Day 6: Compliments, Ugandan Style!

Enock, one of the Girl Up team members, greets me after not seeing me for two days with much delight, “Ahh… you’re getting fatter! Ugandan food is good for you?”

Linda on our walk to the office yesterday morning: “The more I spend time with you the less I see your color.”

And on our walk home yesterday: “You have a big butt! And I bet you have big hips, too. Even if you don’t have big boobs, as long as you have one of the three, you are attractive here in Uganda.”

(Picture: Linda and me on our way home after a walk through the neighborhood. You can see their house peeking out over the security fence in the background.)

Day 5: Mzungu

Conversation with Linda over breakfast, “If you’re here in November you will have to try the grasshoppers.”

Linda accompanies me to the office, upon Monica’s invitation, to hang out with us for the day. (She’s on holiday.) The team welcomes her and my two families begin to blend.

Highlights:

Being with the Girl Up Team… no words right now, just joy.

I step outside of the office after lunch to get some sunlight and some kids see me. Mzungu! They whisper and call to each other, having the courage to look up at me from their safe sitting position on the edge of the other building. I smile at them. They smile back. I hold up my hand. “High 5?” One of them runs over and gives me a high 5, giggles, and runs back to the other kids.

Thus begins the game: running, high 5-ing, returning; then it’s both hands; then they stick around me as we do some clapping games. I ask them their names and their ages but the info doesn’t really stick as we’re more into the non-verbal smiling, clapping and just being around each other. Some of them come sit down next to me and see my tattoos (sun on my ankle, heart and wings on my neck) and start pointing and showing them to each other.

The play with kids and using “mzungu” as an ice breaker and invitation has begun.

Conversation with 3 girls who went through the Adolescent Girls Program… so inspiring! More on those stories later.

Cooking with Annette and Linda ~ learning how to make authentic Ugandan dishes.

Annette so appreciates my appreciation for her cooking and all the different tastes, she’s now getting excited to introduce me to different dishes and we talk about food and traditions and life in Uganda.

(This is one of those posts that I just had the energy to capture some highlights rather than share full stories of the tastes and textures of the foods, the way they cook, etc. I gotta prioritize LIVING the moments… writing about it comes later…)

Day 4: “Feel Free”

Highlights:

  • Met the (almost) entire Girl Up team! Song, dance, laughter, warmth, smiles, team meeting… I can’t stop smiling I’m so happy to finally be here, meeting them all, exploring the ways I will be contributing…
  • Met one of the girls who went through the Advanced Girls Program and get to “interview” her about her experience. (On Friday I had mentioned my desire to meet with some of the girls and get to hear their stories about what it was like to go through the AGP and the impact of it. Gloria, head of the AGP, didn’t waste any time and had interviews lined up for me for the rest of the week, including site visits to the schools.)
  • Evening stroll with Linda as we talked about body confidence, what she would do if she was president, fears, and other matters big and small.
  • Was welcomed into Annette’s cooking kitchen and allowed to assist!
  • Told to “feel free” at both the office and home… “Feel free…” meaning, you are home, you are welcomed here, you are one of us, be free, help yourself, relax and enjoy yourself.

 

(Special shout out to Enock Kyambadde, one of the passionate volunteers at Girl Up, specializing in the Champions of Change program, who drove me around town so I could take care of some important details like getting a SIM card for my phone, withdrawing money, and getting water, tea and toilet paper at the grocery store. It felt great to get all the basics covered! Thank you Enock!)

(Picture: sharing with Girl Up team members the art supplies and storybooks that my communities in Colorado and New York donated. What a joy to be the carrier of all these goodies! Team from the left: Caroline Achola, Monica Nyiraguhabwa, Gloria Komukama, Me, Clare Tusingwire and Denis Allan Zziwa. Photo credit: Emmanuel Walusimbi, Girl Up Team Member.)

Day 3: Saying Yes

Keeping with my commitment to say yes to the invitations I receive, I say yes to attending church with the family the next morning. It’s an early start – we’re out the door and on the road by 7:15. It’s an Anglican church. And oh, do they know how to sing! The singing gets more and more animated the longer it goes on and oh, does it go on!

The core message of the preaching: all is impossible on our own; all is possible with God.

At one point the preacher invites newcomers to the church to stand up and say their name. I stand. “Hi. My name is Megan Walrod. I’m from America. I’m grateful to be here with you all.” I sit down to applause, not sure what to make of the quiet laughter that ripples through the room following my introduction.

I am definitely a curiosity. The only white person in the church. The kids are uninhibited with their staring and desire to connect. After church, as we spill out into the lawn, several kids come up to me, courageously shy, wanting to connect yet not sure how. I shake their hands, ask their names, letting them know with my smile it’s ok to connect. The adults stand back yet some follow the children’s lead and come up to me, shaking my hand and introducing themselves. I get that it’s considered some kind of honor to touch me and to be close to me. It’s odd, it’s interesting, it just is.

Back home to a special post-church feast. Then I’m picked up by Monica, her son Victor (6) and Gloria (Girl Up team member). We pick up Monica’s friend Charity and then are off for an adventure at Munyonyo on Lake Victoria. It’s beautiful and full of great people-watching. I find a new little friend in Victor.

**

Journal excerpts: “I’m here as I followed a calling and now here I am wondering, what experience am I seeking? And what am I doing here? What do I actually desire to get out of this experience? … I desire to see what it is the Universe desired for me to experience! It’s the mystery of choice and co-creating…”

**

“What if this journey is about softening into surrendering and not needing to push or effort or have an agenda?”

**

Photo: Victor, Monica’s son, and me, at the edge of Lake Victoria, watching the boat that just zoomed by.

Day 2: A Totally Different World

Journal excerpts:

“Fucking wow. What a totally different world I am in! I am so beyond my comfort zone and it’s exactly what I was asking for. I get how I’m being given the chance to trust in a big way and trust life and remember I’m ok.”

*

“What else is possible when I let go of all of the judgments, projections and expectations and just be the space of me, opening to what is, asking questions and being in the friendly flow of the Universe?”

*

“Walk tall, girl. You’ve got your own back and are in cahoots with the Universe.”

***

I move into my new home. I am so beyond grateful to be here. I am warmly welcomed. The family consists of Annette and Ronald (the mama and papa here), Linda (the 13-year-old who is quickly becoming my Ugandan Ambassador), Rachel (her older sister who lives at home and attends University) and Ivan (her brother who is only around on the weekends and also attends University). And dozens of chickens of various ages, a rooster (who I come to discover is very vocal) bunnies and a dog (Racquela).

Exhale… I’m here.

(Special shout out to Gloria Komukama, Program Officer of the Adolescent Girls Program and one of the Girl Up Team Members, who during my initial arrival and transition time picked me up, ran errands with me, dropped me off, made sure I had what I needed, and through it all, conveyed such care and kindness. Thank you, Gloria!) (Photo: Gloria & Me)

Day 1: Everything Is Brighter In The Dawn Of A New Day

As I journal about these dreams in the light of morning, I’m vividly aware that everything that comes up internally in response to the changing external environment is mine to work with: to heal, to release, to transform, to remember. It’s in the discomfort and newness of life beyond the comfort zone where stuff inevitably comes up.

So what will it be? I ask myself: to live in fear or choose to trust myself and life even more fully than ever before? I choose trust: not blind trust; not cutting off my awareness; but surrendering into knowing this adventure is being co-created with the Universe and that I have my back as does the Universe… all is well.

As I breathe into this choice and awareness, I make a choice to find another place to live. I trust my gut instinct that this isn’t the place for me. And even though I had rented this room for 3 weeks, I commit to talking with Monica about this today when I see her and hanging out in the question of, “What else is possible?”

***

I spend the afternoon with Monica and get to meet some of the Girl Up Team and her mom (Mama Joyce) who made us all lunch. I sit around with 4 of the team members and get an orientation to their programs. They sing a song, welcoming me to the team. We wrap up our intro with a song, too. These beautiful beings… their enthusiasm for what they do is inspiring. What they do is important and empowering. And I get to be here and play with them? How’d I get so lucky? 😊 Oh yeah… I chose to be here!

*

I want to get outside and move my body so head out for a walk through the neighborhood. One of the team, Claire, offers to go with me. As we chat and walk along the red dirt road I become vividly aware of all the staring and that I am the only white person around. This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this. It’s intimidating. I’m grateful that Claire is with me. I talk with her about the staring. “Oh,” she says, “They are just all happy that you are here. And…” she says after a pause, “… they wish they had skin your color.” Sigh. The experience of being a mzungu in Uganda has begun. (Mzungu: white person.)

*

I talk with Monica about my housing situation and my desire to find something different. By the end of the day I have a new place to live starting tomorrow. It’s beyond what I could have imagined. It’s the best of both worlds: a standalone unit with my own bedroom and bathroom on a family compound with a big beautiful family home surrounded by land, gardens and a security wall. And it’s within walking distance to the Girl Up office. (It’s only 1 mile away.) How does it get any better than this?!

(Special shout out to Monica Nyiraguhabwa, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Girl Up Initiative Uganda, who totally hooked me up with the most amazing new living situation. I am so grateful!!) (Photo: Monica & Me)

Arrival in Uganda

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:

Megs,

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.

Love, Mom

On My Way To Uganda

Journal Entry: Reminders To Self

  • Be EJG (ease, joy and glory)
  • Be curious – open, interested, exploring, discovering (get to know people and ways and places through an open mind and heart)
  • Say YES to invitations and offers (try different things)
  • Be willing to go beyond comfort zone again and again
  • Honor what I know
  • Do what it takes to see the gorillas 😊
  • Remember the safari: I am a speck and an essential part of it all
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff
  • Lean into my desires
  • Surprise myself
  • Allow life to be my lover
  • Hakuna matata

My Africa Adventures

What else is possible when you go way beyond your comfort zone?

I left New York for South Africa on July 31st to follow a calling…

A calling to leap more fully into life, to go beyond my comfort zone, to travel to the other side of the world where I could engage in day to day, inspiring and empowering activities with brown skin women and children.

As I followed this calling, magic occurred: I got invited to participate in a 12 day backpacking safari in South Africa (which I said YES to!) and I found my dream non-profit organization to volunteer with in Kampala, Uganda.

What grand and glorious adventures await?

I will be sharing them with you here! I invite you to read my posts and allow my words to transport you on these adventures along with me. And I welcome your comments, too! Let me know how a certain post touches you… what gets evoked in you… even just a note to say you’re with me and reading these means a lot to me. It can be pretty wild and lonely sometimes out here beyond the comfort zone… sharing my journey with you reminds me of how we are really all connected.

High-5’s from Africa,

Megan

P.S. Not sure where to start? You can begin by reading my blog from the bottom up to get the chronological day-by-day stories. Or you can check out these two posts to get an overall taste of my backpacking safari adventure in South Africa and my first two weeks in Kampala, Uganda.