Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reflections of a returning traveler

I have considered a hundred different ways to start this post and have rejected every single one of them. Even now I wonder just what I should say.

How do I even begin to express the surprise of being greeted at the airport by what seemed like half of the Sign of the Dove Congregation and being swept up into hugs by people who were as yet strangers but would soon become closer than kin? How do I put into words their generosity as they gathered our baggage from us and carefully led us to the waiting vehicles with admonitions never to step in front of a moving vehicle because they don’t always stop for pedestrians?

How do I describe the darkness of that first night as we rocked back and forth up a rutted clay road, shoulder to shoulder, trying to take in what little I could see by the light of the headlamps? The blaring music as the Muslims celebrated their holy day? The armed guard as we pulled into the hotel? The excitement as we explored our temporary homes, weariness briefly forgotten, and found the perfect bed in which to rest?

Ugandan Sunrise my first morning.

How do I paint the wonder of those first rays of sun pouring over hills densely populated by homes built of intertwined branches, mud bricks, and tin? How the wide leaves of the palm and the plantains swayed gently while deep-throated birds I had not yet seen cried out in a manner similar to a chattering monkey?
A Ugandan field of maize (corn). Photo by Bruk Marsh.
 How do I capture the metallic scent of the moisture-laden air and the thickness of the red clay that clung to my every step, creeping from the soles of my shoes up to my ankles and dotting my skirts with its stain?

A woman prisoner who is also fighting cancer with no treatment.
The vast majority of women in prison are held unjustly,
often as the scapegoat for another. Photo by Bruk Marsh.
How can I convey the countless conversations I had with men and women from the other side of the globe who were just as surprised as I was at how similar we are when we look beyond common perceptions and view each other with the eyes of the soul? Of the shared grief and joy. The same hopes and dreams.

How can I express what went through my mind when a child asked me for a half-empty water bottle to take home because even when surrounded by water, good water can be hard to come by for so many? Or when women brought me a plate overflowing with food they’d carefully spent the day preparing and wondering if what I was being offered was worth a week of their own refreshment?

Storms are sudden and severe. This was after only a few minutes of rain.
Twenty minutes after the storm ended, the water was gone.
And the sounds! The morning and evening calls to prayer. The way the wind whipped across the countryside, bringing with it rain and thunder so monstrous in volume one could shout in her neighbor’s ear and still not be heard. The children shrieking “Muzungu!” and parading before the cameras, all begging to be seen, to be touched, to be known.

Afternoon at a Children's home spent playing games and singing songs. Photo by Bruk Marsh.
When people ask me, “What was your favorite part?” how do I pick a single moment? And how do I tell them that as thankful, blessed, and proud as  I am to be American, I feel as if I’m actually a stranger here and that my home is in that little village in Uganda where I know there are a score of people anxiously watching for my return?

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