This weekend marks two months in Uganda! I hit half way through my three months a couple weeks ago, but spent most of that week sick in bed. Thankfully, that was an isolated incident in this otherwise healthy experience. But, I will never again take having a bathroom inside my house in the USA for granted. Or Gatorade and chicken noodle soup.
Today is my niece Addie’s eighth birthday. It’s strange, but her birthday has become one of those dates that is a marker for different events in my life. And I don’t need timehop or facebook to help me remember.
When she was born I got to hold her in my arms before she was a full day old. She was the first baby I had ever really been around and I was scared she would break if I held her wrong! I had just graduated high school and she was the first of the next generation of our family.
As her birthday is in mid summer it has often correlated with me returning from international trips, or being still away from home on longer adventures.
She still “remembers” that I missed her fifth birthday when I was in Zambia and reminds me of it ever once in a while, like completely randomly when we’re playing outside on the swing set. It’s going to take me a while to get out of the doghouse for missing today.
But I think that’s one of the best things about the people we have in our lives that love us. Because they value our presence they notice our absence, and we know that we are loved. Instead of saying “I miss you” it’s more appropriate when you truly feel the absence of someone you love to say “you are missing from me.” It’s like saying I’m not whole without you.
There’s something precious about that feeling of absence that teaches us to love the people around us; to appreciate their presence and not take them for granted. To feel the strain of missing them makes it so much sweeter to see them again.
Just this past week a family at my church suddenly lost a husband and a father, a good man who will be sorely missed. As my heart breaks for their loss I am reminded of the unpredictable nature of this life and the reality that we are not promised tomorrow. A lesson that I was already in the process of learning has become painfully real.
I need to stop taking the people I love for granted.
I also need to stop taking this experience in Uganda for granted and get my head back in the game.
I’ve spent most of this past month going through the same daily routines, accomplishing my internship work, and filling the time by reading books and playing guitar. It’s been a rather quiet, at times very lonely month. The initial excitement of being in a new place has faded and my travels to the different villages have been completed. Now I’m pretty much at the clinic every day.
Most all interactions here occur in Lugandan, and since my grasp of the language is pathetically lacking, at most meals and in the clinic I function in the role of observer, frustratingly unable to fully engage. It is the lot of all who experience new cultures and new languages, to exist as an “other”.
Honestly it’s very easy to get bogged down in that feeling, especially when you’re the only outsider in the community. This isolation had really gotten into me for about a week and I remember sitting at breakfast one morning feeling particularly miserable, missing home and feeling the days remaining in my trip stretched out before me and there was absolutely nothing I could do to make them pass any faster. I was stuck in the reality of living out each minute of every day.
Then a different thought hit me, and I started to laugh at myself for having such a bad attitude and being so foolish. When exactly did this amazing adventure become a mundane trial?
Perspective is an incredibly powerful thing.
It is so easy to let your attitude turn sour when life gets hard. The challenge is to realize it, change it, and keep moving forward. See, just like your third grade teacher told you, you can choose to have a better attitude, and it just might change your whole world.
It’s amazing how much my experience has changed since my breakfast revelation.
I’m striving to have more conversations with the people around me, looking for moments to connect and learn more about the staff here. Sharing tea time with people and taking breaks from my work to wander around the clinic and say hello to people.
There’s another intern here who is from a university in the nearest city, he arrived a few weeks ago. I moved my work spot from the main clinic to the other building where there are a couple desks so we can share the space instead of each of us being alone. I’m learning a lot from him about the culture and we keep each other entertained.
I’ve been taking walks around the area just to explore, or go visit Eddie’s shop by the main road. I find that I see so much more beauty in the world around me when I’m actually looking for it.
I’m reminded of that old quote from Jim Elliot, “where ever you are, be all there.” It’s way harder to live out than it sounds. But it might just be the most worthwhile advice I’ve ever heard.
I’ve got a whole month left in Uganda, just over 30 days to see and experience as much as I can before I get to go back home and see the family and friends who have been missing from me. I know the time will be both fast and slow, but I am resolved to be all in. And I’m trusting that the best is yet to come.