Some Pre-Departure Thoughts

Jambo!

Fun fact: “Jambo” is actually a Swahili word.  Kiswahili is NOT commonly spoken in Uganda, because the Ugandan people tend to associate it with soldiers and thieves, although apparently this view is slowly changing, as Kiswahili music videos are becoming popular.  “Jambo” is one of the only Swahili words people commonly use in Uganda.

Well, I leave for Uganda in 4 DAYS!  That’s a pretty crazy thought, and I still don’t think I’ve completely been able to process it.  I have a feeling that what I’m doing won’t fully hit me until I get off the plane and I’m in Africa.  I’ll have two very long flights (12 and 5 hours, respectively) to mentally prepare myself, I guess. (If anyone has any book recommendations, please let me know!)  Not to mention the several months that I’ve been getting ready for my trip.  Still, there’s only so much I can really to do prepare myself.  I’ve never really been out of the country before (unless you count Canada, which I don’t, really), and I’ve certainly never been anywhere with such a different landscape or way of life.  I know I’m going to be a fish out of water.  As miserable as that might make me at some points, I’m really looking forward to it.  I know I’m going to learn so much from the experience, and I think it’ll do me some good to be completely out of my element, for once.

Some of you probably know a lot more about where I’m going and what I’m doing than others.  So let me give you a brief rundown.  I’ve enrolled in a summer study abroad program with my school and a partner organization called The Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD), in a town called Jinja, Uganda.  In case you’re wondering where Jinja is, it’s right here:

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The other students from my school and I will be living with host families in and around Jinja.  We’ve each been assigned to a group, and together each group will be working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) with which FSD partners to help design and facilitate the implementation of a sustainable program to fit the needs of the organization and community.  These programs will involve community members and help these individuals as well as the NGOs to realize their own potential.  I’ll be working with an NGO called St. Eliza, which provides clinical services to people with HIV/AIDS as well as community development and educational activities.  I don’t know exactly what kind of program I’ll be working on yet, but I’ll let you know when I do!

As I prepare to leave the United States, I’ve experienced a multitude of thoughts and emotions, both negative and positive.  These are often shared by those who I have told about my trip (including you, whether or not you’ve told me about them!), for which I certainly don’t blame them.  Here’s what’s on my mind at the moment.

Things I’m worried about:

-Dying: I’ve gotten all kinds of shots and pills, but there are only so many diseases I can vaccinate myself against.  Uganda is home to a lot of scary-sounding diseases that we don’t have here in the U.S. Like, oh, I don’t know…HUMAN PLAGUE.  Yeah, it exists.  Although most of those scary diseases aren’t in the part of Uganda that I’ll be living in.  There are still other things I have to worry about, too, though.  Like not drinking the water unless it’s been boiled or filtered.  Same goes with most types of food.  No garden salads or ice cream for me!  Peeled fruit, I’m told, is ok, though, so that’s nice.  Even so, I know there’s an extremely high chance I’ll get sick, since I’ll be exposed to so many new things.  And you know me, I get sick pretty damn easily, and I’ve got some very confusing allergies! Don’t worry, though, I’ll be equipped with antibiotics, benadryl, and pepto bismol (among other pharmaceutical essentials).  Still, getting sick can be scary, and I don’t want it to hold me back!  I’ll try my best not to let it, though!

-Offending People: The Ugandan way of life and social norms are sure to be very different from the ones I’m used to.  They certainly seem to be, from what I’ve read and heard so far.  I am really worried about saying or doing something wrong, and offending people.  This is a particular concern when it comes to my host family and my coworkers, since I’ll have to spend so much time around them, and I really really want them to like me.  Plus, what if I accidentally break a law and end up in a Ugandan jail? That would be pretty terrible.  I think the chances of that happening are fairly unlikely though, if I listen to everyone who knows better than I do and pay attention to my surroundings.  And I’m pretty sure that since it will be painfully obvious that I’m a foreigner, people will be expecting me to make mistakes at first.  And hey, if I don’t make some, how will I ever learn from them?

-Not being able to get used to Uganda: I’m planning on experiencing some serious culture shock, as I’ve stated.  There are just so many things about Uganda that are different from anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I’ve spent most of my life in predominantly white, suburban/small town areas, but in Uganda, I’ll be a minority for once, and I’m going to start receiving a lot of attention for it.  I’ve been told to watch out, because people will try to make me pay the “muzungu (white person) price” in stores and on public transportation.  I’ve also been told that it’s extremely common that people will assume I’m rich and both strangers and people I know well will constantly be asking me for money or donations of some sort.  As someone with a naturally giving personality who often has a hard time saying “no” to people, I think this will be pretty challenging for me.  Plus, all that attention will be more than a little unnerving, I’m sure.  Ugandans are also very religious, predominantly they are Christian or Muslim.  As a Jewish girl who hasn’t gone to synagogue in about 3 years, and is not eager to be converted, I’m not quite sure how I’ll fit in, although I’m sure it will be interesting to find out.

In addition to the social stuff, of course, my basic living conditions are going to change pretty drastically.  My host family’s home does not have running water.  Right now, my host sisters bring water into the house.  I’m not yet sure from where they are getting it, but I imagine it can’t be easy.  Some of those types of responsibilities will undoubtedly fall on me, too, this summer.  I’ll be taking bucket showers every day, and washing my clothes by hand.  Apparently, there is a stigma in Uganda concerning women’s underwear being aired outside, so I’ll be drying mine in a closet or something like that.  I’ll have to dress much more conservatively–skirts below the knee, no low-cut or form-fitting shirts, etc.  It’s difficult to even find clothing here in the U.S. that fits the criteria.  I should know, I spent 5 hours at the mall trying to find some today (thanks for helping me, Julia, if you’re reading this!).  It will be tough to get used all of this new stuff, and undoubtedly, I’ll find most of it incredibly frustrating, at times.  I am worried that this will hold me back, and cause me to feel negatively towards the experience I’ll be having, and regret my choice to go to Uganda.  I’m sure that it will, at times, but I hope that I can push through it, and see all the positive and wonderful aspects of living in Uganda.  I chose to do this for a reason, so I’ll try my best to keep that reason in mind at all times.

Things I’m excited about: I absolutely cannot wait to meet my host family! I am so excited to learn about them, and to experience what it is like to be a part of a Ugandan home.  I want to hear their stories, I want to learn about their favorite things.  I want to share stories about my own life with them, and answer their questions, too.  I hope that I become very close with my family and that we are able to keep in touch for the rest of our lives.

I’m also excited to learn about Ugandan culture in general.  I’m particularly excited about the food and the music–two of my greatest passions.  Living in a different country means that there will be many new foods and dishes that I’ve never encountered before!  I love to try new things, and I can’t wait to bring recipes home to share with you!

I know there are a lot of different types of music that are popular in Uganda, and I want to listen to all of them!  I’m going to go to a local church at least once, I hear that the choir music is incredibly beautiful, and that the services are a lot of fun, even if I’m not Christian.  I’m hoping that a host family member or friend will teach me Ugandan dances, I’ve always wanted to learn African dance.  It seems like such an exciting, spirited, unrestricted way to move and to express oneself.  I want that type of liberating experience in an art form that I already love.  And don’t worry, I’ll teach you all if you want to learn, too!

I’m excited to see all the sights there are to see in Jinja, it’s supposed to be incredibly beautiful.  I’ll visit the Nile River, and I’ll watch an African sunset.  Halfway through the program, we go on a trip to a place called Sippi Falls, which I’m told is gorgeous.

Bottom line, this trip will be an ADVENTURE, unlike any I’ve ever had before, or probably ever will after.  I’m excited to learn and grow.  I’m excited to be uncomfortable and to understand why.  I’m excited to be scared out of my mind.  I’m excited to realize what I’m capable of, in the best ways.  I’m excited to meet new people.  I’m excited to make a real difference in their lives, and for them to make a difference in mine.  I’m excited to help a community, even in a small way.  I’m excited to develop new love and passion.  I’m excited for my life to be completely changed.  And that’s why I’m going.

This blog entry is really long, thanks for reading the whole thing! I hope you enjoyed it!  Maybe I’ll post again before I leave, but if not, my next post will be from Uganda!!! (Or at least Dubai, there’s a layover, so we’ll be staying there overnight).  I’m looking forward to writing to you again.  But for now…

Mweraba (Farewell)!

-Rachel

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About racheltamarin

I'm a college student, studying abroad in Jinja, Uganda this summer. Through this blog, I will share stories and thoughts about my journey (and make sure my family and friends know that I'm still alive!).
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