It’s been about three months now since I’ve been in Uganda. I really feel like I’ve been learning a lot.
A few weeks ago, my mom came to visit, and we took a trip to South Africa. Everything was exceptionally beautiful. We went to Cape Town, and though I believe that Ddegeya is exceptionally beautiful as well, Cape Town was undeniably significantly different than my village in Uganda.
I frustrated myself when we initially arrived in Cape Town; I expected that my first hot shower after bathing in cold rain water for three months would be a big moment, but it felt normal. I thought that sitting on a toilet instead of squatting over a hole would be relieving, but at the time, I honestly didn’t think much of it. I anticipated to appreciate the extra amenities more than I would’ve typically enjoyed them, but it took me a little extra consideration to remember to be thankful. I’m frustrated at myself for this. It felt so natural to be brought back into a lifestyle similar to what I had grown up in, that I initially forgot to consider where I had just been living for three months.
I wasn’t reminded to fix my mindset until the morning after my mom and I arrived. In our hotel, I walked into a room that had a large wall filled with books. Most of the books were covered in dust because no one ever actually reads them. Normally, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of that, but I was reminded of our scholar’s center back in Ddegeya. At Engeye, we have a small room that has a few shelves of books. Nearly all of the books have been read and re-read by the kids in the village and the scholars many times. The books have all been helpful in teaching the kids how to read. They are incredibly purposeful. In contrast, the books that I admired, but did not read, in my hotel were clearly mainly used for decoration. I scanned the rest of the room. There was a chess set off to the side, with a marble board and pieces that were made to look like they were gold. I thought back to the chess set that I had in my room at Engeye; the board is made of cardboard, and the majority of the original pieces are missing, replaced by bottle caps and other random bits. The chess games that I played on the set back at Engeye were just as fun as the games played on the set in my Cape Town hotel. The couches in the room of the hotel were certainly comfy, but I thought of the straw mat that I have back in my Ddegeya room. On the straw mat, I’ve sat, used it for exercise, watched movies with my friends, and taught the kids how to make a blanket fort over it. The mat works just fine.
For the rest of my trip in Cape Town, I kept in mind how so many of the things that we used or encountered were just non-essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly very thankful for all the non-essential extras that I am privileged to have, but I hadn’t really realized how unnecessary so many details in my typical life had been.
Consider this: when I’m living in Uganda, some nights we’ll go out to get food. We usually get either goat or chicken. If I’m feeling extra hungry, then we’ll stop to get chips (french-fries) too. The chips in Uganda are great. They’re probably one of my favorite foods here. In Cape Town, we went to a restaurant where it wasn’t only the choice of whether or not you wanted fries, but what type of fry do you want—regular, steak, curly, sweet potato, waffle, smiley-shaped… I chose the smiley-shaped.
We are given so many choices and options for how to live our lives, and while it is great, it’s not necessarily essential. We choose what clothes we put on, what color iPhone we want, and whether or not we want extra butter on our popcorn in the movie theater. Girls choose what scent of perfume they want to use that day, and boys decide which tie to wear at a formal event. We pick where we want to go for spring break. We decide if we want a raspberry margarita or strawberry.
I am incredibly grateful that I have these choices to make. There are some patients that we see at the clinic that have to choose if they want to purchase their diabetes medication or their H. Pylori pills, because they can’t afford both. There are kids in the village that I know based on the one outfit that they wear every day, because they don’t have the choice to wear something different. Some kids can’t decide on what they want to study in university, because they can’t afford to go to university at all.
When I was in Cape Town, I frustrated myself. I had the choice between three different shampoos, two conditioners, and four different body-washes in my hot shower. My mom and I went to get a pedicure. I don’t even get pedicures when I’m back at home. I couldn’t decide on one color, so I got purple nails on one foot and red on the other.
I’ve always been horrible at making decisions. When I’m home, it takes me forever to pick an outfit in the morning. Deciding which college that I wanted to attend was tough. Picking if I wanted to date Sean or A.J. in high school was hard. Deciding if I wanted to go to Chi Psi fraternity or Biergarten on a Friday night was a struggle. Now, I’m glad that I even had such elementary decisions to make.