Saturday, January 27, 2007

Uganda: the Mothership

After a memorable sendoff from my beloved Ugandan friends and family, I am now back on the Mothership - the good old US of A. It feels fantastic to sit in my unmade bed and type on my laptop with superfast wireless internet. I've slept three hours and am wired on coffee from breakfast at Bob and Edith's (no time wasted getting back to my old habits), so I figured I'd get this out before my body completely shuts down.

Dad sent me a reminder to be "extra vigilant on your last night in town, as predators assume you won't bother filing criminal charges if you're headed back to the US." Thanks Dad. Upon my demand, Katie set up a goodbye dinner at Crocodile Cafe in Kisementi, the home of delicious avocado salads, banana splits and a phenomenal selection of 1980s movie soundtracks. Our first dinner there, they played one song on a constant loop -- I Wanna Know What Love Is by Foreigner. It's quite a charming place. Our dinner group was Katie, me, Rebekah, Jared (our roommate and the proud owner of a fantastic red moustache, grown specifically for his time in Uganda), Joseph, Howard (our friend from Apac up north that was in town), Enoch and Ortega. We had a great dinner, ate a ton and then headed over to Fat Boyz for Pilsners and reggaeton - and to watch the guys dance, which they do so well in Uganda. Since Enoch had to go study for a finance exam, I imitated his calypso dance, complete with shoulder shrug, arms akimbo and the little foot shuffle. At the very least I had fun entertaining myself. The evening wrapped up for me around 2 a.m. back at the apartment above La Fontaine. I passed out and slept fitfully, dreaming of missing my flight in the morning. I was to discover on the plane that since I slept without the mosquito net, I was completely covered in bites. In the midst of my waking dreams, I can remember the high-pitched hum of mosquitoes in my ears as I tried to sleep. They feasted on my arms and left knee.

I awoke at 5 a.m. to get packed up. Peter was picking me up at 6:30 to get to the airport in time. Our generator was off at the apartment, so I took a cold shower with my headlamp on, in an effort to be clean and comfortable for the plane ride. Rebekah and Katie slowly roused and helped me check to make sure I hadn't left anything behind. I stepped outside in the lavender mist that hangs over Kampala mornings before the sun reaches the horizon. To my surprise, Ortega had returned and was waiting at the gate to see me off. Peter was already waiting, car door ajar. I embraced my friends (several times over) tearfully and got into the car. Peter and I sped off on the pothole-filled road, my last glimpses of Kampala flying by. We passed the NUPI offices, Garden City mall, the Jinja Road-Kampala Road roundabout, the industrial area...all to the tune of the tinny car speakers blaring Sean Paul and Sasha "I'm still in love" on Sanyu FM radio. I'm certainly still in love with Uganda.

Kampala is known among ornithologists for its spectacular variety of birds - especially in an urban setting. The most notable (and infamous) are the enormously unattractive Marabou Storks, which nest in the trees and stand with their knobby knees atop Kampala's buildings, looking down on passerby with their sinister appearance. Last week, I had opened the New Vision to see that the electrical company had cut down trees on the Kampala-Jinja road roundabout without concern for the nesting Marabou Storks. The paper had a color photo of a baby stork, a lumpy pink mess - much like the larger version plucked free of feathers - standing alone on the roundabout as workers, bodas and matatus buzzed past. Katie and I first made fun of the article, laughing about how the appendage hanging from the bird's necks took on the nasty appearance of particularly unattractive human appendage. We were in constant fear of the birds unleashing huge piles of crap as they flew overhead, which was known to happen quite frequently. Now, thinking about the baby stork, looking lost and isolated on the roundabout as the world spun by, I feel sad. Coming back from Uganda feels a bit like being thrown from the nest, not yet ready to face the realities awaiting on the ground. After nearly a month making a home of Kampala and Gulu, I already knew that returning to the US would make me feel all lumpy, pink and vulnerable.

Readjustment is difficult, but I'm going to venture to say that this return will be a little smoother. I spent a lot of time learning to live in Kampala, and making some great new Ugandan friends. The biggest consolation is that I know I will return soon enough, and that each time the experience will be a little bit richer.

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