By Sarah Lovejoy
Usually, “we’ve come so far” is just a passing phrase, implying change or growth but not necessarily distance. In reflecting on my past few weeks, however, I discover much of both. I’ve flown 14,603 miles from the US to Uganda, driven from Kampala to Gulu, and traveled to the local districts of Alero, Amuru, and Lacor. Lots of distances. As for change and growth, where to begin?
Exactly three weeks ago, I was Sarah Lovejoy and I lived in Tacoma, Washington. Today, I am Amarokuc Sarah and it feels like home whenever a boda turns in to the BOSCO Uganda/Catechist Training Center driveway (where we live). I knew two words of Acholi when I arrived. Now, I can greet someone at any time of the day and count to 10. I had never taken a boda; now, I’ve done so riding sidesaddle while protecting two boxes of cupcakes. It is amazing to feel myself being shaped by my time here. Some ways are small, and some more significant. Three weeks into this journey, I think it’s fitting to share 3 lessons I’ve learned:
1. Life is too wonderful to take too seriously. For the first few days (ok fine, weeks) of work, I was always caught off guard when someone cracked a joke. I didn’t pick up on sarcasm or ridiculous instructions at all. I was in what I’ll call “US work mode.” I thought that “professionalism” necessarily meant serious. I wanted to do a good job and was thus focused on work alone during my work hours. I found myself frustrated when I felt like I wasn’t getting much work done. Now, I look back and laugh! I am getting more work done than last week, and also getting in many more laughs. I’ve bonded with coworkers and neighbors, and feel so much more at home for it. At the end of the day, it is relationships that make it worth it. This culture has opened my eyes to laughter; not as an add-on, but as a part of life itself. Everywhere, I find laughter and smiles: taking a walk, in the grocery store, at the market, on bodas. Of course, there are times when life is difficult and serious. The people of northern Uganda certainly know this well enough. But life here, more often than not, provides an opportunity for joy and friendship. Each day is another day we are lucky enough to live, and a smile not given is a smile wasted.
2. Rain is a good thing. Even when it takes the power out. Reflecting back, some of the best times I’ve had here have been in the midst of a downpour. During my first week, while at Bardege Community ICT Center, the power shut off and people flocked to the Center for shelter from the torrential downpour. The room was cozy and still impressively quiet, and I spent a blissful 2 hours reading with two beautiful schoolchildren. In spite of our language barrier we read book after book, equally excited when we could share words in addition to our smiles. After the worst of it had let up, Lindsey and I walked back to the Catechist Training Center, also in the rain, with two boys who would become some of our closest friends. Normally we would have taken a boda, but our fear of slippery driving conditions allowed us to branch out and forge a new friendship. A week later, a rainy Friday night without power stopped us from going out in town, but inspired an evening spent swapping stories and playing cards by flashlight here at the Catechist Training Center. Once again, rain led to friendship! Another small lesson that life is meant to be enjoyed, and not taken too seriously!
3. Don’t go running at 4pm. Lindsey, Claire and I had been wanting to go running for awhile, so one day when we all finished work early, we decided to head out. We were eager to see the sights and get some fresh air. Little did we know, 4pm air is still incredibly hot; we were gasping as soon as we started. But we were in for a far greater surprise than the heat. Apparently, 4pm is the time school gets out. We unwittingly ran straight through a schoolyard just as the students were being released for the day. Already a daily spectacle, three muzungus in colorful shorts, running at one of the hottest times of day was just too much for the kids. Our ears rang. Not just with giggles or whispers, but full on I-haven’t-ever-seen-anything-that-funny belly laughs. Our run was made more difficult by our own uncontrollable laughter at the whole situation. A few brave souls decided to run a half mile with us in school shoes and uniforms, making the run even more memorable. Suffice it to say, we went later the next day and avoided the schoolyard altogether.
Sarah Lovejoy is originally from Tacoma, Washington and currently studies in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is excited to be interning with BOSCO-Uganda during the 2013 summer and will be providing regular updates from Gulu, Uganda over the next two months.