Monday, April 4, 2011

Gulu: The Last Visit

My time in Uganda is coming soon to an end. Has two years really gone by? I can’t believe it. I feel as though I’m grasping to make the most of every moment and yet, I’m living in denial of my departure. I can’t imagine not being here…and I don’t want to.

This next month of my life will be filled with a lot of traveling and a lot of goodbyes. It has officially started as I went to Gulu for my last trip here here. Crazy. My roommates spend March in Gulu as they both had things that they needed to be here for an extended time for. Though I begged and pleaded, I was much more needed in Kampala than Gulu. I came up on a Thursday to spend my last trip here with them during their last days here.

The coming here part was an adventure in and of itself as I took the public bus. Take away all pictures in your mind of an American school bus or a fancy charter bus. It is neither of these. The goal of these buses is to fit as many passengers (and animals, if need be) in as possible. I had take buses to another town as well as Rwanda before so I had an idea in my mind of what to expect. However, it was my first trip alone. And this bus was not as nice as the one to Rwanda. The bus was scheduled to take off at 6:30am but I was to be there 30 minutes early. My driver was 20 minutes late and I was in panic sweat mode. If there were even a slight bit of traffic, there would be no way that I was making my bus. Luckily, my driver busted it into town and I got there just in time. Just in time to go through security, that is. I was the only white person around and the security guard took great pleasure in selecting my bag (and only my bag) to open up and go through. I think he just wanted to see what was inside. I got on the bus and was directed to my seat. It was then that I realized the difference between this and the Rwanda bus: space. I’m a short girl and thus, can fit pretty easily in most spaces. It was a tight squeeze in my seat and the guy next to me was pressed closely.

Oh yes, my seat buddy. Keep in mind, this is 6:30am. This is not chatty happy time for Sarah. I wanted to slouch in my seat, iPod on and sleep. Seat Buddy wanted nothing of that, as there was a white girl next to him that he could get to know. This white girl did not want to get knowed. That didn’t stop him. Besides invading my personal space for the next five hours, he decided that he needed to make some demands of me. Whenever I would open my eyes, take an earbud out of my ear or any other indication that he would be heard, he’d start to tell me some of the following:

“When you get to Gulu, I am going to stay with you.”
“When you get to Gulu, you are going to buy me a soda. One in a glass bottle.”

Those were the two main one that he repeated over…and over…and over again. Especially about the soda. For the entirety of my five hour bus ride. He then decided that instead of one sentence demands, he would give me a 10 minute “cultural lesson” on why I was culturally required to do this for him. His main point was that since I was sitting next to him, I was to show my appreciation of this by buying him his list of demands. I clearly did not agree.

After arriving in Gulu, I tagged along with what Kate and Kacie had been doing for the past three weeks. I visited schools with Kate, taking pictures of our kids for their sponsors. We visited vocational schools to see where our kids would best fit. That night, we had dinner with all of our Hope Alive! staff in Gulu. It was great seeing the mentors again and catching up with them. I’ve always felt so honored working alongside such people.

The next day, I went to some more schools with Kate. I then got to meet up with Irene! Irene was one of our students in Kampala. She had been staying with an aunt there but trouble began with her side of the family and her aunt’s. Irene was in the middle and thus became the example. Her aunt kicked her out of the house. We sat in our office with Irene and her father, both sobbing and not knowing what to do. Her father lived in Gulu but moving Irene to Gulu would uproot her from her school, friends and all that she had known. There was no other option and Gulu was seen as the best option for her. I hadn’t seen Irene since that tear filled day in our office and I was dying to see how she was doing. It ended up turning into quite the scene. I took a boda to her school, as I couldn’t remember how to get there. When I arrived, there were in the midst of an all school assembly…and my boda had arrived at the front of it. I made my way behind the school as to not cause a further scene. I found a teacher and asked if Irene could come. Tears came to my eyes when I saw her walking towards me. I had missed her so much. We hugged for awhile…that is, until another teacher came up to us and asked us to move inside as we were distracting the students. In my excitement, I hadn’t realized that the entire school population had turned to watch our little reunion. I looked beyond Irene and saw hundreds of little faces staring and giggling our way. We moved into the office and I got caught up on her life in Gulu. She misses Kampala terribly but likes her school and has made many friends. That day, she was actually campaigning for a leadership position in her class. I was so proud of her.

On Saturday, we went to a lot of homes. Caroline works at the hotel that Kate and Kacie had stayed at for that month. They had gotten to know her well and she invited us all over to her house. We got to meet her adorable daughter (who was scared out of her mind that white people were in her house) and were served an incredible meal. We then headed to the Feeding Centre to meet up with a mentor and visit some of our kids’ homes. The mentor asked us if we were ready to “foot” for a long time. We were ready…or so we thought. It was about 45 minutes later that we arrived at the first house, deep in the African bush. They welcomed us with smiles and an entire meal, chicken included. Meat is such a precious treat here and it was incredibly humbling to receive this from them. We went to about four other homes. At one, they brought out a chicken as a gift for us, squawking, and handed it straight to Kacie, the only vegetarian. I got much humor out of this. Kate carried it the rest of the way and named her Sal. She said it was for Salvadora but I thought it was for Salmonella. Sal would squawk at the most awkward times, mainly during prayer or other such serious moments. We were out for four hours, three of which were spent walking on little dirt paths in the middle of nowhere. I love it. I love walking so deep in the village and meeting these families; so hidden off of small dirt paths.

We went to a church in the bush that Kate and Kacie had been going to. It was mostly women and children, with very few men. I got emotional during praise and worship. I’m going to miss worshipping God, Ugandan style. After church, we began our journey back to Kampala. It was a considerably more comfortable ride back than the one up.

The memories of Gulu, however, will remain:
-My roach (and every other kind of bug) filled hotel room on my first trip
-Getting lost trying to find the UN offices.
-The ridiculous sunburn that followed getting lost trying to find the UN offices.
-Listening to the local instruments play during worship.
-Mary leaving her hand outside her mosquito net and getting 500 bites.
-Buying cold water bottles and putting them on our necks to cool us down on hot days.
-Watching Shem and Kate play basketball.
-Watching Shem dunk on Kate.
-Getting asked for our phone numbers at the Chinese restaurant and having Kacie tell them to google us.
-Attempting to speak Acholi...and getting laughed at.
-Being a part of enrolling new kids and hearing their stories.
-Going to my first village burial.
-Walking through the bush on home visits; my favorite thing.
-The family handing the live chicken straight to Kacie, the only vegetarian.
-Walking arm in arm with Charles on the way to the hut that he shared with his two sisters.
-So many sweat filled nights…and days…

Goodbye to the Hope Alive! staff.
Goodbye to the Hope Alive! kids.
Goodbye to the intense heat.
Goodbye to the 50600399903724 NGO’s.
Goodbye to the dusty roads.
Goodbye to the familiar roads.
Goodbye to the random Chinese restaurant who has no lighting.
Goodbye to sweet Daffine and her family.
Goodbye to the small market.
Goodbye to the feeding centre.

Goodbye, Gulu. You remain in my heart and memories forever. I will see you again...