Monday, May 16, 2011

There are sooo any white people here!

I'm currently sitting on a wonderful clean couch in suburban Kansas City typing on my computer. I'm not in an internet cafe, or on the SIT resource center computer, or using a modem to access internet. I'm on my own personal computer, in my house, using wireless internet. This all feels bizarre.

I got back home last night after a 24 hour journey. I hadn't slept in 44 hours, but seeing my family energized me enough to stay up another 5. I made a scene at the airport. I wore the African dress my homestay family gave to me the entire ride home. My odd attire coupled with the loud commotion my family made at our reunion prompted quite a few stares from the Kansas City airport crowd. Despite this, I felt like this was the most I had blended in in four months.

We drove from the airport to Chipotle. My first bite of my burrito was incredible. I literally had a dream about it last night.

Driving along the clean highways was bizarre. There's no traffic here. No taxi drivers yelling at me to get in. The suburbs are just so spacious and neat and tidy.

This all contrasted so much with the last week and a half I spent in Kampala. The second to last weekend I spent there was a true adrenaline rush. We stayed at a hostel which overlooked the Nile. That Friday night we cruised the Nile aboard a boat with copious amounts of alcohol. Saturday morning a group of six girls went bungee jumping while the rest of the group watched. Bungee jumping was the biggest adrenaline high I have ever experienced. Standing with my toes over the ledge, staring over 200 hundred feet down into the Nile, anticipating the jump, then springing off the platform, feeling my stomach lurch during the free fall, the cool water as I was dunked into the Nile, then the awesome feeing of being jerked back into the air and down again. It was a blast!

That afternoon a group of us hung out on the banks of the Nile and went swimming. The view was gorgeous, the company was fun, and it was blissfully relaxing.

Last Sunday night was the host family farewell party. My host family gave me a gorgeous traditional African dress, my brother Denis made me some cool key rings, and we ate dinner together. The conversation was continuous and I felt like I could joke with my host brothers as if they really were family. The evening ended with me dancing with the entire family for an hour. This was one of the best moments in Uganda--sincerely bonding and feeling connected with people from a different culture. Recognizing our differences but feeling like I belonged and that they understood who I was. It was great.

The next week we spent at a resort in Jinja. The landscape was incredible. Palm trees, tropical flowers, and thatched roofs abounded. It was a great and relaxing way to spend the final week in Uganda. The group spent a lot of time hanging out by the pool, playing cards, volleyball, and talking. By the time the week was over I was sincerely sad to be leaving Uganda. The group has been very meaningful to me. I have become more social because of them, more confident in who I am, and more accepting of all personality types. I sincerely believe that each person in the group taught me a valuable lesson or offered a needed insight to better my life in some way. Without them I would have never survived the semester. They were my friends, family, roommates, and support system for four months and it will be difficult to adjust to life without seeing them everyday. It was hard to say good bye.

This experience has meant the world to me. I will admit, it was full of challenges, but I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. It's hard to try and summarize the lessons I learned and the experiences I had, but I think it's important to reflect and try to draw conclusions from the experience.

I realized at the end of the experience how unessential material things are for happiness. Whenever I felt down, it was never because I didn't have a computer of electricity or a flushing toilet. It was when human interaction was a struggle. Sitting around in the dark, playing gin rummy with my friends made me ten times happier than any object could.

I also realize how important it is to feel a sense of belonging. The times I struggled the most was when I felt like people only saw me as an opportunity to be taken advantage of and not as a person, a potential friend. But when I felt like a member of my host family, when I had a loving message from a friend, when I ate dinner with my roommates in the apartment, I was truly happy.

I realized how important it is to me to feel busy. When I had nothing to do other than work, I felt restless, a sort of mental cabin fever. I need to feel like I'm always working towards a larger goal, a mission, in order to feel satisfied and stay motivated. I expect my biggest challenge of young adulthood will be to discover what my next big goal will be. In high school it was running. I am often amazed looking back at how much running dictated my life in high school, my dedication was absolute. In college I've tried to make it running and debate, but the lack of success in each of these has led to less motivation. I've felt lost without the same driving dedication and self-motivation. For my senior, I want to give debate and running one final chance. I want to treat each of these activities with a focused dedication this summer, I want to allow running to dictate my life again. I want to feel the reward of improvement. And meanwhile, I want to try to figure out what the next driving force in my life will be--what career will I love enough to give my all, to work hard at, and feel satisfaction from.

I thought studying in Africa would provide me with career answers. I anticipated I would find a calling in development, I would see Africa as a new home. I'm not sure yet though. Development is a complicated field full of moral gray areas and negligible success. And I don't know if I could ever feel completely accepted in Africa or be fully integrated into the culture. But I do care about the future of Uganda. I know I will follow it's news, politics, and care deeply for its development.

I think one of the biggest challenges about being home will not feeling "special" anymore. Not "special" is in how Ugandans thought my white skin color made me a novelty. But special as in not living fully in the moment anymore, being back to "normal." I'm no longer abroad, this is just normal life now. I had such a "seize the moment" outlook in Uganda. Go bungee jumping next week? Absolutely. Go up to Gulu this weekend? Why not, I'm in Uganda. I loved living for the moment, being spontaneous, and the outlook of always looking for adventure. I worry that I will become boring here, do the same things everyday and forget how to seek the best and most exciting outcome to everyday. I'm not sure how to work to ensure that this doesn't happen, but I hope that I can maintain the same passion for life in Kansas City as in Uganda.

I look forward to this summer. I am spending the rest of May and all of June in Kansas City with my family. Over Memorial Day weekend my family and best friend are going to Colorado together. I am intensely excited. The month of July I'm going to spend in Michigan living with my best friend Erin. I have missed her more than words can describe and think it will be wonderful to have an extended period of time together. My biggest projects for the summer are working on debate, running a lot, and writing a book about Kari's strength and her inspiring story. Hopefully this will keep me busy and happy.

I want to thank everyone who read this blog over the past four months. Knowing that people took an interest in me and my journey was very meaningful and helped me through some tough times. My experience in Uganda can't be answered simply, and those of you who read my blog will be a lot easier to talk to when describing the complicated semester. I look forward to seeing all of you again soon and talking more about my experience.

So, here's to a good summer and not forgetting Uganda. And maybe a Kyla in Kansas City blog....

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