Peace

Date: June 9, 2014
Location: Nkozi, Uganda

“In a late 2003 Gallup International poll of some 43,000 individuals in 51 countries, twice as many respondents rated international security as ‘poor’ as those who answered ‘good.’ Almost half of those interviewed think the next generation will live in a less safe world, while only 25% said they expected an improvement. And in a series of World Bank-facilitated consultations involving some 20,000 poor people in 23 developing countries, a large majority said they were worse off than before, had fewer economic opportunities, and lived with greater insecurity than in the past.”***

The day I found out that I was accepted into Notre Dame’s International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) was one of the best days of my life. I couldn’t wait to get to Uganda. Yet when I shared the news with family and friends, they did not seem as excited as I was.

“Uganda?! Are you crazy?!”
“It’s too dangerous!!!”
“How do you know you’ll be safe??”
“DON’T DIE!!!”

News flash peeps: haven’t died yet, and not planning on it.

Needless to say, some people were pretty terrified about me going to Uganda. I’d be lying if I said that all their concerned comments didn’t start to freak me out a little after a while.

Yet now, after being in Uganda for two weeks and still with six more wonderful weeks ahead, I can honestly say with 100% certainty that I feel more safe and more at home here than I often feel back home in Texas or at school in Indiana.

I am so at peace here…so in my element. It’s crazy saying that about a place I’ve only known for two weeks so far, but I really do feel that way.
Now, I won’t ignorantly claim that all of Uganda is my safe haven. Just like back home in America, some parts of Uganda are obviously safer than others. The other night, my Ugandan roommate Aggie and I were discussing northern Uganda and all the problems going on there. We talked a little bit about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The minute I mentioned the LRA, the mood in the room changed completely. Aggie’s face hardened, her brows furrowed, and she whispered, “How do you know about the LRA?” I explained to her that I had learned about the LRA in high school and had done some service work with “Invisible Children,” an American organization that works to free child soldiers enslaved by the LRA.

Aggie had never heard of Invisible Children before, but unfortunately she knows many children and families directly affected by the LRA. Robert, one of her friends here at Uganda Martyrs University (UMU), saw Kony face-to-face once in primary school, when Kony and the LRA forced their way into Robert’s classroom one afternoon. “He had to run for his life,” Aggie whispered in a tone as dark as the night sky. We sat in silence for some time after that – Aggie snug under her mosquito net, and me under my own. A few minutes later, I closed my eyes and thought about what it’d be like to experience what Robert experienced that initially ordinary day of primary school. Note to self, do NOT ponder these thoughts before you fall asleep at night because I definitely ended up having an LRA/Kony-based nightmare as soon as I fell asleep.

The very next morning, I awoke conscious of only one thought: I was safe. I looked over and there was Aggie, still snug as can be. I breathed out a sigh of relief as I pulled my blanket tighter around me and listened to the rain pour outside my window.

So, is every part of Uganda safe? Of course not. But come on, think about it, I spent the majority of last summer in downtown Chicago, and not every corner of downtown Chicago is safe, is it? 'Course not.

Like anything in life, most people are just afraid of the unknown. They very first night David, Fiona, Lily, and I arrived here was definitely one of the scariest nights of my life. I was literally trembling with fear. We each were given our own rooms at a hotel in Entebbe, but all I wanted to do was be with other people. I was so alone, so sacred of what was to come. But that’s the funniest part of the story – I had no idea that what was to come would be the greatest serenity I’ve yet to experience in my lifetime.

That is the best way I can possibly describe UMU and the village directly outside its walls: the greatest peace I’ve ever known, a peace unlike any other.
Even just going for a walk around UMU or in the village is such a spiritual experience for me. Every step I take is a prayer, as if I am walking side-by-side with Jesus. Simplicity, serenity, peace – that’s exactly what this place is all about.
My computer crashed Friday, so I’ve had a lot of free time to pray, reflect, and explore my surroundings. That’s Africa for ya…filled with so many ups and downs every single day. Eventually you just learn to take it easy and go with the flow, praying the “Our Father” over and over again in the UMU chapel until you finally feel calm again. Here, the quote, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” takes on a whole new meaning. Currently, my computer (and David’s…his crashed too) is sitting in a repair shop Kampala (the capital city), so who knows if I’ll ever see that now-worthless device again…

But like I said earlier, this whole computer catastrophe has been such a blessing in disguise. The more I detach myself from my world back home and instead focus all of my attention and give all of my heart to my new “new normal” in Uganda, the more at peace I feel. I love it here. I love UMU and my village right outside campus. I love my new friends here and all the ND kids I came with. We’re like a little family. Everyone has to show up to dinner; everyone has to sit together, if you don’t you’re in trouble! Well, at least when I was so exhausted the other day and almost skipped dinner, apparently that was not allowed, as I woke up to Kush tickling my feet (which if you know me, I HATE that more than ANYTHING...it literally feels like knives are poking me when people tickle my feet...) and Emily and Aggie yelling at me to get my lazy butt up (I told you I like to sleep a lot)!

So despite the yelling, the painful feet-tickling, the freezing cold showers, and the endless supply of rice and beans, I really do love it here.
Today, we had a day off from our research because it’s a public holiday (I feel like every other day is a public holiday here). I took a walk around campus, visited the chapel for a bit, and then walked down to the village for a while. The village kids were playing with sticks as usual in front of the shop where I usually buy water. I had a few thousands shillings on me ($1 = about 2,500 schillings) so I bought two small cups of ice cream for the village kids to share.

I noticed two things – 1) Unlike most kids I’ve babysat or interacted with in America, the village kids here actually shared, sitting in nice circles politely waiting their turns, and 2) You could definitely tell it made their day. I never did actually get to try that ice cream (they devoured it), but the smiles on their faces were enough for me.
This village is my home – from the children with ice cream-covered smiles, to the man who sells me that oh-so-coveted bottled water in Davia Supermarket, to the lady who always smiles and waves as I pass her restaurant. My Ugandan buddy Richard summed it up best when he said to me today: “This place is the very best place to call home.” I couldn’t agree more.

Lord, I praise You for the peace I experience here every single day. All glory to You, God - the Author and Perfecter of Peace Himself.

Peace be with all of you today,
Haley

***Source: The Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2005: Redefining Global Security, Ch. 1 "Security Redefined," The Roots of Insecurity

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