To the next fellow:
I’ll try to give you some tips. My first tip, TIP 1: sometimes, other people’s tips don’t help. This is the most important thing that I can stress; remember, this is your fellowship. Something that may be true for me, may not necessarily be true for you, and that is okay. There are billions of opinions and ways that people live their lives. Do not doubt yourself that your way is wrong if it’s not the way that works for someone else. What works for you, is what works for you. That was the first lesson that I learned.
TIP 2: Don’t compare yourself to past Minerva Fellows. Yes, many of them have certainly set an excellent standard as a goal for oneself, but don’t feel like you need to do exactly everything that they have done.
TIP 3: Keep a journal to remember things and organize your thoughts: one of the first things I wrote to myself was, “This is my life, and this is my life.” I know the two statements may sound the same, but they are actually quite different if you acknowledge the italics. What I mean by this—
“This is my life.”: I am free to make my own decisions. Trust yourself. As long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, do whatever is right for you. You may need to keep this in mind a lot. Before you leave, your Mema might want you to stay home. Your hairdresser will probably wonder if you’ve gone insane. You’ll tell the supermarket clerk a brief rendition of your story, and they’ll stare at you in confusion as you walk away. They might not get it, but they don’t have to, as long as you do. This is your life. So many people will say to you, “I could never do that!” and that’s fine; they don’t need to! But you are not them. They’ll make their life theirs. Make your life yours.
“This is my life.”: Some advice that I received from my sister while I was here: treat your life like it’s a story. Be a writer. What do you want your book to say? What do you want the main character to accomplish? Who do you want the main character to be? Read what you’ve written in your mind, and act out each scene. Coming out of college, you’ll see that everyone starts to make their lives specifically into their own. Your best friend may be in graduate school. Your old roommates are probably living together in Boston or NYC. The boy you used to have a crush on might get a new girlfriend while you’re gone. At first, you may struggle with the idea that people are writing their life story without you in it. But remember, you’re doing much the same. You just moved across the world! If the people of your past matter, then they’ll make their way back into your life story when you return. This is just one chapter of your book. Keep writing.
TIP 4: The world is big; you are small. Actually, that’s not tip, just a reminder. Figure out what you want it to mean for you.
TIP 5: Take your time getting used to everything. Don’t expect to know everything as soon as you get there. You’ll see that there are different phases of becoming acclimated. One day, you’ll feel comfortable with the staff. Another day, you’ll find yourself confident in your conversational Luganda. At some point, you’ll know your way around the village. Give it time.
TIP 6: Initially, there won’t be much structure. If you’re someone who needs structure, then make a plan for yourself once you’re situated.
TIP 7: You will fall in love with the people there. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen right away, it won’t. You’ll notice it slowly. One morning you’ll be walking to breakfast and the clinicians’ kids will follow you. There will be some evening after work where you’ll be joking around and laughing with the staff. The scholars will come home for break and you’ll want to hear their stories about school. A patient will look at you and smile. It might take some time, but I promise you, you will love the people.
TIP 8: The shower water is cold. If you boil water and pour it into a basin, it’s almost like a hot bath. I recommend doing that.
TIP 9: Read a book. PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE.
TIP 10: You’ll get used to the latrines, I promise.
TIP 11: Find a place to make your own. Walk around the village until you’re sure that you’ve found just the right spot. It might be sitting by a borehole, or under a tree, or in the gazebo at the clinic. Go there when you need to. If you’d like, you can even give my spot a try; walk down the main village dirt road for about a mile, past Eddie’s old house, past St. Gertrude. Take a left at the big rain collector. Walk down the hill towards the borehole. That valley is my spot. If you’d like, it can be your spot, too.
TIP 12: If you’re going to go on a run, make sure you’re back before dark.
TIP 13: If you wake up with any of the symptoms of malaria, there’s a chance that you might indeed have malaria. Yes, you can still get it if you use a bed net. Yes, you can still get it if you have your preventative medicine but accidentally forget to take it a couple times.
TIP 14: Try to learn more Luganda than I did… I promise it won’t be that hard; I didn’t learn too much, but I wish that I had, mukwano wange.
TIP 15: YOU WILL GET THE AFRICA POOPS. IT IS FINE. I’ll leave you some Imodium.
TIP 16: Schedule a time to call people back home. The time difference is hard. Designate certain days and times for certain people.
TIP 17: At first, you’ll think that being in Uganda is nothing like what you’re used to. It’s important to realize, you can make it into something that you’re used to. Think about the things that you truly need to be comfortable and content—friends, entertainment, food, water, laughs, hugs— find your Ugandan version of that thing. If you’re someone who always went to the gym back home, then go for a jog after work or play soccer with the staff. If you need caffeine in the mornings, then have their tea. If you crave potato chips, try a cricket instead. If you want to go out and drink, then go to Geoma Gardens and have a Nile Special or have a Club, for me. If you miss your family, call them. If you still miss your family, look to the people there; I thought the Ugandans I met made a good family.
I hope at least a few of these tips can help. You’ll understand them more once you’re there. But since I only made it 4 months, that’s all the advice that I can give you for now. It should be enough to get you through the initial struggles. After that, you won’t need tips like this anymore. You’ll go from just being in Uganda to living in Uganda before you even know it. It’ll come on slowly, but one day, you’ll realize that you’re doing it without a second thought.
Best of luck,
Lauren “Nalule Nakato” Elder; Generation 12 Union College Minerva Fellow at Engeye Health Clinic, Ddegeya Village, Uganda