I land in Entebbe after a day of travel from Durban, South Africa, to Jo-burg, SA, to Nairobi, Kenya and then finally, Uganda! UGANDA! I’m tired yet happy to finally be here. I walk outside with my luggage and there is Monica Nyiraguhabwa, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Girl Up Initiative Uganda, holding a placard with my name on it. Oh, sweet landing! To be welcomed with a hug and smiles and warmth like this sets the tone for what’s to come.
I get my first taste of the chaos that is the driving scene on our hour+ drive to the capital city of Kampala. Luckily, Monica is a pro at multi-tasking so we talk the entire way, while I watch the headlights of cars, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) and matatus (mini-bus taxis) weaving and passing and veering and somehow never crashing into each other or the people walking on foot.
We arrive at the place I have rented through Air BNB. Although it is a sweet place with a guard and gate at the entrance to the compound, something about it doesn’t feel “right”. But I know I’ve traveled all day and that everything usually has a way of looking better and brighter in the dawn of a new day. So after Monica and her sister Joanne (who came with Monica to welcome me to Uganda) drop me and my luggage off at the house, I exchange greetings and details with the host. As it turns out, she doesn’t live in this house, or even on the compound, but there are two other people, a man and a woman, inhabiting the two other closed rooms. Turns out I’ll be sharing the bathroom with the man. Hmmm… not quite what I thought it would be. I thought I’d be sharing the house with the host and that’s it.
We say goodbye and I lock the door and then the gated door behind her. Once I get my mosquito net in place, I crash, looking forward to some much desired sleep after having been up and traveling all day since before 5am.
As I lay in bed, I hear the muted sounds of city life… dogs barking, the echo and drifting melodies of people talking and music playing somewhere on the other side of the compound wall. This is a city of over 1.5 million people. The thought, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” runs through my mind as I drift off to sleep.
In the middle of the night I am caught up in a nightmare. Someone is trying to get into the house and nobody has locked the door. I push up against the door in an attempt to stop him, but he is stronger than me and pushes through the bottom part of the door and grabs me by the neck. He forces me over to the table and I know what his intentions are and I will have nothing to do with this. I call out to the woman roommate, desperately trying to remember her name, but my voice comes out like a croak, “Nora! Nora?” (Her name is actually Laura.) I wake myself up with my croaked yelling. I lay in bed filled with fear. Am I safe? Is that a sign of something to come?
Luckily, miraculously, I fall back asleep and have another kind of dream…
In this dream, the neighbor who lived next door while growing up hands me a notebook that belonged to my mom. I open it and look through the pages; there are notes she’s made to herself and then I find a page with a note to me. The gist of it:
You are ok. Be strong. You will get on the other side of this and be all the stronger for it. I am with you. Know you are ok and taken care of. I’ve got you, too.