Before I set off for Uganda, I was pretty much running the emotional gauntlet. Of course, I was excited to start a new chapter and a new adventure in life, but I also felt uncertain, scared, guilty, and pretty much any other adjective you might think of. With all of these things swimming through me, I remember one of the overwhelming feelings that I couldn’t shake was a sense of loss. I imagined that I was leaving my life completely behind for the two plus years. Even though I was resolute in my decision to come, I was afraid that I was diverging. Stepping away from the path that I was on with everyone and everything I knew, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get back to that when I returned.
In a way, my concerns were right. I did leave behind the only way of life that I had ever known. Cultures and norms are different here. I no longer have so many of the amenities I happily took for granted in the states. Ugandans don’t eat the same food as Americans. They don’t communicate in the same way as Americans. Nothing runs the same way it did back home. Not knowing a single person on the entire continent when I arrived, I met new people and made new friends. I even had to change the way I communicate with my old friends and family. I have had more triumphs and frustrations in this single year than I can ever remember having before. With time, I have learned to adapt to these things, sometimes consciously, and sometimes without noticing it at all.
In the same way, I know that things at home have gone on in my absence. My friends’ and family’s lives have taken on exciting new changes as well. Some have struck out on their own adventures to exotic places, but all of them are in different places, figuratively and/or literally, from the time I last saw them. I continue to read about the pessimism regarding the economy. There’s apparently a new political movement in America. The iPad (which looks phenomenal, by the way) was unveiled. New music, movies, books, and trends are undoubtedly sweeping the nation. The Cleveland Cavaliers can’t win a game… Life has changed.
I have accepted all of this as true. There would be no point in denying it. The difference now, I suppose, is only in the way I view these changes. Before, I was afraid that the differences between my life now and my life before I left would create a barrier between me and everyone and everything I loved, but now I know that that is not the case. I have changed and so has everything else, but that doesn’t mean it is the end of anything. Change does not necessarily mean that things have diverged, as I once feared. They have just grown. Sure, everything will be a little different, but, to me, that’s exciting!
Exactly a year ago today I set out from Columbus, Ohio, bound for Uganda. Being so close to everything, it can be difficult to tell, but looking back now I can see that so much has happened in that year. I have had four homes in four different communities, I have been on safaris, climbed volcanoes, been immersed in new cultures, worked on countless different projects in different roles, eaten hundreds of plates of rice and beans, been through thousands of bananas, and I have met so many new people, not just from Uganda, but all over the world. Many of the experiences have been incredible, and more than a few have been considerably less than that. People often ask me what’s the biggest way that I have changed since I have been here, and, a year in, I still find it hard to answer that question. The one thing I can say with certainty, however, is that I have definitely changed. But really, who hasn’t?