I am currently writing this post from London Heathrow Airport at the same coffee shop that I sat in hours before my flight to Uganda. It’s crazy to think that this was almost 3 months ago. So much has happened during this time yet I feel like it was just yesterday.
Tuesday, my final day in Gulu, was stressful, heartwarming and extremely sad all at the same time.
Stressful-As I mentioned previously, organizing the shipment of our blood samples was a bit of a challenge and things continued to fall apart throughout the week. Without getting in to too many details there was essentially a communication meltdown with the company we were working with. This meant that they would not be able to pick the samples up until Wednesday afternoon, after I had already left. After our team put so much work into this project I just really wanted to see everything through and ensure that it was packaged correctly so that I can sleep at night-I honestly think I may have a heart condition after this week. Good news is I received confirmation upon arrival in London that the samples were successfully picked up and are en route-now I just have to have faith in the system (easier said than done)
Heartwarming-On Tuesday night I had the entire project team over to my guesthouse for a thank you dinner. Every single one of our volunteers worked so hard over the past 2 ½ months and the project simply would not have been possible without them. As I thanked them, each of them stood up and made a little speech. They addressed me with some of the kindest words I have ever received and even presented me with my first ever Katenge (the local fabric) dress as a gift! I know that money is very tight but they put so much thought in to it and had even been trying to pick up on what my favorite colors were over the past couple of weeks. I think with everything that was happening with the blood samples I lost sight of how fortunate I was to get to know these people and this dinner really put that into perspective for me. Unfortunately my camera died before we took pictures but here is a picture of my lovely Katenge dress. They said I can “wear it everyday in the US”-I’ll let you know about that.
Extremely Sad– After dinner on Tuesday, Sarah, Ieasha, Helen and Sophie had plans to come over so that we could say goodbye (and they could eat the left over Iron Donkey cake from my team dinner). Unfortunately after our team dinner Twalib and I realized that we needed to go back to the hospital to get some last minute forms. I did not get back to my place until around 10:30-11 but all of them were waiting for me when I returned. We shared some cake, glasses of red wine and laughed like nothing was about to change. I simply can’t express how lucky I was to make the friends that I did. Living in a foreign country, especially one that is so drastically different than your own can be extremely challenging. When there are people going through the exact same thing as you it makes the transition that much easier. There is no doubt in my mind that I will see Sarah and Ieasha again however driving back up to Gulu will be extremely tough knowing they are not going to be there. Luckily I will have two more weeks with Sophie when I get back.
On Wednesday morning Twalib and I left Gulu around 8 in the morning. After a 7-hour trek we arrived at his house, which is right outside of Kampala. I spent the afternoon with his wife and 4 children until heading to the airport at 7pm. His kids, 5, 1 ½ and 3 months old (twins) are probably some of the cutest kids on earth. We played and enjoyed some dinner and finally said our goodbyes. Twalib took me to the airport and after sitting in 3 hours of traffic we finally arrived. I hugged Twalib goodbye knowing that I will see him in May when he comes to DC and made my way into the airport. Once inside I proceeded to be individually screened at every security checkpoint and drilled with questions about what was inside my bag. After THREE checkpoints and no one finding anything…London security found a KNIFE on the first try. I guess it had been sitting in the bottom of my bag from our picnic at Chobe-never a dull moment.
As I finish this post in Paris, anxiously awaiting my parent’s arrival, I can’t help but reflect back on my time in Uganda. Although there are images I wish I could forget, I will never stop thinking about the people there-how loving and welcoming they were even through their daily hardships. I am truly blessed to have had this experience and so lucky that I get to return. Uganda-its not goodbye, its see you later.