In the morning, I leave for Africa.
Specifically, I’m heading to Uganda for twelve days, for reasons that still remain vague to me beyond “I’m going to write about being in Africa.” That’s all the reason I really need, though: Africa has been a bucket-lister for me for as long as I can remember.
I’ve written about my fascination with the Dark Continent before (here, here, and here, for instance): Heart of Darkness, Stanley and Livingstone, the mokele-mbembe, the great white sharks off Cape Town, the lions of Tsavo, the gorillas in the mist, Tarzan of the Apes, Solomon Kane, the Zulu wars of the 19th century and the Congo wars of the 20th, Roland the Thompson Gunner, the last King of Scotland, the Rwandan genocide. (Sara Maurer’s recent series here at S&R has been wonderful, too.)
The stories, oh, the stories.
The trip is a present to myself for completing my doctorate. I thought, at first, that I’d go back to China. Then I considered Oxford. Then I heard that my boss, the dean of the School of Journalism, was going to Uganda. She’s been deeply involved for years with a project there sponsored by our student chapter of SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise), and she was planning a January trip related to that. I asked to tag along. “Sure,” she said.
Two other women whom I don’t know are also going on the trip. One of them is collecting data for her own Ph.D. project. Another has a grant to teach women how to make their own feminine napkins. I’ll be learning about the SIFE project, and I’ll also be doing some consulting for a fellow who’s planning to set up an eco-tourism company.
While I’ve wanted to go to Uganda for as long as we’ve had a SIFE program there, I never thought I’d actually get the chance to go. “Someday,” I mused. The trip took on renewed interest for me last year, though, because of the woman I was dating. She’d gone on a mission trip to Uganda with her church back in college, and the experience affected her deeply. I thought that by going to Uganda myself, I’d be able to better understand the profound impact of that experience. I wanted to get me some of that. I thought I’d be able to take her with me, too, but alas, back in September, life took us in different directions. And so I go to Uganda to better understand a woman I am no longer with—and as a way, too, to forget her.
Life has been exceptionally good to me over the past four months, I can’t deny, but the central narrative thread—the organizing principle—has had the unreal feel of a bad dream. I keep hoping I’ll wake up and it’ll all be over and I can start things afresh.
And suddenly here I stand, on the cusp of 2013, with that chance before me.
Africa is my chance to wake up.
Ironic, since Africa is a dream of its own with tributaries, like the Congo River, that wind from well back in my childhood. Yes, the Nile might be longer, but the Congo has always been, for me, more mysterious.
“You will either love Africa or you will hate it,” a friend told me, “but Africa does not allow indifference.”
I’ll see for myself soon enough. My goal is to soak up as much of Uganda as I can and then write about it. I’ll post as often as I can, although I’m told my internet access will be sporadic. One does not need wireless, apparently, to travel into the heart of darkness—or to escape the darkness that has troubled one’s heart.