It’s been about two months since I officially completed my year with Global Health Corps. I’m temporarily back in Kampala – a place that feels happily familiar after so many weeks on the road (more on that in upcoming posts). In typical fashion, it’s been ages since I last posted, and scrolling through my pictures from the last six or so months of my fellowship, I realize there’s so much to share. Let me begin with a little bit of a smorgasbord…
Gettin’ outta Mukono
As much as I came to love my sweet little home in Mukono, it wasn’t exactly the epicenter of excitement. So, I made a point to get out as much as possible in the second half of the year.
I spent Easter in Nairobi, Kenya with a fantastic group of ladies, including Jacqueline (my lovely Save the Mothers colleague from Canada) and Mary (my wonderful Global Health Corps co-fellow). We took a scenic 14-hour bus ride into beautiful eastern Uganda, crossing the border on foot in Busia, and rolling through Kenya’s beautiful Rift Valley. Despite the many warnings we received about Nairobi (aka: ‘Nai-robbery’) – from both locals and visitors alike – we had a blast in this beautiful urban hub of East Africa.
We visited the Maasai market and got ripped off on some beautiful handcrafted jewelry and sandals, danced to Afrobeat and drank microbrew (thank goodness for real, hoppy beer) at a local hot spot, hung with baby elephants at a wildlife orphanage (that’s a thing, thanks to the heinous and illegal ivory trade), ate nyama choma (grilled meat – a Kenyan favorite) and other yummy things at a local joint, visited an awesome exhibit on contemporary Kenyan identity at the National Museum, and went to church on Easter Sunday, before boarding a night bus for our long journey home.
A few weeks later, I took a trip with my Lady Wolf Pack (aka: Andrea and Lena, two of my best gal pals from GHC) out to eastern Uganda’s beautiful Sipi Falls. With Lena at the wheel, the Dixie Chicks blaring on the radio, and our sights set on some serious hiking, we set off for what turned out to be another magical weekend in the Pearl of Africa.
After a day of hiking through forest and farmland, climbing up questionable ladders, and surviving a watery doom at the foot of the falls, we made it safely back to our cozy little hostel looking out over the Sipi Plateau.
Our plan for the evening: new moon ritual and meditation. Because – what else do you do with your fellow Lady Wolves? The setting could not have been more perfect. As we prepared for our ritual – candles, incense, journals – the moon rose huge, bright, and brilliant before us on the horizon. A constant, but calming breeze was blowing all around us as we began our meditations, reading poetry, speaking aloud our intentions, burning through our barriers, and supporting one another in our sacred space. I’m not even sure if I can adequately paint the picture of this experience, but it was truly magical. And it left us all feeling more alive, more connected, and more in love with this beautiful country.
Another magical place: Kampala.
This city is SO alive. I spent a lot more time here in the second half of my fellowship – frolicking, meeting lots of new people, and checking things like try a new restaurant every month and buy myself a piece of jewelry off of my “30 Before 30 List.”
Much as I adore the vitality of the big city, I feel equally, if not more, alive spending time in Uganda’s more rural communities. In April, GHC organized a community outreach event in partnership with Days for Girls (a fantastic organization that empowers girls and women by providing education and materials for menstrual management) in a community called Mayuge. We spent the day at St. Joseph’s Primary School, conducting a training on sexual and reproductive health with both male and female students. We then facilitated a workshop with the adolescent girls, teaching them to make reusable sanitary pads.
Menstrual management is a huge issue for girls and women throughout the world, as it can impact school attendance, participation in daily activities, confidence, and more. I’m a huge fan of Days for Girls and the work they do to provide girls and women with education and resources to better manage their periods. The day was a huge success, and in typical Ugandan fashion, we closed the event with a soccer game.
And finally, I turned 30! And I went whitewater rafting on the Nile. And even though I’m fairly certain I almost drowned, it was a blast.
I spent the 10,950th day of my life out on the big river with a bunch of friends, navigating some crazy rapids, and narrowly escaping another watery doom thanks to a skilled safety kayaker. The evening was spent eating way too much cake, drinking Nile Special, and dancing on table tops to the new Beyoncé album. Not a bad way to ring in a new decade.
I spent most of this year surrounded by people from a place that is completely foreign to me.
Yup, I’m talking about our neighbor to the north. I even have relatives there, but I think I knew more about Uganda before I got here than I ever knew about Canada. Luckily, over the course of the year I was immersed in the love, humor, and general wonderfulness of Canadians, thanks to my placement at Save the Mothers (they’re Canadian, ICYMI).
It started with Jacqueline, this year’s STM intern, who quickly became a sister, confidant, teacher, travel buddy (hello, Zanzibar!) I think you’ve heard me talk about Jacqueline enough to know that she’s one of my main people.
A few months later I met Heather, another Canadian, on a volunteer stint at Mengo Hospital in Kampala. Easily one of the coolest, funniest, and greatest women I’ve had the pleasure to meet in this life. I spent one of the most memorable nights of my life dancing ‘til the wee hours of the morning in Kampala with Heather and a fantastic group of Ugandan gents who we usually referred to simply as “the boys.”
Next up: Jason, a med student from Toronto who came to Uganda to do a medical internship with Save the Mothers. In his short time here he also became a fast friend and one of my favorite people. We spent a couple great nights in my living room, drinking wine smuggled onto UCU’s dry campus and chatting about medical issues, girl problems, and everything in between.
Finally, there’s musawo. Or Sarah. But I’ll never stop calling her ‘musawo’ – the Luganda word for a doctor or nurse (and coincidentally, the name of a song that completely took over Uganda’s radio stations almost as soon as she arrived). She moved in with Jacqueline in April, beginning a three-month volunteer stint with Save the Mothers, throwing herself into work at the local health center (an MBFHI facility), and visiting as many hospitals as she could in her short time. Luckily, even with all of that on her plate, she still had time for scrambled egg dinners, Girls binges, and random twerking sessions. Hands down, she’s one of the best people on this planet.
One of my biggest takeaways from all of this Canadianization of my life: I need to learn more about my neighbors in the north. Especially if I’m forced to emigrate there post-election.
NJ comes to East Africa
My family came to Uganda! Yup, Mom, Dad, and Aunt Lissa all made the big trip, and it was a grand adventure. Between chilling in Kampala, safari-ing in Queen Elizabeth National Park, gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and lounging at Lake Bunyonyi, I’d say we hit up many of Uganda’s most beautiful spots.
Seeing this country anew through my family’s eyes was wild and wonderful. I quickly remembered how challenging it was when I first arrived here to orient myself to even the most basic daily interactions and flows of everyday life. Shortly after arriving, they were already easing into the flow.
I persuaded them to fly to Zanzibar (and take me along), convincing them that its magnificent beaches couldn’t be missed. They didn’t resist.
And of course, upon returning to Uganda, Mary and I had to arrange the meeting of our two families with a traditional lunch.
I loved having them here. It helped us all feel more connected to each other across oceans and time zones. It helped me process some of my experience in East Africa and the ways I’ve changed – or haven’t changed – because of it. And, I got to see more of this country that I love so much.
So yeah, I’d say it was a pretty decent few months.