A month since my trip to Uganda, I still don't necessarily have a lot of really deep thoughts and pretty sentences to share with you. The trip was so fast. It felt like a blur — full, but fuzzy.
The journalism school grad in me hesitates to say anything definitive about the place when I spent so little time in and of it. A few observations, though, stuck with me.
First of all, no one is cool on a 12-hour plane ride. Personal space, dignity, grace, all kinds of social constructs and cues — all of it goes right out the door as soon as those wheels go up. International travel is the great equalizer. That, and parenthood, I am told.
Maybe this is a stereotypical thing to say of an African country — though if it is, it is a positive stereotype with at least some basis for truth — but everything in Uganda seemed to move with a rhythm. Voices. Hips. Boda-bodas.
Talking often sounded more like singing to my ears, an ebb and flow of words rising and diving in time. Pedestrians moved deliberately, not hurrying in bursts as opportunity or space permitted, but according to a steady, internal hum. I became convinced that women with heavy baskets on their heads could stroll busy Kampala streets because the fruit piled inside simply knew which way to lean, and when. And — speaking of those streets — the flow of foot and vehicular traffic sans crashes was a sort of musical feat in and of itself.
"How do you know which one to walk in front of?" I asked our driver, Abdu, in disbelief and laughter as he guided us, Frogger-style, across one crowded road after another. He shrugged.
"You just know," he said, as if he'd never thought about it. He turned to me, quizzical. "You don't?"
(Speaking of the crowded roads, I've experienced my fair share of them in third world settings, but traffic in Kampala beats them all. I didn't take any photos of rush hour, but if you've ever played one of those sliding block puzzle games, imagine that, but cars; and, oh, you can't actually move any of the blocks. You all just kind of have to squeeze around into available space until it works out. It might take 15 minutes. It might take five hours. May the odds be ever in your favor.)
Color is bold and abundant. It was like living in a world that already had an Instagram filter on it or something — super saturated and almost too bright. Even the dust was deep, red-orange.
This should come as a news flash to no one, but being a minority is inherently awkward, and everyone should experience it at one point or another, if only to cultivate empathy.
The color of my skin made me immediately and undeniably different, and applied a firm set of assumptions on me from the moment we touched down. I understand where they come from, and why, but it doesn't make it any less uncomfortable. Even if the assumptions are true, there's still a hint of the old at-school-in-your-underwear dream feeling — that everyone is extra-conscious of you and knows stuff about you, even without knowing you.
Obviously, I'm not saying this because it really bothered or offended me during our four-day trip — I'm saying it because it's some people's everyday reality, and it's good to be reminded of that.
The coffee. THE COFFEE. The coffee. That is all.
Big cities kind of suck no matter where they are. This isn't true for everyone, of course — I'm just not a big-city person. I'm sure I could hack it living in one, but it would only be because I made it smaller for myself — found my grocery store and my coffee shop and my running route and maybe a tree or something — and got outside of it whenever I could. I love people, but not crowds; and when you add a bunch of concrete and traffic to that, I feel sad or anxious and like I can't breathe.
Not only is Kampala a big city, it's a whole new level of unfamiliar, as well. The Comforter's Center is located in its heart, because that's where the need is. I loved their ministry and getting to be a part of it, but I secretly felt a little embarrassed and unadventurous knowing that my insides were approaching claustrophobic. It wasn't until we took a day to drive to Itanda Falls and the much-smaller city of Jinja that I felt like my lungs untwisted and fully exhaled. Just the way I'm wired.
Uganda is full of people just getting it done, one way or another. I never ceased to be amazed at their creativity and drive. From weaving through cars hawking goods in rush hour to fitting unimaginably large loads (lumber! an entire family! 100 dead chickens! I am not exaggerating!) on a single boda-boda, the people are savvy, stubborn problem-solvers. Disadvantage may necessitate it, and it may be misdirected occasionally, but ingenius is admirable all the same, and Uganda has it in droves.
Finally, I can't end without saying again — I can't get over the Comforter's Center and their work in Kampala. The women in the photo above are heroes.
One by one, clients came into their office — young girls, just babies themselves sometimes — and were gracious enough to share their stories. The situation they're in is complicated regardless of culture and location; but in Kampala, it's also downright scary.
Pregnancy and abortion are taboo subjects in everyday life and conversation, despite their rampant existence. A single woman in Kampala who finds herself pregnant is essentially guaranteed abandonment by the father and family, and female students will bel kicked out of school at the first sign of a swollen belly.
If shame or fear don't cause her to abort, then the impending pressure of supporting a child in dire poverty — with no education to assist in obtaining a job, to boot — is usually enough to do the trick.
I deeply disagree with abortion to begin with. In the case of single moms in Kampala, though, the procedure is also technically illegal and therefore carried out through whatever janky means doctors (or anyone who wants to pose like one, really) decide to offer through the back door.
I don't have statistics for you, but a staggering amount of abortions in Uganda either don't work at all, result in harming — but not killing — the baby in some way, or result in ending the mother's life along with her unborn.
These women are in a lose-lose-lose situation; and for most, the Comforter's Center is the only win available to them.
To have a group of individuals who know their situation and support them in it changes everything for these young moms. Everything. That's not an exaggeration, that's a statement of fact.
When they come to the Comforter's Center, they suddenly have someone in their corner. They have someone to talk to, someone to listen; someone to offer advice, help find housing, help find work, and provide material goods when necessary. Someone whose doors will never shut. Someone whose face will never turn away in disgust or anger. Someone like God — someone who knows the whole story, and offers grace.
That's the heart of the Comforter's Center. I'm proud to serve at a church that partners with them, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to experience Uganda. It may have only been a few days, but they packed a punch, and I'm thankful for every second.