Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My last day

My last day in Kampala.  I have been preparing to leave Uganda for weeks now, so I am not running around like crazy doing last minute errands; instead I am sitting thinking about what it means to leave.

How was Uganda?  The question is inevitable when I return.  Of course.  And I will respond, Oh, it was great.  But that response is a convenient social escape, and does not do justice to either the experience or the enormously contradictory feelings I have about the experience.  In many ways, the work I came to do here in Uganda was similar to extended-period work I have done in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Brazil over the years: all of the experiences involved some kind of project work for a coffee cooperative, either paid or volunteer,  and most involved research for my thesis or dissertation,  All involved a process of going somewhere, learning a new culture, learning to live in that culture, and working through all of the difficulties I would have with that particular culture to achieve some kind of collaboration that everybody could be satisfied with.   

Here in Uganda, the collaborations have been incredible fruitful: a proposal for a staff capacity-building project, the development of a proposal for a climate change adaptation project for farmers in the cooperative, and the completion of a diagnostic study for a possible tourism project, as well as farm surveys and interviews for my own PhD research.  Working with the cooperative staff and members on this work taught me a thousand lessons in humility, in patience, in acceptance, and in the danger of judgement.  But the loneliness of living in Mbale, the feeling that no matter how long I stayed, I would never fit in, never be anonymous, never stop being alien, other, was overpowering.  Maybe I could have overcome it, maybe I would have grown out of it after a couple more months.  But instead, I decided to leave a month early.   

So Uganda has left me feeling hopeful for the future of Peace Kawomera and disappointed by some of the setbacks I witnessed, humbled by my experience and proud of my work, enthusiastic about the future and ambivalent about what I will do with what I have learned.  I will miss this place, the people I worked with here, the friends that I made and hopefully will keep, the beautiful green mountains I worked in.  But I am breathing a sigh of relief that I am going.

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