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.
Errr…. please change your mindset before you get to Uganda. We don’t really appreciate people who come to our country for self-realization. Africa is your chance as a PHd student to wake up? Sad. Clearly you need to expand your global experiences – but don’t project your “studies” and bizarre fascination with Africa upon us!
Don’t be a pompous twit. The purpose of travel, in part, is self-realization regardless of whether the destination is Uganda or Disney World. Cmac will do no harm, perhaps a little good, and will be a fine guest. “We don’t really appreciate…” You speak for the entire country? My guess is the hotels and tourist industries are just fine with travelers like Chris.
I’ve heard of countries screening people for their political opinions or criminal backgrounds, but discriminating against the thoughtful and inquisitive is a new one for me. Or perhaps that is how so many African nations got in the horrid state they are now in, by letting in those who came for gold, trophies, diamonds and slaves and keeping out those who came with good intentions.
And yes, Judy, I’ve lived in Africa and worked in forty countries.
Thoughtful and inquisitive? Hardly .. he’ll get his experience though – that’s guaranteed.
Sorry to hear you’re so averse to visitors, Judy. Thus far, everyone else I’ve met in Uganda has been exceptionally friendly. Perhaps you’re the exception to prove the rule?
I’m pretty sure I’ve done the journalism gig long enough to know to enter a new situation with an open mind and open eyes and ears. I’m eager to see what Uganda has to show me and teach me. If you think an experience like this *shouldn’t* be an opportunity for growth, then I’d suggest you rethink your idea of “sad.”
I saw your story on the twitter. Best of luck to you in Uganda! I had a similar experience going to Ethiopia on a last minute trip to write for a non-profit. Here’s one of my stories. http://beck-fightingfinn.blogspot.com/2010/10/its-process.html
And yes Internet will be spotty but you will never regret the journey.
Thanks, Becky. Thanks for passing along the link, and thanks for the well wishes.
Looking forward to the dispatches. And Happy New Year!
Thanks, Wuf. Same to you!
I think Uganda will be quite an experience for you. As someone noted, there will be no room for indifference – and I hope it will be on the positive. If this be the case, I assure you you will always want to return. See you in Uganda soon, and we will hear your story
Thanks for your willingness to listen. That’s been one of my tasks here so far: listening to what the landscape and the people have to say to me. It’s been wonderfully enlightening thus far.
oh judy i guess yo being a tad rude, .it is a free world after all .so how you think chris views africa is his opinion but i an guarantee him this though, uganda will grant him an experience and the best way to enjoy it by jumping in without preconceived ideas, enjoy though. btw am ugandan.
It’s been a wonderful experience so far!
Thanks Chris, this is really interesting. I’ve done a bit of a response on my blog – http://internallydisplaced.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/eat-pray-blog/ – I hope it’s interesting, it’s not supposed to be a criticism!
Thanks, Nicki, for the thoughtful response. I agree, it’s impossible to talk about “Africa” because no such thing exists except in popular imagination…but there again, that’s sort of where I was coming from. That’s what had me hooked for so long. The real mistake, I think, would be coming to Africa and expecting any part of reality to match up to that imagined landscape. Real life is usually far more interesting–that’s certainly been the case for me here in Uganda!