29 August 2012

On Ending

Things are winding down, and quickly.

I only have twenty-one days until I close my service. I only have seventeen days until I take what I hope will be whittled down to two backpack's worth of stuff and leave Ngora. I'm going to be gone for five days next week to travel to Kampala to take the GRE (and try to make a plan for the rest of my life) and attended our All-Vol conference in Masaka, where I'll see most everyone here for the last time, so when you take those days out of the equation, I only have twelve days left in Ngora.

I was wondering, ever since early July when I got my official COS date, when it was going to hit me that 1: I've been here for two years, a long time, it seems, and 2: I'm leaving the place I've lived and the people I've gotten to know for the last two years, possibly forever, and 3: I'm going to have to grow up now, be a real adult, pay bills (a couple weeks ago I had to pay a credit card bill for the first time in two years, a good reminder that I'm leaving Africa), buy furniture, rent an apartment (or secure a couch to sleep on for a while), and get a job (or go back to school and put everything off for another two years, until I'm --yikes-- thirty).

I don't know if it has fully hit me yet, but the hitting has certainly started. If it's possible to feel nostalgic for something that hasn't faded into the past yet, then I'm becoming nostalgic for my Peace Corps experience, Ngora, and Uganda. I'll be doing something in town or traveling with friends or whatever, and I'll realize that I won't be able to do any of those things in a few weeks, and it's kind of sad, certainly bittersweet. But then, one or more of the same old annoying and frustrating things that have been around for the last two years will happen again, or I'll be sitting at my organization with no work to do, having wound down basically all of my projects, and just be crushingly bored (I can only study for the GRE for so many hours in a day, and I think I've realized my limit is five), and I find that I can't wait to get out of this country. Even with those annoying and frustrating things still happening on as regular a basis as they ever have, though, everything's started to have that hazy glow that good memories always seem to be tinged with, all soft lighting and a gauzy white border around it all, like a flashback in a made-for-TV movie. I am going to miss this. At the same time, I think it's a good time for me to end my service and leave Uganda. A surprising number of PCVs grow increasingly cynical and jaded over the course of two years in a developing country (assuming this happens to volunteers in countries other than just Uganda, and sometimes it doesn't even take two years). I understand that: I have my moments of cynicism and frustration that borders on bitterness. The inefficiencies of daily life here --the transportation difficulties, the potholes, the empty hours spent waiting for things to happen-- combine with the often-unmet enthusiasm for doing work, the desire to make a difference, and the desire to have a good experience, and the frustration of all of those quotidian difficulties and often-outlet-less enthusiasm is compounded by the constant, unsolicited attention --the stares, the "Muzungu!"s, the requests for money or plane tickets to America or whatever else-- and it gets to you. It gets to some people more than others, but it gets to everyone at least a little bit. I haven't yet reached that stage of jadedness where I hate Uganda, hate living here, and --like some people-- hate Ugandans. That's why it's probably a good time for me to go. I can leave having done some good work, having made some amazing friends, and still liking the fact that I live in a tiny town barely on the map of Uganda. I can leave and have good memories already shrouded in the warm glow of nostalgia that far outweigh any negative experiences I have had, and that will grow to further outweigh the negative experiences as time passes and I get further and further away (temporally) from Uganda. I'm happy to be leaving while I'm still happy to be here. If that makes sense.

Thing I'm Going to Miss About Uganda #43:
I was in a private hire taxi with a couple friends last weekend when we stopped in a small freeway town between Jinja and Iganga. We were dropping someone off so she could go back to her site, and our driver was buying some gonja (roasted bananas, not to be confused with ganja). There were food and drink vendors clustered around the car -- kids selling bottles of soda and water from cardboard boxes, women selling plastic bags of g-nuts. A few younger men were selling roasted chicken, wings and breasts skewered on eighteen-inch-long sticks. I had a weird thought, and laughed to myself, and then asked everyone what I'd just started wondering: "Do you think one of these guys would sell me some chicken if I told him that he had to hold the stick while I ate it, hands-free?" We laughed: "Probably." I realized, then, that I'm going to miss this about Uganda: Possibilities are sort of endless. The possibility that something will go wrong, like when traveling for example, breakdowns or delays or whatever; and the flip-side, the possibility of weirdly hilarious things happening. Both of these possibilities are infinitely higher here than they are in the States, but it's the latter that I think I'm going to miss. I'm going to miss being able to make those weird jokes and have them actually be funny because they're actually possible. I'm about 70% sure that I could have bought chicken and eaten it while the guy held the stick. If I tried that in the States, like, say I was at a Mariners' game and wanted some Shish-ka-berries --the insanely priced chocolate-covered strawberries on a stick-- but asked the vendor to hold the stick while I ate them, no one would laugh, and the vendor would probably just say, #$%^& you, freak, and walk away. Maybe my sense of humor has just adapted to Uganda, but I'm kind of worried that things will be a little less funny, little more boring, in the States, simply because those bizarre and potentially (awkwardly) hilarious things just aren't nearly as possible there. (Then again, maybe I've just gotten so weird after two years in the bush that I, and my friends who've also spent two years in the bush, don't know what's funny to normal people anymore. That's also a possibility.)

Thing I'm Going to Miss About Uganda #12:
Riding my bike and having to swerve and weave my way through herds of cattle, seven or eight up to forty or forty-five strong, humps on their backs like fatty shark fins, horns just a foot or two away from gouging my thigh or getting stuck in the spokes of my bike. This will not happen in the States.

Thing I'm Going to Miss About Uganda #183:
The bus I was on today was delayed by fifteen minutes, at least, so that a group of seven grown men could chase down a fleeing chicken that wanting nothing less than to be caught, leading them on a wild chicken chase around in circles until they finally corralled it, tied its legs together, and tossed it in the storage area underneath the bus. This will also not happen in the States.

That's all for now. Just trying to reflect on ending and leaving. If I come up with anything more profound, I'll be sure to try to articulate it. But I might not. Actually leaving and going back and being in the States for some time will surely affect how I feel about this whole experience, so who knows?

1 comment:

  1. The cynicism you described is definitely the same here. It seems like it's all too easy to become jaded. Developing countries can be endlessly frustrating, but I think most will reflect back on the experience and realize how truly beautiful it was and come to regret some of that negativity. I guess it's all about perspective.