So I’ve made it! Four days down, 86 more to go. A couple of days ago that would have seemed like an absurd amount of time, enough to make me burst into tears, but I have to say, it’s amazing how quickly this place grows on you! In the weeks that lead to my departure I found myself growing more and more nervous and apprehensive at the prospect of leaving the comforts of home and the familiarity of my family and friends. The excitement and readiness for this experience that I had known at the end of winter term were becoming a (very) distant memory, and I began to wonder if this was something I could actually pull off. Was I just all talk, no action? Of course, I was determined to follow through with this experience because, deep down, I knew that my nerves were getting the better of me, and I would likely be more than okay once I finally arrived in Uganda…or at least that’s what I was betting on.
At the Toronto airport, after I went through the gate, and the moment my father, sister, and Vanessa were out of sight, I felt so completely alone. I just wanted to make best friends with the first person I saw and keep them with me until December 8th, but honestly, I think I would’ve scared off any possible prospects had I tried. I was a pretty big mess, crying and sniffling (and it didn’t help that I had a cold, making me look like a two year old…you know the ones: crying because they’re probably tired or hungry or are in desperate need of a diaper change, with drool and snot running down their face, and you look at them wondering why someone for the love of God won’t get them a darn Kleenex?? Yeah, that was me...okay, maybe not that bad, but I certainly went through a LOT of tissues!)
So, anyway, on the plane, after the disappointment of realizing that I was seated in a middle seat (no good for big girls!), next to a mad professor-looking man who definitely gave me a run for my money in the big girl department (although, I guess he would’ve most likely fallen into the big boy department…but whatever! I don’t judge!), I was happy to see the wide variety of on-flight entertainment. There were a TON of movies, episodes from an array of TV shows, and even games, including my all-time fave, TETRIS! (lol, apparently it doesn’t take much to turn my frown upside down!). So I was able to distract myself for a good majority of the plane ride playing games and watching documentaries (such a nerd! Whoa!) FYI, The Cove, a documentary covering the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan is a must-see, although certainly not if you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie night.
Anyway, during the flight I was also able to chat a bit with my cozy neighbour, who turned out in fact to be not a mad-professor, but a mad-scientist, only not so mad; he was quite nice! We chatted about travelling, books, and homeopathic remedies for a wide variety of ailments. Knowing I was sick, he even dug through his carry-on for an assortment of homeopathic lozenges, energy boosters, all-natural sleep aids, and before leaving the plane gave me a stack of travel Kleenex packages! And just when I thought this man could not get more helpful, he walked with me through the terminal helping me figure out the details of my luggage and my transfer flight. Honestly, this man was a God-send! His help and guidance were excellent, and he calmed my nerves immensely. Before we parted ways, he gave me his card and made me promise to send him an email updating him on my adventures, and directed me to the silent lounge area. What a wonderful man!
Speaking of wonderful, this silent lounge area was the most wonderful invention and should be added to every airport! It is, as stated in the name, a silent area on the upper level of the airport with rows and rows of leather lounge chairs for people to rest. It was exactly what I needed, and apparently what many other people needed too, because at six thirty in the morning an available chair was difficult to come by. Nevertheless, I found an empty lounger, wrapped my feet in the straps of my backpack (wouldn’t want my things to go missing!), and snoozed comfortably for three hours before heading off to my next and final flight.
The flight from Amsterdam to Entebbe was uneventful, aside from my nerves making an encore appearance, this time with much greater force. But, once again I was able to distract myself with movies, games, and sleep; however as the plane landed, all I wanted was there to be some reason it had to re-ascend and take me anywhere but there. I think one of the immediate details that had me most worried was that, for the whole two terms that our Beyond Borders group were in class the most common piece of advice was to never travel alone at night. However, in order for me to get from the airport to the house where I would be staying for the next three months, I would have to travel by myself. Alone. At night. I tried very hard to look calm, cool, and collected, but I am certain the worry was screaming from the expression on my face.
Worry or no, I managed to get my entry visa, my luggage, exchange my money, and find a taxi to take me where I needed to be. The drive was dark and quiet, and as we entered Kampala the streets grew busier and busier. There were cars, boda bodas (small motorcycles that are a quick and inexpensive way of getting around), and people everywhere! It was extremely chaotic and overwhelming to say the least. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced culture shock before, but I think it’s safe to say that I can check that off my list of first-times. Throughout the year of in-class preparation Joanne mentioned several times that we will have moments of thinking “What the heck am I doing here?” That thought certainly went through my mind several dozen times during that hour long car ride, and a few more once I arrived at Comboni House. I felt like I was on a different planet. I’d experienced African culture only through media prior to this night, and it’s clear that media does not offer an effective representation of the culture. That is not necessarily to say that the media portrayals are inaccurate (though, I am sure some are), but there is nothing like the real thing.
As if my nerves weren’t already being pushed to their limit, the driver of my taxi couldn’t find the house where I’d be staying. After stopping a few times to ask for directions and making several precarious u-turns, we finally found the Comboni house…arriving at the same time as the other taxi that had been sent to the airport to pick me up. Unbeknownst to me, the man, Joseph who runs Comboni House had received an email informing him of my arrival hours before I landed and was told to arrange a pick up. They had been waiting at the airport and saw me walk by…not knowing it was me, of course. Anyway, I made it in safe and sound, met a few of the people staying at the house (a guy and gal from Germany, Benny and Karin, and a couple others). Somehow, I managed to put on a friendly face and fain some excitement and happiness to be there, but after about ten minutes I said goodnight and cried myself to sleep. (I know, aw, right??)
I had never felt more alone than in those moments. Leading up to my departure, talking and thinking about the length of time I’d be away didn’t really mean much to me. Three months didn’t seem like a long or short amount of time. It just was what it was. But laying there on my mattress of three inches beneath the foreign mosquito netting, smelling foreign smells, and hearing a foreign language being spoken right outside my door, three months felt like an absolute eternity. All of my hopes and yearnings to one day live and work abroad could not have escaped from my mind fast enough. I never wanted to be away from home again. Ever. (I know that makes you happy to read Mom, Dad, and Rosanna :P)
Feeling the effects of jetlag, combined with the fact of still being sick, I somehow managed to sleep from about 10pm Tuesday night until 6pm Wednesday evening. At one point Joseph and another blurry figure (I didn’t have my glasses on) came in to check that I was still alive! I must say, I think having that time to myself to build myself back up again was really helpful. It’s funny because solitude for me has the potential to have negative effects. It allows me far too much time to dwell on the issues that are bringing me down, which only brings me down farther. But somehow, I got up the courage to finally leave my room just in time for dinner. And I’m so glad that I did! It was then that I experienced first-hand just how welcoming everyone was and how happy they were to have me there.
After dinner, I was invited to join my housemates in the chapel located just off the common room for an evening service. Though I am not what one would call religious (it’s evolution over creation for me!), I obliged…more so out of respect than of want. To my surprise, I think the service was a real turning point for me. There was something so genuine and beautiful about their faith, and I believe that it offered me the same strength in my state of uncertainty to believe in myself and my purpose for being here. This is not to say, of course, that I will be attending church bright and early every Sunday (sorry, Mom!), but it certainly offered me a great appreciation for those and their faith.
Since then my confidence in my ability to live in a foreign country three months has been tested (detailed blogs to follow shortly!). Sometimes I feel very comfortable and sure of myself here, and other times all I want is something familiar, something that makes me feel safe again. I must say, though that this experience so far has given me great insight into how new immigrants to Canada must feel. I hear so many times minority groups being criticized for not properly and fully integrating into the Canadian culture, but now I can fully understand and appreciate their need (not only a want) to hold onto their own culture and heritage. It is all they have left after leaving their homeland. Their identity is at stake, and by maintaining cultural traditions and norms, they are able to move forward in a new and unfamiliar place. I, for example, have been to Red Chili Hideaway (a hostel right around the corner from where I am staying) almost everyday since I’ve arrived. My main motive for this is to use their wireless internet in order to keep in contact with my family; but aside from that, it’s quite refreshing to be around others similar to myself. I’ve not interacted with any of them, but just being in close proximity makes me feel a little less lost. I believe that in time I will adjust to the culture shock, but for right now, Red Chili is a wonderful retreat when I’m in need!