Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Out of Africa

As you can imagine, this photos was not taken in Lira, Uganda. (behind Dad's new boat in Colorado)

The last three years of my life cannot be described in absolutes, nor can the people of Uganda be described in a blog posting. I can say absolutely, however, that I found another piece of myself in Uganda. By engaging in a culture radically different from my own, I have shaken off big pieces of what both cultures have led me to believe as true or right and now live knowing fewer truths, but holding them stronger. It is difficult to hold these worldviews simultaneously. Someone told me in church yesterday, that "our true selves only emerge after being put through trying experiences", using the analogy of a teabag being placed in hot water (a proper English analogy).

I like analogies, more so, I like twisting or stretching their meaning past the original intention. If I am a "teabag" and have been placed in hot water through my experience in Uganda, and am now being placed in another cup of hot water in London, I ask myself, "Is my flavor going to run out or get weak?" Before landing in London, I was accepted into a PhD programme for the therapeutic care of refugees at Essex University. I also decided that I was going to find a job and work full time. In other words, I wanted to put the same used teabag into another cup of boiling hot water. After some prayer and reflection, I decided that I needed something else this year. As a counsellor, I have given advise about self care to many burnt out, disillusioned, cynical, and angry workers who have depleted their energy, ambition, hope and meaning. I made the tough decision to seek spiritual and psychological restoration over my drive to excel academically and professionally. I will not be joining the PhD course this year.

What this will look like is still unfolding, but I already have a good start. I am looking for part time work and voluntary opportunities with agencies who work therapeutically with refugees (and have a few leads). I am creating enough space to respond spontaneously to artistic and intellectual events. I have already attended public lectures by : Lord Nick Stern (leading climate change activist), Luis Moreno-Ocampo (Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court) and tonight Thomas Friedman (of the NY Times). I am also looking for ways to rejuvenate spiritually, both in community and individually. I will still be attending the most interesting class of the PhD programme called "Working with Refugee Families". I also realized that overloading myself with work and school would distract from my desire to be more available and loving to Holly, so one of my goals is to be a better support to her this year. And, I have joined the LSE orchestra! We had rehearsal last night and I am overjoyed to be playing cello again. Lastly, I wanted some time to think about and potentially start fundraising for a very exciting idea that has been surfacing regarding an initiative with war-affected youth in Uganda next year (Ask me more!).

So, family and friends, go get another teabag. Life is too short to spend it spent.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Kitenge in London

The move to London has been a contemplative transition. It’s prompted me to ask profound questions about the universe and the nature of life, such as: Do all the women in London live with feet that hurt? Or do they adjust to walking long distances at frantic paces in such high heels? Are all the people in London cold? They must not be. They must adjust, because when they are in short sleeved shirts on a pleasantly sunny autumn day I’m still fidgeting with my scarf and sweater (I think I’ll keep calling a sweater a sweater. I am comfortable with changing my vernacular from trash to rubbish, cilantro to corriander and a toilet to a lieu, and pants to trousers, but calling a sweater a jumper conjures images of myself in the eighties and dress-like things with huge arm holes I wore over turtle necks --I’m happy to leave that memory in the past) and occasionally shivering.

Tina met me at the airport with a housewarming orchid, a big hug and smile and all the makings for supper in her weekend bag. The next three days she gave me a crash course in shopping and public transportation in London. Yesterday when I picked Ben up from the airport I appreciated my progress in London geography as I tried to pass it on. I was even asked for directions inside the tube by an elderly Italian man and I was actually able to direct him. I missed my train in the process, but another one came a minute later and it was unquestionable worth the little delay to help him. He grabbed both of my hands and shook them and said, “bless you!” It is not easy being a foreigner in a strange place.

At least I’ve got the geography of my new kitchen down now. Our house-mate is out of town so we’re exploring on our own (though he left us such a thoughtful welcome in our room we felt warmly received). I know where the herbs, pots and pans and the plates are located. I even know where to go to re-stock the kitchen. There are small supermarkets and vendors with butchers and fruits and veggies in walking distance. Our neighbourhood (According to a friendly Indian shop owner who made me tea and chatted with me while fixing a broken pair of earrings he refused let me pay for) has about one third actual British people and the rest are mostly from Nigeria, Somalia, Ghana, India and Pakistan. I felt so at home yesterday in the supermarket when a woman used a piece of kitenge fabric and re-tied her baby on her back exactly the way Ugandan moms do. People in the neighbourhood have, so far, been friendly, they even say hello when you pass them on the street sometimes. Tina says that’s so not like London. When I told Ben about the old man in the subway he said the same thing. But it is characteristic of my experience of London in the first few weeks.

I spent the weekend in the country. That is what it feels like after this city just a short train ride away to mom and dad’s house. We went to the market in Hitchin and stopped by their local pub for strawberry beer. We caught up on life and they drove me in to London with some of our things we’d left at their house. It will be really good to live near them this year.

I registered at the London School of Economic & Political Science last week, so I have now officially re-entered the academic world. I expect studies to get more intense in the next weeks, but until then it’s a nice time to get settled in a new place. We will still blog, not just about our lives and musings in London. We will continue to focus on northern Uganda in both of our studies and connecting our thoughts and work towards building peace there.