Home for two weeks now, and despite a pretty self-indulgently relaxing holiday (hot stone massage, luxurious food and all), I'm still carrying a lot of Africa with me. Still sorting my pics, and although this isn't particularly interesting as a photograph, it illustrates so much about perspective.
This is from the first day we walked to the project, when we got a bit lost and it started to rain. So there we were, four muzungu unexpectedly walking down a side road, soaking wet. And this guy got out of his car and started filming us. So here is carissa, asking him directions, while he's still filming her, this weird stranger. So much about unexpectedness and how the gaze of otherness shifts.
Have been reading Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, by Richard Dowden. (http://www.amazon.com/Africa-Altered-States-Ordinary-Miracles/dp/1586487531/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262629523&sr=8-1) I can't recommend it enough -- very accessible and insightful about the west's perception of Africa, the multiple forces that made it what it is, all of the hope and possibility there. He talks right at the beginning about the contradiction between what we expect and find as visitors:
Few go there. Africa has a reputation: poverty, disease, war. But when outsiders do go they are often surprised by Africa's welcome, entranced rather than frightened. Visitors are welcomed and cared for in Africa. If you go you will find most Africans friendly, gentle and infinitely polite. You will frequently be humbled by African generosity. Africans have in abundance what we call social skills. These are not skills that are formally taught or learned. There is no click-on have-a-nice-day-smile in Africa. Africans meet, greet and talk, look you in the eye and empathize, hold hands and embrace, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness. All these things are natural as music in Africa.
He also emphatically makes the point that there is no ONE Africa, and that it's not luxury-travel that shows you what Africa is. Which I would agree with, also emphatically.
I'm still holding onto the paradox of the authenticity of the oceans of love -- which I feel fresh in the emails I get from our oldest girl -- where in some ways I acquire the status of "mother," as relatives do who look after you as a child -- and where I'm also so aware that this is such a privileged status coming from the money and outside-shape to the world I provide. Uganda is so aid-dependent that I am so conscious that our every interactions can't be about us... and of course, they also are, we do this because we care about these kids, and we care about these kids so much because they care about us back. So complex, and so compelling.