deepest thoughts, it also provides the user with some of the greatest travel quotes I have ever come across. I am all for tying things together so they go full circle…as you know,  The Circle of Life was documented in a 1990’s film by Disney called, The Lion King, set in the very region I currently reside…My final blog will be strung together by some of the quotes I have found most suitable. I have mixed these quotes with 25 of my own lessons learned. 

To start us off: 
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” –Confucius

1. Thinking back on my mental preparation for this journey, I recall a conversation with my boyfriend that went something like this:

Me-“Dan, everyone keeps telling me how brave I am to be going to Africa alone, but I hate that because I feel like a fraud for being so completely terrified!”

He wisely replied, “The fact that you are afraid and still eager to do it is what makes you brave. If you were fearless there would be nothing heroic about it.”

2. Months later, I now know that I am a lot stronger-mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually-than I ever gave myself credit for.

3. I’ve never been especially great at anything; always just decently good at most things. That is, until I came here. I think I may have been born for this work.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable” –Clifton Fadiman

4. Some things about Uganda are the same as they are in America. We all eat, shower, sleep, work, talk, raise children, and poop. The only difference is in the way we go about doing these things.

5. When people ask what I miss most about home I say I don’t know—because telling them that I really miss sitting in bed with my boyfriend while splitting an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s and watching shows like the A Team online just seems weird to admit to someone who doesn’t know what any of that is.  

6. Americans have it so freaking easy! (Don’t bother arguing with me on this one, this opinion won’t budge.) Case in point: It took me about two hours and thirty minutes to hand wash two pairs of shoes the other day. This was my second time washing them—without wearing them in between washings. 

7. The “Let’s save Africa” mindset is useless. Most people here don’t need “saving.” They need what every human needs and deserves: Compassion, Assistance, and Understanding.

If you ever plan on coming to this continent, I suggest leaving the White Horse at home.

8. That brings me to my next point: Africa is a continent. Uganda is a beautiful country within it. Its people are no more Egyptian or South African than I am Mexican or Canadian.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust

9. Crystal Light is basically Kool-Aid for grown-ups and can turn icky water into yummy juice.

10. Mosquito nets are kind of like less fancy canopy beds that protect you from malaria.

11. Drinking a coke after a hard day’s work is as refreshing as a cold beer…well, almost.

12. Baby wipes are better for shaving my legs than any cream I have ever used. Seriously, try it.

13. Eating, sleeping, bathing, and pooping with bugs isn’t so bad after a while.

14. I’ve grown to see insects and bugs as things with which we must coexist. I don’t think it is right to kill them on the mere grounds of, “they were close to me.”

Unless of course the bug/insect in question is a mosquito, a spider in my bed about to attack, or a marching line of African Ants—in those situations, kill or be killed fully applies.

15. There are times when a rainstorm means there will be enough water to bathe, cook, and do laundry. They aren’t always about ruining parades and weddings.    

16. And yet, there must also be a balance between rainy and sunny days. The sun brings safer roads, energy for crops, and power in our homes. Not just pretty tans and picnic weather.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

17. Even when life is as hard as it can get, it is human instinct to Just. Keep. Going.

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” –Babs Hoffman

18.…because someday [week six of my journey to be exact] the Ugandan Government may decide to send workers to fill the potholes and fix the road. Patience is a virtue…

19. The smiles of children can bring out the sun on a dreary homesick day.

20. Money isn’t everything. It is a lot of things. But not everything.

21. One trip to Uganda can’t possibly be “it” for me. I will be back. Probably soon.

22. I needed to live, work, eat, breathe, and love in this community to comprehend fully the power of community health. I look forward to embracing more communities like this throughout my career.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

23. I won’t be graduating this August because I need to retake one more course. I found out about this during my first week here—just after I held the responsibility of telling nine people they were HIV+ and then practically lying to them as I said it would all be okay.  

I’m not sure God/The Universe/Fate could have tried any harder to teach me the value of perspective that week.

24. I won’t be graduating this August, but I will be concluding the most meaningful, powerful, and treasured chapter thus far in my life. 

“The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

25. My next mini-chapter will involve a lot of planning, job searching and of course studying in preparation for my next journey, which I am certain, awaits me with gates, opportunities, and strings to be struck…

Thank you for joining me on this one! I look forward to seeing many of you in the coming weeks!

With love,

PS: I plan to write a follow up blog about my experience re-emerging back into American society. There will also be a blog with more pictures when I return to America next week.

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