July 25, 2017
Some experiences are difficult to vocalize. For weeks now, I have sat down to write this post, and what I find is that nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had, or even the aftermath of trying to answer the question, “How was Uganda?”
Growing up, I was the stereotypical girl that read books about the effects of international aid in Africa, and how this aid is often detrimental to the local communities “benefitting” from it. Backed with this prior reading and our semester-long class on Global Problems specifically related to Uganda, I, rather ignorantly, felt completely prepared to travel with our group (ha!).
Throughout the trip, our professor David Westfall would continually say that he would push us “to the edge” and pull us back when we were about to reach our breaking point. I thought this was a joke, but it wasn’t.
For the sake of maintaining the integrity of the experiences we had, people we met, and places we traveled, I will write about some lessons I learned on this trip rather than attempt to describe our six weeks in full:
- The culture in which we are socialized impacts our every action, thought, and emotion. For anyone that’s lived in a larger town, coming to Emporia may feel rather small, and vice-versa. If you’ve grown up in Emporia your whole life, however, the town is all you know, or the “norm.” Each day, I was struck and humbled by something that I would not consider “normal”- women being considered prostitutes for drinking a beer, children using a ball of garbage as a soccer ball, people openly sharing the little they had with complete strangers – yet I realized that these are facts of life to Ugandans, and to diminish them as “worse” than our own culture would be an ignorant shame. We only see these cultural differences as shocking because we have been socialized into our own western society.
- Media superficially displays images of children in Africa as sad, broken, and unable to take care of themselves; however, I have never experienced so much joy and welcome from everyone we encountered. This portrayal is an injustice.
- Raising children can be a community event! Others love to hold your baby, and what we found is that children would be roaming the streets alone at age 4, and were doing perfectly fine. Others are incredibly grateful to play even a small role in your child’s life.
- School is a blessing. To have the privilege to complain about having homework and attending class is something others long to do. In Kampala, we spoke to some students who fight every day to be able to have school fees to become educated. I met a young girl who told me she, too, wanted to be Student Body President one day. I was humbled.
- Nothing-no new pair of shoes, perfect internship, meal at Radius-can replace the power of love. In love, Ugandans taught us, you have much.
For the sake of readers, I’ve limited my lessons to five; however, every single day, hour, and minute brought with it an experience I will never forget.
For anyone considering traveling to Uganda, I urge you: do it. It may not always be the “tourist experience” that everyone longs for on study abroad trips, but Uganda will embrace you. The people live fiercely, full of love and kindness and graciousness. The arms in which you’re wrapped may feel too tight at times, but they will always be there to take you in. We are all people in this beautiful, enormous, unfair, powerful world, and we must find what binds us rather than divides us. Connection is possible all around the world. All you have to do is choose to place yourself in the way of beauty.