In August of 2014 I lugged my 50 pound suitcase into the Portland Airport and got on a plane headed to Uganda. I had no idea what I would find there or who I would meet there, all I knew was that I was going to be studying abroad for a semester. Despite my growing excitement in the weeks prior to the trip, my nerves increased during my final days in the States and I started to think, “What did I get myself into?”
Upon landing in Uganda, I realized it was a very different world. Not knowing anyone or anything about the culture there made the first two months extremely hard. Everything I had ever known was gone and I had to learn how to live daily life according to the Ugandan culture. I was very homesick, but my new friends quickly became family and Uganda became home. Now I miss them more than anything.
While there I lived on campus at Uganda Christian University in a tiny dorm with an Honors College Student, Namutebi Joanna. We loved to sing together, watch movies, eat popcorn, and talk about life. I also had the chance to experience living in a home setting in the city, as well as in a rural area. I had to assume the role of a Ugandan growing up in a household, learning to do things their way and being a part of their way of life. The rural homestay was with a family that didn’t know English very well which contributed to my isolation along with the week-long separation from all of my friends. This was when my homesickness peaked. That week was rough, but now I see how much it strengthened my relationship with Christ.
Returning to the University after that week did wonders for me. I was so happy to be back among my friends in a familiar place. I was beginning to call it home. After having been separated from my friends, I came to appreciate them so much more. I can easily say that some of my deepest friendships are with Ugandans and a piece of my heart will forever be in Uganda.
On campus I participated in a choir called Mustard Seed. It was loads of fun, but also very interesting to see the way they interacted as a choir and how the logistics worked there. I felt welcomed right away by a welcome song they sang for all the newbies as well as hugs from every one of the returning choir members. I was able to perform with them twice while there, once in the Annual Christmas Cantata, which was a night I will never forget.
One thing I did that was a HUGE learning experience was an internship at the nearby hospital, Mukono Church of Uganda Hospital. There I learned to communicate cross-culturally in a professional setting. I also got to observe many things I would never have been able to get access to here without any medical training. I observed countless surgeries, most of which were C-sections, patient care, dental hygiene, lab work, and even a natural birth. I also got to participate in some of the small things such as running blood tests, testing for HIV, taking blood pressure and pulse and positioning patients for X-rays. Oh and getting to hold newborn babies, especially the one named after me. Yeah, that happened.
Another amazing opportunity I had was to go to Rwanda and do a study tour of the genocide that happened there. It was the 20 year anniversary and Rwanda is well on its way to reconciliation though it will take a bit longer than two decades to fix the gap that was created on April 7, 1994. In short, there was a long buildup of resentment between two people groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis, and after some political brainwashing a genocide erupted. Hutu extremists were killing Tutsis and anyone associating with them. It was horrific, neighbors killing neighbors, family members turning on each other. While in Rwanda I saw the mass graves; I saw the rows and rows of skulls. I saw the bullet holes in doors to churches where people thought they would find sanctuary. And I saw the bloodstained walls where they would throw children to murder them. Though I witnessed the horrors of Rwanda, I also experienced the beauty of Rwanda and the inspiring testimony it is building.
The group I was with stopped to visit an organization called CARSA, Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance, which is working to reconcile victims and perpetrators through building houses. Victims and perpetrators are matched and a house is built for the victim. Though it is not always the case, sometimes the people matched up are directly involved in each other’s stories. We helped work on a house one afternoon and had the opportunity to hear testimonies from a few people who lived through the genocide. The man the house was being made for introduced himself and his neighbor, a man that had killed some of his family members, yet through CARSA’s work he was able to call him a FRIEND. It was a beautiful picture of what God can do with broken pieces and I learned that there is still hope for Rwanda as a nation to reconcile the way this man and his neighbor did.
To be continued…