In Uganda, people often will break up their sentences suddenly and startlingly by addressing a question to their listener, and then just as suddenly, answering the question themselves, in the same breath. It has the same sort of effect as an "um" or "you know" in American English; some sort of desired suspense is created, but mostly, it just gives the person time to compose themselves and figure out what they are actually saying. Examples: "I am going to what?(small pause) Eat dinner." I think I've been conditioned to eagerly answer questions, so at first, I had a lot of awkward moments where I would try to answer these brief yet bewildering questions, and then find that I had completely killed the rhythm of the conversation.
That was just a brief cross-cultural warm up. THe important thing is that in 5 days I will be stuffing my face with cheese, olives, red wine, and pizza. This is all that truly matters. I have packed up a months worth of living into a small backpack and am about to embark on my first journey outside of Uganda in almost a year. THere have been several strong signs that it is indeed time for me to spend some time somewhere besides Uganda, although I do still love it here. Remember that ceremonial tree planting I did last week for World Aids day? I walked by the parish the other day to look at the 'Tree of Hope', and the Tree of Hope is...not looking so hot. The tree of hope is dead. In fact, it looks like it has been through a desert storm war, enforced starvation, and possibly several children doing the macarena on top of it. It's alright. We will overlook this metaphor, for the time being.
Also, it's Christmas season here, which means that the crime rate has increased alarmingly around these parts. It's the most cutthroat time of the year here. People are scrambling to get enough money to buy beer and meat for the holidays (this only happens once a year for many) and I don't really want to be around when this scrambling and desperation hits a fever pitch. No one is exempt from this holiday fervor. THe private hire drivers have started upping their prices for mundus, police men are ticketing people right and left, and even my neighbor has recently stepped up his modest smuggling operation (one of the many perks of living on a border). Also, 15 more of his children (he has somewhere near 20 children) have come home for the holidays, so I cannot go outside to the latrine without 5 small children running towards or away from me. Peace COrps has advised us to take extra precautions during this festive seasson. Happy Holidays!
Dry season. It's suddenly and inexplicably dry season. LIke literally, no rain. There are some good things about this, because frankly African rains are terrifying, but mostly I just feel an impending sense of doom, and spend the long dusty days hurling desperate questions and pleas to the heavens, like, WHERE WILL WE GET WATER FROM?? IS THERE ENOUGH WATER IN THAT DINKY BOREHOLE TO SUSTAIN US ALL?? WILL I EVER BATHE? CAN WE RE-USE OUR OLD BEAN WATER ANY MORE THAN WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN DOING?? I think this horror is mostly caused by the comments I get from every Ugandan I talk to recently, that is always accompanied by a manic laugh. it goes something like this, "There will be no water! You will not survive! THere will be no food except for tomatoes and onions! We will all suffer!" It's great. I think it's hightime I escaped to somewhere like Italy where humans have conquered nature and bent it to its will so that it does magical things like travel through little pipes and come out when we turn on a faucet.
I think the most telling sign was the recent big event here in Arua, that happened to occur in my village! The other day, Tom and I were enjoying a Primus (giant congolese beer) with Father Lino at a cool market right on the border, and father got a phone call from someone, informing him that a plane had just crashed a kilometer away and burned three huts. Because we had just finished our Primus's and felt invincible and magical, we decided to drive over in father's vehicle through the bush to see the crash site. WE also decided, somehow, that this was a very casual and normal thing, like deciding to go out for ice cream after an especially good dinner. Anyway, we enjoyed the bumpy drive into the bush, passing by hundreds of villagers who were also dropping everything to go enjoy the destruction and catastrophe. Father informed us that he could tell whether each person was going to see the crash based on if they were carrying anything on their backs or their bikes. Apparently here, if you are not traveling with a load 47 times the size of yourself, then you are probably indulging in some recreation, say for instance, viewing the burning of a crashed plane. Luckily, no one had died or even gotten very injured, but the crash site itself was surreal. In the middle of this African valley, with nothing but a scattering of huts peeking out from the surrounding hills, was a burning plane and a few decimated huts. The minute that we arrived at the site, we saw a white truck driving away with three very disgruntled and grumpy looking Americans in the back; the crash victims. They along with 9 Ugandan policemen, were relief workers, on their way to deliver aid to the Congo. So, instead of taking a moment to reflect on the savage beauty and destruction in front of us, and perhaps muse on the fragility of life, and the presence of hope in the face of disaster, we both immediately raised our hands, pointed directly at them, and yelled, "LOOK! WHITE PEOPLE!" Not a proud moment. I wonder how those guys felt, after surviving a plane crash in the middle of nowhere, as they drove away and then suddenly saw us lurking amongst the crowd of villagers. They must have chalked it up to shock. So, after this, we walked with Father Lino, past all the security and military, to get a front-row experience with the city mayor and councilmen. Standing in the tall elephant grass just meters away from a singed and burning plane with debris scattered all over, I looked behind me to see thousands of villagers gathered in a large circle all around us, kept in place by large soldiers wielding large sticks. If it were not for that Primus that I had just ingested, coupled with the feeling of, "well, this would have been weird even WITHOUT the plane crash," I would probably have been in shock myself, but instead, I just stood there, shoulder-to-shoulder with all the big-dudes in Arua, over-hearing top-secret military information, and watching the villagers try to decide what was more interesting to look at: the crashed plane, or the mundus looking at the crashed plane.
I think it's just about time for me to go sit in a large piazza and people watch with a glass of red wine in one hand and a piece of pizza in the other. Also, I can't wait to see my family. It's almost been a year and I flip out every time I realize that I will be seeing 5/6s of them in less than a week.
Wherever you go, go with all your heart,