I booked a three week trip to Uganda and Tanzania last week.
I'm having an odd little blend of emotions. The kids, again -- like looking forward to Christmas and the longed-for Walking Thumbelina under the tree. I talked to Angella on the phone a couple of weeks ago (the weirdness of walking down in the edge of the Don Valley in downtown Toronto while connecting via iphone to a 13 year old in dusty kasese... ), and felt such a surge of reconnection, love, even. And I also feel like I'm cramming far too much into my life -- time and moneywise -- and feeling the weight of having such an operational role. Still getting texts about the need for new mattresses, ongoing drama with the people on the ground.
So I'm looking forward, and I'm feeling a different kind of anxiety this time than last year. It's partly the time -- after the a whirlwind week with the kids and planning for next year, I’m heading off on my own. Through a complicated little set up, I ended up buying a trip to kilimanjaro off a guy who won it in a fundraiser (and he’s going to donate the money). So we’ll go to Kasese, then return to Kampala as a group, and then my compatriots will go home, and I’ll go visit a couple of other projects, then go off to TZ on my own. That’s the trepidation part.
And today, the Current ran a deeply disturbing story about a new proposed law in Uganda FURTHER criminalizing http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/oct/27/uganda-homosexuality-discrimination-church homosexuality. It's draconian in a way that can only evoke historical episodes of profound alterity - i.e., "othering" and scapegoating social groups -- and I'm hit again with a huge dissonance about trying to make meaning in a context that is so so foreign.
I was reflecting on last year’s experience with Uganda, and started with my initial fear and the intense sense of rightness I felt. Something about accepting that culture and place that is so different is essentially unknowable from my perspective. There are points of connection, and these points are humanity, and the fact that they mean something so different to me in my personal narrative than they do to the kids, the people employed on the project, the community guys — this is somehow reassuring to me. I connect with Lillian the matron, Abdu, with Angella, with Bryan, with Alex because it enacts the story of me as outside myself, able to connect, loving and capable. Someone making a difference by enacting my most profound humanity.
I can’t know what they get from me — Abdu may call me Dear Auntie and be grateful, and his gratitude is so infused with the intense loss and chaos of his early years in Rwanda, the lack of certainty about tomorrow, his intense belief in a kind of Christ that I can’t know. A quintessential paradox.
So the Uganda part of the trip is about find that part of me, trying to live into the story of me as competent and difference-making… as well as facing my limits, the nearness of a meltdown at feeling the shape of my solitude, voicelessness when I’m facing systems I can’t penetrate with the bureaucracy, the way things are done.
What was most unnerving for me last year was my own response to being thrown out of my own sphere, facing my own limits, especially with the fury-making that is the founder of our project who continues to throw a wrench into it. I found myself frustrated-angry in moments at not knowing how to make things happen, in pure torsion with my primitive desire to connect and love. I think that’s the african experience many people have, in a single seed.
The trip after the Kasese portion of this one will be have a lot more of that second realm — anxiety at traveling on my own, visiting projects for no particular reason, putting myself in the hands of a tour group for the climb up kilimanjaro, which I so clearly am not trained to do right now. So many unknowns. And then a long flight back here to BC to quietly recover, make meaning and make plans for 2010.