To the Next Fellow:

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

What Happened to Lauren in Uganda

I am home, and not in my Ugandan home; I’m back at my U.S.A. home. I wish I could give one straightforward answer about what happened to make me leave early, but I can’t quite do that. There wasn’t one specific event that led to me choosing to leave, but there were a few main things that made it just feel better to take some time away. Mainly, I went through a major depressive episode while there. I don’t want to say much else about it, other than that it started to come on before I even began the fellowship, and it was in no way Uganda’s fault. I would never blame the place nor the people for me needing to leave. Some people say it wasn’t my fault either, but you can decide for yourself what you’d like to make of it. The only reason I’m writing about this is so people won’t assume that I left for a reason that was negative towards Uganda. If there’s any part of you that does not see this as a credible health excuse, then know the following; I had two main health concerns while in Uganda. One of which was mental, and the other was malaria. Yes, I had malaria. As long as the proper medication is available, I’d take the latter diagnosis over the prior any day. 

Okay, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I am incredibly fortunate to have had Engeye Health Clinic make its way into my life story—I don’t doubt that for a second. I full-heartedly believe that I wouldn’t have been ready to take on adult life had it not been for this fellowship; I learned things about myself and the world that I likely would have struggled to learn otherwise. The past four months have been both the hardest and best months of my life.

This fellowship gave me an essential reminder about the things that are genuinely important in life. I know this sounds cliché… I thought I already knew what truly mattered; family is important, happiness is important, wellbeing is important… but I don’t think I had fully been living by these standards until being immersed in the fellowship. Throughout college, I had my horse blinders on—get good grades, get a degree, find an impressive job. I knew that these things weren’t really what mattered in the grand scheme of things, but I had become so wrapped up and obsessed with completing these goals that I forgot to live by the ideologies of what I really should have cared for. That’s not to say that I think this is the case for everyone; perhaps you are a person who will get more fulfillment from completing your PhD or starting a company. That is fine. I thought that’s who I was too, but I was wrong about myself. During my senior year of college, I found myself entirely unhappy. All throughout my four years at Union, I concocted an idea in my mind. The idea was that to be successful, someone should have good grades, be involved in many clubs, should have brag worthy accomplishments, and be overall more skilled in what you do than the next guy. To be considered successful, one should have a good GPA, important internship experience, significant research, notable projects…  I’m sure many of us feel this way during college. This isn’t a new idea; college is a highly competitive environment. In my mind, I defined success in terms of academia, and in terms of how ostentatious my resume would seem. 

In my mind, I had created a definition of success that made me miserable. Somehow, I realized that my definition was wrong. During the school year, I achieved accomplishments that I typically would have expected to make me proud; I received an award at Prize Day, I was inducted into an honors society, I completed two thesis projects, and I presented my research at Steinmetz. I had a decent internship the summer before, and was put on the Dean’s list. Any one of these achievements alone should have made me feel successful, but still, I did not. This is how I knew that my definition needed to be changed.

During my fellowship to Uganda, the times where I found myself the happiest and most fulfilled were once I became closer to the people there. There is no denying, when I first got there, I was lonely. I did not feel completely contented by the accomplishments that I achieved by working in the clinic until I felt familiar with the Ugandan staff and patients. Uganda felt like home once the people felt like family. I found happiness once I found a love for my Ugandan friends.

There is a misconception that I initially had about the fellowship: I expected for the whole experience of being in Uganda to feel mainly foreign for most of the time that I was there. This wasn’t quite the case—while it did take me a couple months to get acclimated, I found myself pleasantly surprised by many of the similarities that I felt being in Uganda compared to my American life. There is a bit of an unrealistic trope created in literature and film that makes it seem like every foreigner that you meet will give you some miraculous wisdom and spiritual guidance in your life… think “Eat, Pray, Love.” This is comically far from the truth. While I did indeed learn a lot, when it came down to it, the people there were nothing other than that: people. I will cherish the relationships that I made there for the rest of my life. If I can stress one thing about this, do not be afraid to see other parts of the world and meet people unlike yourself and how you were brought up. Perhaps this is a bit of a generalization, but I’m guessing that if some random American girl can befriend Ugandans, there are countless other combinations of friendships that are possible in this big world. I know that I will carry this lesson with me when forming new relationships in the future.

Alright, enough about me.

Engeye Health Clinic has the purest intentions of any organization that I have ever come across in my life. They are simple. They are not ostentatious. They are committed specifically to their goals, not to making others view their achievements. Though it’s not always the case, I believe that there is occasionally a disconnect in some American businesses between their initial intentions and the desire to gain flamboyant accomplishments. I credit much of the good heartedness of Engeye to the people who run the organization, on both the American side and the Ugandan. At Engeye, there was a small gazebo dedicated to the clinic’s founder. On the gazebo there was a plaque that read: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The Engeye family have come alive for the goals of the clinic. They have put their lives towards patient care and advancing the education of bright students with potential. So, though I’m not saying that everybody should feel a moral obligation for putting their lives towards those who are less monetarily privileged, I do certainly believe that it is a lucrative ambition. When it comes down to it, your life is mainly a lottery ticket that you are handed at birth. I know that this isn’t entirely and completely true—there are people who are born into hardships and overcome great obstacles to better their quality of life— but I believe in the majority of cases, only the most fortunate are placed into lives where they are able to steer their path how they choose. To my peers at Union, we had a chance to write our own life stories. We got a chance to decide who to be, and what to do with our futures. We had a whole surplus of choices, and I am incredibly grateful for this. But I learned an important lesson while I was there; this lesson was put well into words by my mentor and fellow Minerva Fellow, Nick Williams; “‘Better’ is a relative term. Personally, I enjoy the simplicity of life here. When there is less to be had, there is less to be desired. It is refreshing to break free from the clutches of capitalism and materialism, but that is exactly why others are so drawn to the idea of life in America.” There is a surplus of non-essentials in America. I know that I am very lucky to be able to live a life with non-essentials in it, but I’ve found that I spend much of my time obsessing over just how many of these non-essentials I can squeeze into a lifetime. I get a sense now that, to a certain extent, people define their worth and meaning in their lives by the extra experiences and objects that they are fortunate enough to be able to purchase. In my opinion, this is silly. I’ve befriended both people who grew up in mud huts and mansions. Perhaps it is nothing more than that—an opinion—but in my experience, it didn’t matter what they owned. It mattered that they were healthy and happy.

There is one lesson that I learned through the fellowship which I hold most closely in my heart: The world is a big place. At this point, there are countless life stories that have been written before yours, and there will be countless stories written afterwards. There are billions of stories that are being written at the same time as yours. Do what you’d like with this information. If you’d like to help someone make their life story more intricate, healthier, and perhaps happier, then personally, I think that’s great: https://www.engeye.org/support/donate-2019/

Choices.

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.

Getting Used to it

It’s been a while since I posted my last blog. I’m sorry about that. The reason is that it’s actually been pretty hard for me to acclimate.

Initially, this made me think that I’m not in the right mindset to be writing a blog, but maybe I am. Part of this blog’s purpose is to educate the next group of Minerva Fellows about how to move your way through the fellowship, and what to expect. It would be wrong to only write about easy moments that I’m going through—that would be unrealistic.

When considering the scenario, it might make more sense that I’d still be getting used to being here, rather than if everything felt completely natural. For context, I had just spent the past four years of my life where nearly every hour of my day was planned and structured. Between classes, homework, work-study, clubs, socializing, staying in shape, and trying to get enough sleep, there were very few times in college where I found myself wondering what to do with my time. With this, I had also spent the past four years living on the same grounds, surrounded by the same people. Many of the friends that I made as a freshman were the ones that I carried with me through to my senior year. This being said, I do not think that it’s completely unexpected for me to still be feeling a little unsure of myself.

There’s no denying it that things are very different here. The pace of life is much more relaxed. The people are new, and have viewpoints on life unlike any that you’d hear back in the United States. The houses are different, the transportation is different, the food is different, the language is different, the types of things that people do during a regular day are different. Lots of things are different, but that means that I get to experience things that I would never get to experience back at home. Even if it’s hard to get used to, I’m glad that things are different.

Something that I’ve taken comfort in, is that even through a world of differences, there are still so many things that are much the same. The staff here at the clinic, the scholars, along with many of the other people that I’ve met so far have all been great. People are just people. It doesn’t matter that we grew up on opposite sides of the world. The scholars—the students that Engeye sponsors through school—are some of the friendliest and most driven kids that I’ve ever met. They each have their own passion and plans for what they want to study in university. One boy wants to be a pharmacist. One girl is in school for fashion design. Another is studying to become a tour guide. Some of the adversities that the kids have had to overcome brings me to tears, but they’re still just kids when it comes down to it… and great kids at that. Also, the staff at Engeye have made me feel welcome, and I’ve made some friends here. That helps a lot. The village kids know me now, and every time they see me, I’m met with smiles and hugs. They always want me to play, draw, or read with them. Since the name “Lauren” is hard for a lot of the Ugandans to pronounce, the kids know me as “Nakato” which means “the younger twin sister.” Sometimes when I go for a jog through the village, I’ll have kids shout “Nakato” after me and will run with me for a little while. This happens even when I’m miles from the clinic and haven’t officially met the kids before. I’ve realized that it’s nearly impossible to jog alone, and I’m okay with that. It makes me smile.

So, some things are the same, and it makes being so far away from home a little more comfortable. Some things are different. I’m adapting to them, and I know it means that I’m learning.

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!

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started