Today marks my last day in Uganda. The time I spent here was
I wanted to come live and work in central or east Africa in order for all I learned in college and in my three internships to come full circle. My time at HOCW did just that. Looking back, it was not that I was naive upon arriving here, but rather, only well versed in one side of a very two sided story. I could rehash all the information I had gathered from history books, the many stories I had heard firsthand from former refugees, the footage I had seen in movies or the images I had seen on the news. One thing I did not fully understand was the distinction between a refugee and a former refugee. The former refugees I befriended through the refugee resettlement program I worked with in the states were only able to walk me through one chapter of the refugee experience, and I didn't quite realize at the time, but that chapter consisted only of the happy ending to a very long story. It is so easy to rattle on about statistics: "Did you know that only 1% of refugees are resettled? How lucky are they!" The success stories actually led me to ignore the real weight of that statistic: that 99% of refugees are still going through hell.
If someone had asked me what the refugee experience was like, I would have told the tale of someone who was forced to flee their home, lived in exile for a long while, and then sailed on over to a more highly developed country, found a job, and started over in our corner of the world. To me, the "starting over" portion was fascinating–the culture shock, the financial pressure, how surreal it must feel–but again, I was forgetting that this part is actually quite glamorous when compared to the rest of it all, and only 1% of refugees live to tell their story as that of a former refugee.
Here I was faced with families who practically pleaded to be packed in my suitcase when I head back home. I lived in a village where refugee mothers and fathers alike sat on the dirt ground surrounding their shacks day in and day out, staring at nothing, and thinking about things I will likely never be able to relate to on any level. I am most certainly not a refugee, nor could I ever truly consider myself to have lived through an experience that bears any semblance to theirs, but it is nearly impossible to live in the village of Ndejje without getting a taste of a few aspects of what it means to be a third world citizen. That being said, I've decided to divide this topic into two separate posts. Bear with me and listen closely as I relay to you some of the paradigm shifts I've had during my time here in Uganda.