Starting Out

I’ve started writing this blog post a few different times. The first time was weeks before I was leaving, and the theme of the post was going to be about why I wanted to go to Uganda, and why I even decided to apply to the fellowship in the first place back in January. I didn’t get very far with that post; the only reasons I could jot down were that I hated the cold weather and wanted to get a tan. These reasons– though undeniably very small factors in the decision– are obviously not why I decided to uproot my life and volunteer in a developing nation for 9 months. Even though escaping the cold weather is great, I don’t think the sunshine is worth having to squat over a hole in the ground as a toilet every day. Therefore, it’s evident that greater motivations were quite necessary.

But, when sitting down to type this post, I found that my true motivations for leaving were very hard to put into writing. There are a great number of reasons that I applied for and accepted this fellowship, many of which are rather personal and hard to explain. I’ll save the actual reasons for a later post when I can do my reasoning justice and articulate it fully.

The second time I started trying to write was on the plane here. I intended for the blog to be a nice introduction to the work I’ll be doing here, and a humble remark on how I wouldn’t be the one imparting wisdom through my posts, rather the Ugandans would be, with me as their translator. I felt I couldn’t complete this post because I was, and still am, unsure about all the logistics of what I’m doing here and what I will learn. That will come as I go. I’ll keep you updated.

The third time I started writing was a few nights ago, after arriving at Engeye. I wrote about how I was scared. I wrote that I was unsure of what I was doing. I was tired. The combination of learning the clinicians’ names, my way around the compound, my job duties, the village layout, and how to get into the neighboring towns worried me a lot. What do I do at the clinic? Where do I get food? Will I get to know the people here? How can I be away from home for so long? I called my dad. I called my mom. I talked to the other students who are here. They each calmed me down. I went to bed with the reminder to take everything day by day, and that these things will come with time.

The next morning, I woke up feeling better. The weather has been beautiful every second that I’ve been here so far, and maybe the toilets aren’t so bad. Amy—the other Minerva Fellow—and I walked around the village. The children waved at us and stared as if we were a spectacle. They pointed and called us “Mzungu,” which translates somewhat to “traveler” but mostly refers to “white person.” We passed villagers and their huts made of mud. Right now, things are all still new, but they are also still a bit scary. I hope that the intimidating aspect will wear off soon, so I can truly enjoy the novelty of being in such a different and beautiful place. I have never done anything comparable to this in my whole life, and I may never again. I want to take it all in and fully appreciate everything before it becomes ordinary. I have fresh eyes. I know that once I am comfortable here, I may not see things the same way as I will over the first couple of weeks.

I am still a bit scared, but it comes and goes. I’m sure this feeling will come in great frequency at first, but will fade away as time goes on. Everything is day by day now. That’s the only way I can see it. When I first got here, I knew nothing. Now, a few days later, I know the layout of the Engeye Health Clinic compound, I know most of the clinician’s names, I’ve gotten a small sense of what the routine will be like, and I’ve ventured a bit further into the village. Amy and I met a local shop owner, Eddie, who is famous among the past Minerva Fellows as someone who will be somewhat of our guide. He brought us into a neighboring town for drinks and a great meal, cooked by “Mama Ryan.” Today, we got training on some of our tasks in the clinic, and I’m beginning to feel helpful to Engeye.  

Things are coming together, but I still have a few lingering fears. The language barrier is hard for me. I want to talk to the people that I see, but can’t unless they speak English. It’s a bit isolating. My other main fear is being away from home for so long. Home is what I know; it’s what I’m accustomed to. I am hopeful that in a few months that will shift, and Uganda will become a new type of home for me.

So, thank you for reading my first blog post, Mzungus. As promised, I’ll keep you all updated with my adventures and what I learn. I am very excited to get into my work at the clinic and to start my Lugandan lessons. I am hopeful that I may someday soon call the Engeye staff family. I am grateful to be here. Thank you, Union College, for giving me this opportunity. I will work my hardest to help the people of Uganda through Engeye Health Clinic. I will give my best effort to learn what I can and share this with people back home. I will put my heart into becoming a Ugandan.

Weebale and Tunaalabagana; thank you and see you later!

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