Leaning into the Discomfort

This blog, aptly named “Adrift and at Peace” (a pat on the back to anyone other than Kelly that can tell me where that title came from), tends to procure a high amount of praise from friends, family, GHC fellows, coworkers, and people on Facebook that I flat out forgot about, for incessantly bursting with positivity and the sort of insight that you rarely see in the average “this is what I did today” blog format that we all wrote at one point or another on some romanticized trip to the far reaches of Earth. But there are not only two sides to every story – there lives in every experience a cacophony of clamoring voices praising facets of the world around you and bitching about other aspects and whispering gentle sweet nothings of encouragement and screaming at the top of their lungs and the occasional voice that sweeps in out of nowhere and sends your mind catapulting into a momentary lapse of pure nothingness…is that a rage blackout? Or is it euphoria? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. And trust me, in this environment, sometimes it can be hard to make sense of any of it. And much of the time, it’s hard to maintain that level of positivity that’s come to be expected of this new and improved Devin (the Devin I always was, just finally brought to the surface). And that constant back and forth is the reality of my bewildering and beautiful life here.

Beautiful, yes. Frustrating, definitely.

There’s dirt everywhere. And I love dirt. Trust me. I love being dirty more than most people love being clean. If it were up to me I would never shower, shave, cut my hair, or clean the dirt off the ground, I would just embrace it. But looking clean and presentable and “smart” is key here, to the point that an un-ironed shirt will literally result in ridicule. Not in a sinister way, but not in the kind of way you want to be ridiculed. Is there a way one would want to be ridiculed? Regardless, staying clean is important, which makes keeping the house clean important, as well as the office, though the process of cleaning necessitates every inch of the floor being completely drowned in water and cleaned by hand by women (always women) with an ability to bend straight forward that would put any yogi’s down-dog to shame. Then in comes Devin, tracking giant bootprints of mud and dust and red dirt EVERYWHERE. This happens to me multiple times a day. So the shoes come off, but wait, my feet are stained red from running barefoot to the river every night. Damn. Learn to levitate! So the dirt that I spent all of the past year embracing through all my travels, showering only once every few weeks when it became socially critical and NEVER washing any of my clothes and loving every second of it, suddenly becomes a formidable foe to be vanquished. It’s a 24 hour a day job.

Cooking takes somewhere between all night and eternity. A “quick” meal is cooked from around 8pm until 10:00pm. The American in me craves the ability to just throw some crap together in a frying pan and pour it all straight into my mouth. No point chewing. Don’t waste your time. Just ingest. Inhale. And all food makes me feel like I’m going to gain 70 pounds this year. No, I’m not exaggerating. For those of you who know me, or have ever seen me with eyeballs, you know it is impossible for me to be anything but a boney stick of bonesticks. But I seriously feel how the fattest man on earth must feel after eating any meal here. Very small portions (katono katono!) of each component of a meal are equal to an entire meal back home. And with food as my only vice, I just keep shoveling it in. Then the cleanup of a cook requires more water sloshed everywhere on the floor (no sink) straight from a jerry can of water that I’m scared to even boil to drink sometimes, since that hasn’t always been sufficient in the past (using a latrine is one thing – vomiting with your face in it is another). And every inch of everything has to be cleaned, otherwise we wake up to a kitchen FULL of ants. Not a good way to start a day.

Technology doesn’t even merit an entire paragraph since I’m typing this on a functional computer. I refuse to sit here complaining about how slow my data is on my smartphone, that’s going a step too far into the “first world problems in the third world” boat (I’ll post about how much I hate that terminology soon and hypocritically use it in the meantime). Though internet in my office would be nice. The daily escapes to Nile River Explorer as my office away from office are admittedly beautiful and comfortable, but I feel like I’m discounting the work I put in to solidify my place as a part of the S.O.U.L. Team by running away from the office all the time. Alas, research requires internet, and NRE has it. Still no electricity at home either, so if I want to use any electronics, they must be carted with me to work each day to charge (when the power is working). Though that’s all on me for living a life that apparently requires them. So that’s all on that.

Going to the bathroom drives me nuts, not because of the hole in the ground I have to squat over, but because security precautions dictate I keep my backdoor deadbolted at all times so a middle-of-the-night pee requires me to unlock the padlock, so I have to find a flashlight, fumble with the keychain, walk outside into the chilly night, stumble to the latrine, check for spiders and lizards, do my business, then walk back and lock up and tuck myself back into my mosquito net. Takes me forever to fall back asleep after that. Since dinner is never eaten until around 10, the water I consume while/after eating necessitates these little journeys. As for the rest of my time, I’ve learned to always keep toilet paper in my back pocket. You never know when you’ll find yourself in a public bathroom without it. Oh yeah, you do…every time.

Buja, the dog, was cute at first until he started to be the bane of my existence. Unless properly tied up, expect to have him jumping all over you uncontrollably upon waking up in the morning, covering you in dirt as he tries to bite your legs. Not my idea of playing. And never go anywhere when it’s still dark out in the morning, because he will follow you, even if it means chasing you at full speed on a boda-boda halfway to Jinja.

It’s hard to find Devin time. I can’t pretend that I love spending every second of every day surrounded by all the beautiful people around me, no matter how beautiful they are. I like my peace and quiet, and it can be hard to come by upon coming home from work. The weekends are usually my time to network in Kampala or simply catch up and travel around with some good friends (of course now due to one security issue or warning or mishap after another, we all seem more and more uncertain about facing the perils and risks of extensive travel in Uganda, particularly at night). It’s a component of my time here in Uganda that I do not plan to compromise on, because at the end of the day, I’m a mzungu, named for my tendency to “zunga zunga” around, because I can, and I’m going to take full advantage of my freedom to do so. But that also eats into any Devin time I could be getting. The end of the work day is rarely me at my most social. So striking a balance in all that is a major challenge, and not feeling guilty about taking nights for myself is especially difficult for me. I have crippling guilt issues about most things.

It sucks to be charged extra for being white. Having to plead with someone to lower the price. The smile on people’s faces when they name a price that says “I know this is 5 times what you’re supposed to pay, and you know it too, but we’re going to do this dance anyway.” It’s also hard not being able to just go wherever you want whenever you want without risk of getting robbed or worse. The police in place to keep you safe are just as much of a threat as those they are supposed to protect you from.

All this is coupled with some recent personal withdrawals – missing certain people I’ve left behind, missing the desert, missing the ability to hop in a car and drive somewhere and camp for the night or hike for the day without a guide, to just be free, missing out on Burning Man with all my friends this week, and just missing in general. First homesickness feelings have hit this week, so it certainly exacerbates the annoyances that arise with daily life in such a different context.

BUT…

Then I walk outside for that pain in the ass mid-night pee, and look up at the stars blanketing the world around me. I smell the fresh air coming off the Nile river and feel the breeze moving through the warm air around my skin, watching the silhouettes of the banana trees slow-dancing with each other in the crystal clear starlight.

I wake up and walk to work surrounded by laughing children who virtually all know my name at this point and pronounce it in the most hilarious ways imaginable, and always want to hold my hand and walk just a bit of the way with me to the office. I stop for the most amazing breakfast food ever, mandaazi, made by perhaps the coolest maama in the village and sold for 6 cents a piece, knowing that I wont spend more than $2.00 to feed myself that entire day.

I get to my office where the morning starts with hugs, laughter, tea and amazing company. I get to ride everywhere in the field on a motorcycle, dodging low-hanging leaves as we weave our way through thatch roofed mud huts and the smell of woodsmoke and cooking food, high fiving kids on the pathside along the way. I get to spend my days learning about what mothers in Uganda need to improve their lives and empower them to kick their husbands to the curb and do whatever the hell they want with their money (okay maybe not that empowered…yet…). Half of my job is engaging with inspiring women in gardens and fish ponds and helping them cook and eating their food.

I get to leave work and jump from a rope swing into the Nile River.

I am getting the professional “field” experience I’ve been working towards for years. I get to engage in incredible eye-opening discussions with countless people. I have the support of an incredible Fellowship behind me, and the spectacular human beings that make up its 2014-2015 class to look forward to seeing every weekend. I get to learn and grow right here in the cradle of humanity itself.

Ummmmm…my boss has dreadlocks.

I have an adorable roof over my head. Electricity on its way. Water that works most of the time now. A computer to connect to the world. An iPod to fill my ears with my favorite Edward Sharpe and CHVRCHES songs tonight. A phone with the ability to connect to everyone I know and love at the touch of a button. The ability to get voicenotes from Kelly from a NIN show in LA and pictures from Lacey and my tribe at Burning Man. Money to travel around the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. Clothes on my back. Air in my lungs. A beating heart.

I am young, healthy, happy, alive, in love with myself and my life. After years of unhappiness for reasons that rarely even made sense, I am fully immersed in myself and in my beautiful place in the world.

I am blessed.

And here I thought this blog was going to be all bitching…hard to do when life is as good as it is.

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Safa, brother from another mother…and country…

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Learning to make mandaazi with Maama Roman…mmmmmmm

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Rope swing!

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Allison, my awesome Project Manager, making some epic chapati, and not sharing with Buja.

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Exploring an island in the middle of the Nile with great people

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Impromptu canoe ride

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I am not a fan of button ups, which I thought would be required every day here. This is my work uniform. Whew.

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And this is my office for half of my office work.

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Amazing times, amazing people

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Best picture ever taken (with Sharon, who is, coincidentally, the best)

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Goat roast in Iganga.

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adrift and at peace…

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