Date: May 29, 2014
Location: Nkozi, Uganda
Life here is more real than anything I’ve ever experienced. Everything is real. The people, the place, the food, the conversation, the culture, the friendships, the laughter, the joy. Uganda is a little taste of heaven. And I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve never felt so welcomed by complete strangers, so loved by people I don’t even know. The three other Notre Dame students (David, Fiona, and Lily) and I arrived here at Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) on Sunday. After we unpacked our stuff, we grabbed some dinner at the dining hall. David and Fiona found a seat, while Lily and I joined after buying some bottled water for the table (we’re the cautious ones of the group...be proud, Mom). We sat by one of the Ugandan students here named Kush.
Kush and the rest of us quickly got into a conversation about our ages, our families, our likes/dislikes, etc. After a few minutes, Kush and I jokingly came to the conclusion that we are twins because we had a few things in common (i.e. both of our favorite colors are light blue, so we’re obviously twins separated at birth). Now whenever we see each other she says “Tulibalongo” to me, which means “We are twins.”
Later that day, Kush my twin and the other Ugandan students begged David, Fiona, Lily, and I to go to the “beach” with them (Lake Victoria). I said to my Ugandan roommate Agatha (Aggie), “But wait, it’s Emily’s birthday and you’re all really good friends…aren’t we intruding on friend time or something? We don’t have to come!” Aggie just smiled her sweet smile, waved her hand, and said, “Friends? We’re all friends here! You’re friends with us!” (Keep in mind we had literally just met them an hour before). That’s how it is here. You meet someone and five minutes later you’re already friends. Five minutes after meeting, and you can already tell they genuinely care about you. It’s incredible.
So to the beach we went. And what a night it was. Sure, we pretty much just watched the Ugandans have the time of their lives in the water because apparently we’re not supposed to swim in the water or something…whateva (just kidding Mom, I’m not going in the water I promise). Anyway, none of the Ugandans know how to swim so we were partly laughing and having fun with them, partly making sure they didn’t drown (it’s okay guys, David is a certified lifeguard). A few kids from the village came over and stared at me because I’m the palest person they’ve ever seen, and of course I went crazy and couldn’t stop smiling because I am legitimately obsessed with children. My lucky number is 47 (don’t ask why...I have no clue) and there are apparently 47 countries in Africa according to Google (and Google is never wrong), so I might as well adopt one child from every country, am I right or am I right? My apologies to my future husband who has to help me raise 47 babies. Lolz.
Sorry, once you get me talking about kids I can’t stop. Let’s get back on track. Needless to say, the first night with our new mikwano (friends) was incredible. On our way back to UMU, our Ugandan friend Richard stopped the taxi because someone was selling jack fruit and “pancakes” on the side of the road. We stayed there for at least 30 minutes, eating and talking and laughing (and me playing with the children in the village of course) until the sun went down. I’ve begun to fall in love with something we like to call “African time.” Here we run on African time. You want to stop the taxi to eat and laugh with your friends until the sun goes down? You do just that. It doesn’t matter what time it is or how long it takes. Here, you do exactly what makes you happy, no matter when, where, how, or why. That’s what it means to run on African time. At the end of the day, this life is all about doing exactly what makes you happy. That’s all that really matters in the end. Happiness.
Speaking of happiness, few things on this planet are more real than the happiness I have experienced here. The happiness, the friendships, the surroundings…all of it is just so real. I’ve tried to find the words to describe it but I just don’t think I can. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
Last night, our Ugandan friends took us down the village just outside campus. They wanted to show us what a Ugandan club looked like (don’t worry Mom, it ended up being closed anyway…). On the way back to campus, we stopped at a shop to buy water because it was cheaper there than on campus. I bought a few huge bottles to last me through the rest of the week. My Ugandan roommate Agatha immediately grabbed the bottles from me and carried them all the way home. I asked her why and tried to take the heavy bag back. She just looked at me like I was crazy and said, “What are friends for? To help each other.” And then this afternoon when I came back to the room from my Luganda lesson (the local language...I'm fluent, duh), my bed was perfectly made and my mosquito net was neatly tied up (Thank God because I am incapable of tying those things up like my Ugandan friends do…they always laugh at me). “Aggie, did you do this for me?” I asked her. “Of course,” she said, with a wave of her hand as usual. "What are friends for."
That right there, my dear sweet readers, is the meaning of real friendship. That right there is real selflessness. Real compassion. And in my heart when I think of these sweet simple moments, there is real joy.
Everything feels real now. The smiles on our faces, the hearts beating in our chests, the hope stirring in our souls. Everything is real now.
My love for the Lord feels real again. My clinging to Him, my longing for Him, it’s all coming back to me now – more real than ever before. I am distanced in so many ways from every part of life I’ve ever known, but you know what? Right here, right now as I write these words in the heart of Africa, life feels more real than ever before. Life is beginning again all around me. I can feel it in my bones…His presence, His love, His hope, His life everlasting. Him…our sweet Jesus - more real, more active, more living than anyone and anything on this planet. Jesus, thank You for Your real love. Thank You for this new life beginning all around me. I’m ready for the internship of a lifetime, the experience of a lifetime. I am ready because I know that the closer I get to Your people, the closer I get to Your real love. My heart is Yours, God, this day and always.
Making new mikwano (friends), all day everyday.