An avid believer that everything happens for a reason, I have been asking the Universe, “Universe, hey girl, why you gotta go and steal mah iPhone?” As the Universe loves when I speak so eloquently to her, she decided to ruminate on my query and take her sweet-ass time to respond. And I didn’t mind. She always responds. I keep faith in that fact.
Away from my phone for a month, I realized how homesick it really made me. And I realized that it made me feel like a walking stereotype. This was something I struggled with, actively, daily, nightly. My friends and family were no longer at the touch of a button. And rather than it forcing me to immerse myself more deeply in my present surroundings, it caused me to withdraw. I cannot take that time or that inclination back now, but I can say that in that withdrawal, I turned inwards more deeply than ever before (I didn’t think my introspection could get any more concerted until these past few weeks). My Self-reflection culminated this past weekend with my GHC Quarter 1 Retreat, where a few unlucky souls had to witness me at a breaking point – I could either give up and crumble, or hold my head and keep going. Something told me the latter was the obvious choice. So I did. And no sooner did I make that choice than something changed within me. I knew there was something bigger on the horizon. And as soon as I made that very decision, I literally got my phone handed back to me. The Universe was clearly saying to me, “Good, you’re ready to move forward, here’s your toy back.”
So today I went to the MTN store to get my old line back (+256 786 294 613 – hit me up, seriously). Made it through the lines, dodged the mzungu price to have the SIM card cut, and while it was being cut to fit my phone, I made a new friend. A pregnant woman who looked like she was about to BURST right then and there came into the store. She sat down behind one of the help desks near me, and I smiled and greeted her. A warm smile met mine. I jumped right in, and asked when she was expecting. Her delight at my interest filled the air around us. She told me she was expecting any time now, and thought she may be having contractions. I told her to get out of work right now and go to the hospital, and started asking employees to cover for her. She assured me with ongoing amusement that she would be fine and that they were not severe or near each other at all. So I asked her where she would be delivering, how she found her antenatal care visits in Jinja to be, how many other children she had, where she delivered them, and so on.
I learned about her three children. I learned about her desire for this to be the last. I heard her birthing stories for every single delivery, and details about how she learned the sex of each, how she feared her first delivery and how her feelings towards labour have evolved and changed over time. We looked at pictures of her beautiful family, talked about maternal health options in Jinja and Kampala, and I even shared my own birth story that my mother has passed on to me. She also told me about how she can afford to attend ANC and delivery at the nicer, pricier private health facilities, because MTN covers all the expenses, and provides ample maternity leave. I was blown away by the interconnectedness of the work I am doing for S.O.U.L. Not only am I working to improve maternal health in this community, I am working for an organization that enables girls to access the education that will open doors to the jobs that will afford them the same quality care that my new friend received. Unbelievable.
I finally told her about the work I am doing in Jinja District, much to her increasing delight. And throughout the conversation, I was filled with an overwhelming excitement for the work that I am doing, and realized something: I cannot WAIT to collect this data.
I was momentarily saddened knowing that I would not get to feel this rush of excitement in many of our formal interviews, because I will not understand what most of the women say. But Viola will. And together, we will get a glimpse into perhaps the most intimate experiences of a woman and certainly the most memorable moments of her entire life. I was re-energized, and invigorated to carry out the work ahead.
My new friend let me know that she had yet to select a name for her newest baby, who it turns out, would be a girl. She asked me for my suggestion. I did not hesitate for a second before suggesting the name that is dearest to my heart: Judith, the name of my inspiring and incredible mother. It also happened to be the name of my new friend’s sister.
Judith – she liked the sound of it.
Needless to say, I left the store beaming from ear to ear. I could not stop smiling the whole ride home.
I was destined to go into that store today. And I was destined to be separated from those I love for a little while. The reasons are innumerable, and will become clearer with time. Many will say “So what, you lost your phone, everyone does, especially when living abroad, big deal.” Well, there are no small deals in my life. Everything is a lesson, a chance to learn. And I am so happy to have seen the lessons that have come as a result of this strange, bewildering month. So shut up.
Here’s to the Judiths of the world. Here’s to new friends. Here’s to mothers. Here’s to connections. Here’s to listening to inspiring stories. Here’s to the work of thieves. Here’s to painfully long lines and slow customer service. Here’s to the wild and exhilarating boda rides that allow us to reflect on experiences we are driving away from. Here’s to Uganda. Here’s to my job. Here’s to this life. Here’s to here.