The Banks of Lake Victoria, Entebbe Uganda.
“Every breath is a new opportunity,”
the yogi whispered
I opened the bedroom window in my small apartment for the first time, pausing to close my eyes and inhale the newness of it all. The air tasted cool, tinged with bitter-sweet notes of unkempt grass and ripened fruits bursting off the PawPaw tree in the back yard, whose long limbs and gracious leaves blew against my window during the night. Stretching my eyes open wide enough to clear the heavy night’s sleep, the tightly coiled knots of trepidation lodged at the base of my throat and the lining of my gut, that traveled with me since I left the States, began to unfurl as the hues of morning light reflected my view.
Peering through the screen, I discovered scattered brick houses, small in size and colored in various hues of saffron and melon—crowned with terra cotta roofs that peaked through the palm fronds and the rolling mounds of both ripened green and oatmeal parched sugar cane. The red crepe petals of the bush with an unknown name wrapping widely through and about the metal fence at the back of the lot, reached downward as the moisture gathered and slowly rolled off its edges. White and gray clouds, low in the sky, rolled around each other like playmates on a blue rug, gathering more so in the distance with the promise of an afternoon of heavy rains— common to the season—creating impassable rivers of debris along the dirt roads that lead to the city.
“Hmm, a good omen,” I thought to myself as I remained at the window—feeling welcomed by a view that seemed to be inviting me to stay. A fabulous view is a boon for what is always the most coveted room in my dwelling place, no matter where I find myself across this vast planet. With ease and little thought, I bless the room as my own—a womblike space for escape and refuge.
The ability to have a place of my own to retreat to is paramount. For those like me, an extroverted-introvert, no explanation is required. I need a space that is only mine, where I can be unabashedly myself without having to justify “me” to anyone. Whether I’m eating junk food in my bed while binging for hours on a British murder mystery, or reading a trashy novel that I may or may not admit to reading, or simply “taking to my bed” as my mother would say, for a long rest to re-energize from a world of take and demands.
I am glad I decided to get out of bed earlier than planned, before the sun dangled from that place in the sky where the rays beat the ground, releasing unrelenting heat that scorches all living things motionless— with the exception of the nettlesome mosquito, whining and careening as it hunts for any available sticky swath of skin. My plan was to sleep in as late as possible, as I have been struggling with the jet leg that comes from a 9 hour time difference. But I would have missed this much needed and grand welcome.
It’s been awhile, I know. My last post left many feeling uneasy and worried. Soon after that posting, and due to forces beyond my control, I lost both the meter and the rhyme in my life. Necessary words failed me. The curtain closed, insidiously at first— in that way where one begins to question reality and sanity on a regular basis. Forces gathered, both unfamiliar and threatening while the ground below my feet shook. For weeks, I flailed without a compass.
“Hold… on… for… just…one… more… minute,” became my anchoring mantra as an escape plan took shape. All the while, I experienced a relentless battle of emotions and reason, while incessantly questioning the world around me.
I abruptly left Western Uganda right before Christmas, bags bursting with rolled up dirty clothes and shoes caked with the amber mud from the dirt streets traversed in the towns and villages where I worked. As I entered the terminal at Entebbe International Airport, battle worn and diminished, all I seemed to be able to do is question my actions and my inactions.
I arrived in Nashville beaten, coiled and knotted. It took me several months to unravel and process those few months I had working in Uganda. With caution and with care, I learned what it meant to practice the self-compassion and love I was keen to lecture others about, yet perfectly willing to deny for myself. It took work. It took help.
Ultimately, the healing balm was my family and my friends—those ready with arms wide open, loving me exactly where I was: broken and confused. They nourished me by keeping the space around me both safe and sacred. Few words were ever needed. The homecoming was one of the most cherished and humbling experiences of my life.
Once again, the curtain is pulled back with a new stage and a similar plot. Following the previous months, the organization I continue to work for is relocating to Gulu, a city in Northern Uganda. The mission stays the same: rescuing, rehabilitating and resettling severely malnourished children from the remote villages around the area.
Similar to the last area we worked, Gulu region has remote villages filled with children dying from malnutrition. But unlike the last city, this region has suffered years of violent upheavals that left thousands of children orphaned. The country is still trying to heal and rebuild after the terror the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) perpetrated on this region, led by Joseph Kony. It took me awhile to register that this is the Joseph Kony that my children, and many children around the globe, rallied against in the “Invisible Children” campaign during their early grade school years. The campaign was to bring attention to the persecution and kidnapping of young boys in Northern Uganda, to serve as child soldiers in Kony’s army. I have met many of those boys, who are now young adults. Their accounts of being forced to kill their parents, or to watch a parent be brutally murdered as they were forced to look on; or the young girls and women kidnapped and raped repeatedly in front of brothers, father’s and husbands, are jarring. The brutality of this rebellion touched everyone I have met, and both the visible and invisible scars have defined their lives moving forward. The collective resilience is remarkable.
This region of Northern Uganda borders Ethiopia and South Soudan, and is in close proximity to Somalia, making the area a hub for refugee camps that are overcrowded with people fleeing intolerable and violent situations, including genocide.
I live in an area filled with many NGO’s; therefore, westerners are not uncommon on the streets of town. Across the street from my apartment is a UN office, and the UN Consulate for the region lives in the apartment below me. Because of this, my apartment is behind a reinforced gate and there are no less than 2 armed guards stationed at the gate 24/7. This makes us all happy!
I am ready to share from this new place! Stay tuned…
Post script: Before I left the States, I heard a report on the news about the violent rebellion in Northern Ethiopia. Prior to working in Africa, that story would have rolled off me, with maybe a short pause for my fleeting surge of indignation, and usually only if I heard reports of violence against children…
Now, I am a witness to people living it. I hope I can find the right words to honor their pain.
I urge all readers to be informed of the greater world beyond our backyards. Willful ignorance is in itself a form of violence. I am not advocating everyone sell all their belongings and move to Africa, or to any of the hundreds of places around the world where violence, hunger, fear and desperation is the daily reality. But please do not turn from it. Everyone has the capacity to help by simply living lives that recognize and embody our oneness. We are woven together with the threads of abundant love. A simple prayer, a pause to recognize the imbalances and the struggles, is a beautiful offering.