In September, 2009, I got on a plane with my just-thirteen year old son, bound for Uganda via London. My husband stayed at home; my daughter was in college. Other than an acquaintance from nearly fifteen years before who I’d reconnected with on Facebook, I didn’t know one person in the country. I didn’t even know one person who’d ever gone to Uganda! But there we were, equipped with my new 500mm camera lens for my “one and only” safari; a satellite phone; and a bunch of $100 bills that were 2006 and newer with no rips, tears or marks. And a lot of angst.
How did I end up on that plane? Well, in 2008, I’d started a nonprofit. I never dreamed I would leave the country, although I’d done extensive traveling throughout my life. But a chance reconnection with my friend in Uganda over the Christmas holidays led to helping an NGO located in the Kampala slums, which led to an invitation to visit. As a homeschooling family, taking my son was a no-brainer. My husband, while a little worried, was supportive. My friends thought I was crazy
“What are you going to DO there?” they said.
Other than going on a short safari to Lake Mburo, I honestly didn’t know. Visit the nonprofit in the slums. Hang out with my friend and her dozen adopted Ugandan kids. That was my entire agenda. For two weeks.
And then we arrived, and I fell in love.
Everyone talks about how wonderful and unique Africa smells, and it’s true. What’s also true is that the skies are wide open, the air feels different, and, of course, animals and birds are everywhere, even in a big city like Kampala. But mostly, it’s the people, who are friendly, funny, and full of joy, even in the slums. There is a richness and a genuineness to the people and culture that is rarely seen in the Western world.
I have been to Uganda ten times now, with my eleventh trip planned for October. My husband has never been – it’s 29 hours and 2 days of travel and a large time difference, all of which makes it hard for a working man to do. My kids have been many times each, and my son speaks Swahili. But I’ve also gone three times by myself, and while I do miss home and family, Uganda is truly my heart’s second home. When I am working in the slums, with hospice patients, at the babies home, or with the ladies with HIV/AIDS who make up our cooperatives, I know that I am in my element. I know I’m doing what I was truly meant to do.
And that “one and only” safari? Well, I’ve been on several more, as well as white water rafting on the Nile. I’ve stayed at the most amazing Lodge in the middle of the Nile river, surrounded by rapids and hand built over three years by hard working locals. I’ve eaten in upscale expat restaurants in Kampala and in village homes with no power or running water. (The food was equally good in both!) I’ve spent a spa day in a five star hotel on the banks of Lake Victoria and used “squatty potties” in a village twenty miles from the nearest power source and a mile from the nearest well. I’ve watched my son celebrate his birthday playing paintball, and visited children dying of HIV and TB in one room huts. I’ve stood on the Equator, and sat in 8’x8’ rooms where ten people live in the heat of the African day.
All of it felt like home. All of it has been woven together to make Uganda that special place, that place where I am all that I can be, doing all that I can do. And my husband? He’s had his ups and downs when I’m gone. But he’s my hero – he has never asked me to quit my work there, and even tells people, “That’s where she’s in her element.” One day, I hope that we can explore the country together, and I can thank him for his incredible support on this journey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennings Wright is the founder of Ten Eighteen Inc., a nonprofit working with women, children and the dying in Uganda, as well as the author of seven books. She has traveled to over 60 countries and is always ready for another adventure. She lives at the Crystal Coast of North Carolina with her husband, with whom she is enjoying an empty nest.
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