Moving on

My days left in Uganda (and as an SP intern) are rapidly diminishing, meaning I should probably conjure up some final insightful blog post. Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye or final words. I’m really good at counting down to transitions that I often forget to stop and take the time to enjoy the present. So while there are many things I’m looking forward to, there are just as many things that I’m going to miss about Uganda and my job.

I’m going to miss:

-The pace of life here. The pace of life could also be added to the list of things I won’t miss, but as a slightly OCD time obsessed person it’s been nice to know that even though I may have a million plans and things to do in one day, most days never go according to plan. Instead of being focused on results, I find myself focusing more on experiences, processes and most importantly relationships.

-Fruit. While Karamoja is severely lacking in the fruit and veggie department, the rest of Uganda more than makes up for what Karamoja lacks. Juicy, sweet mangoes that grow in the wild, giant avocados, pineapple that tastes like candy, and bananas of more varieties than I knew existed.

-Weather. If you know me well, this is an obvious aspect of Uganda that will miss. Since I’ve been here and even while traveling throughout the country, there is no part of Uganda that has bad weather. During rainy season in the mountainous areas, it can get chilly but never too cold and even in areas where it gets hot, it’s never unbearable. The perpetual cold and rain of the Netherlands is not exactly beckoning me.

-Starry skies in Moroto. I’m now back in Kampala, but I was gifted with two breathtakingly last starry nights in Moroto. Looking up at a sky filled with bright twinkling dots inspires me and also leaves me feeling like a tiny speck in a massive universe.

-People. This is an obvious aspect of any move that is difficult. I’m extremely thankful for both the interactions I’ve had with Ugandans and how I’ve learned and grown, but also for my expat friends who I can effortlessly feel like myself around, have insightful (and not so insightful) conversations with, and who inspire me with their travel and life stories. I’ve almost taken for granted all well-traveled my circle of friends is here and it will be a difficult adjustment to perhaps be around people who haven’t spent their lives globe-trotting.

I’m already missing life in Moroto, although very much looking forward to the next stage in life. Like all places I’ve visited and lived in, Uganda will have a special place in my heart.

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Life in Moroto

Moroto may not be the cosmopolitan world of Seoul, or even have the artsy cultured vibes of Ann Arbor, but somehow we keep ourselves entertained. It’s not uncommon for both of the only two cell phone servers to lose service (sometimes even for days), and my internet speed (and availability) varies from day to day. I can count the number of restaurants in Moroto on one hand and all of them offer almost identical menus. Within approximately the first month of living in Uganda I had already sampled all varieties of Ugandan food. In contrast, during my one year in Korea and incessant sampling of new Korean dishes, I failed to scratch the surface of the variety of food. Korean food was so varied that I even introduced some of my native Korean friends to new dishes.

In spite of how dull life in Uganda and Moroto might appear, there is never a dull moment living and working here. While I do spend a significant amount of time in an office (something that scared me from ever being a real engineer), even my office time presents daily new challenges and surprises. For the past week and a half I have been acting project manager of my project and so I get the full range of problem solving opportunities. Figuring out how to get a stray chicken from wandering around my office and relieving itself, trying to communicate with my staff when the cell phone network is down, trying to read and send e-mails when the internet fails, losing power because someone accidentally mixed diesel and petrol when refueling our generator, trying to get money from the one atm in town when there is no power for days, trying to make it to the field and not get stuck when driving on roads that often more closely resemble rivers than roads, figuring out how to print when our ink cartridges suddenly run out and the only way to get new ones is bringing them up from Kampala, figuring out how to send a visa application registered mail and get appropriate dutch passport photos, sorting out how to transport staff to the field when there always seems to be a vehicle or motorbike in need of repair, the list goes on. Even the task of hiring new staff is more complicated that one would expect. Receiving strange phone calls at 9 pm begging you not to hire one of the interviewed candidates? Yes, that happened and apparently happens frequently.

Beyond work, we entertain ourselves with weekly hikes, looking ridiculous doing sprint workouts around town, movie nights, pizza nights, a play and dance for the whole town, and making enchiladas and other meals from scratch. According to the several personality quizzes (that seem to always produce different results) I’ve taken, the trend I’ve noticed is that my personality thrives in a fast paced, busy, challenging, and constantly changing work environment. While, Moroto may not provide the cosmopolitan lifestyle of a world class city, it does provide constant challenges and entertainment. Although I am looking forward to living somewhere where I can satisfy my “sophisticated” (or so I think) taste buds, be completely independent, and blend in; I will miss living in the shadow of a mountain and the humorous daily challenges that life and work in Uganda present. Image

 

Blending in

The more time I spend in Uganda and other African countries, makes me wonder what it is that draws me to these places. In my natural, comfortable state, I am pretty close to opposite the average “African” (if I’m going to do some generalizing) citizen. I immensely enjoy planning (as long as its long term big picture planning), I love structure and schedules. I dislike being late. I have a terrible sense of rhythm, and am a bad dancer even for a white person (not that it stops me from having a good time). My ideal diet would be mostly plant and whole grain based. I have the attention span of a two year old; therefore am lucky to sit through a one and half hour church service (forget about an all-day affair). While I consider myself semi social, I am not nearly as relational as people here are. I would likely prioritize finishing a to-do list or making it to a meeting on time, than stopping to chat with someone. I prefer hugs to handshakes. I have no immediate or even long term plans to have a family, and if I ever decide I want kids it’s hard for me to imagine handling more than two or three. Repetition in speech, writing, or song irritates me and when viewing the Bible and faith I struggle with theology that is legalistic or merely focused on evangelism.

There are a million reasons why I do not blend in here and why I often become frustrated, but I also love how different life is here. It is slightly less stressful (in some ways) knowing that meetings will NEVER start on time, deadlines are flexible, and no one takes life too seriously (a lesson that could be learned in many other countries). I appreciate the rhythm and character of music here since it’s so opposite to what I’m capable of and used to and I appreciate the passion people put into their worship even if I’m the awkward one stiffly standing and singing. I appreciate how relational people are and how they will stop whatever they are doing to talk, no matter how trivial the conversation is. While I seriously doubt I will ever learn to love African church services, it is admirable that young children are able to sit through three hour plus services and that people often devote their entire Sunday to church. I’m not sure if I will ever understand the obsession (for lack of a better word) with fertility and “producing” here, and it is one area of Ugandan culture that for the health of the country and people that could perhaps adapt a bit (without trying to sound like I’m trying to change culture).

There is a vibrancy, color, and relaxedness to life in Uganda (and the other African countries I’ve visited) that I haven’t encountered anywhere else in the world. In spite of the many, many reasons I look silly here, I do enjoy Ugandan life and there is so much I will miss.

Carbs or Cafes?

Food.  Critical to survival, also a hobby for me.  One of my favorite aspects of traveling is immersing myself in the local culture and food. In my early stages of expathood I was the (probably obnoxious) person who refused to eat anything familiar, went out of my way to try strange foods that might frighten the not so “culturally sensitive” as myself. In Germany, even as a vegetarian I was horrified at some of my roommates purchasing airy unsubstantial white bread and “American” (ie processed) cheese to make grilled cheese sandwiches. Neither of these so called food items were part of my diet in the US, but more importantly why would you seek out American foods when you’re living in Germany?! I was creative in sampling the local cuisine even though the bulk of German food revolves around meat.

On short term trips I enthusiastically ate everything put in front of me (goat stew that still contained goat hair? Yes, please–but maybe not so enthusiastically). Whole fish in Nicaragua (shocking to some Americans but quite common in most parts of the world)? Sticky rice dipped in pig’s blood and fish skin in Taiwan, smelly durian fruit in Indonesia, eel in Japan, everything was fascinating for my curious tongue. In Korea I scoffed at the foreigners who frequented Itaewon (the foreign part of Seoul with expats in abundance) to get their hamburgers. Korean food was tasty and healthy and part of the whole living abroad experience is fully integrating myself into the local way of life. Of course I’ll try live octopus!

Pride comes before the fall. Living in Germany and Korea, I made a point of stepping out of the comfortable expat bubble of familiar culture and foods. If I was the only white person in the establishment=success (see “stuff white people like”). Well, Uganda has changed that. I was enthusiastic about my matooke (boiled mashed green bananas), poshyo (some kind of mostly flavorless starch that is gradually growing on me), “irish” potatoes, millet, sweet potatoes, rice (notice the carbs trend), beans, and often unidentifiable meats for a while. Then, I started frequenting “expensive” cafes when I could find them, to get my salads and sandwiches. I was not a minority in these establishments. My best friend has become chili sauce to douse my flavorless food with spice. Guess I’ll stop judging the expats who require their familiar foods. I’m probably not as cultured as I once claimed to be. But I won’t stop eating whatever is put in front of me. Even if it’s chicken gizzard.

Side note: Uganda has made me miss Korea for the first time since leaving. Cheap, delicious, convenient food whenever I want. Life was easy!