Grab some coffee and settle in because this post is longggg
In 3 days I will have officially lived in Northern Uganda for six months, which is so wild to me. To be honest I wasn’t sure for a while if I would make it to this point. I was struggling with a lot for the first four months I lived here, and was ready to book a ticket to the states and throw in the towel. I look back and see the goodness of the Lord, him refining me, teaching me, drawing me to him even though in the moment I felt the furthest from him I ever have. Those first four months were brutal, so many tears, questions, and anger.
None of the struggling had to do with living in Uganda; I always have, and continue to, love this country. I don’t mind the bugs, the illnesses, the power outages, the red dust that stains everything, and all the other unique aspects of living in Uganda. Before I moved here a lot had happened personally, and I didn’t know how to deal with it and that very much carried over to when I moved here. Needless to say, I was probably in the worst place I could be when I moved. I’m still not sure why God had things unfold the way they did, but I’m back to being able to trust that there is a reason things were so hard and uncomfortable after months where trusting him was the last thing I wanted to do. Anyway, being in a new environment without my people, navigating new, different, and honestly incompatible personalities, all while I was struggling internally was a terrible combination. Everything felt extremely out of control and I was spiraling for the majority of the first four months.
Along with these personal challenges, my internship looked really different than I thought it would. I didn’t have much to any work for months, spending a lot of my day with nothing to do beside ruminate on all the negative aspects of my life for hours on end. Not only am I someone who needs to be busy, but my heart wasn’t in the right place when it came to my internship. Every time something would happen or some roadblock would appear (hello work permit issues) I would only think about all I gave up to be here and start resenting where I was. It didn’t help that I would have people telling me to just trust God, or have more of a servants heart. When you’re in a bad place that is the last thing you need to hear, and all it did was push me further from God. Looking back I wish I’d handled that time differently. I wish I’d had more patience for the acclimation process, more grace towards my organization, more compassion for myself, and a more grateful heart for the abundantly more that I have.
Of course retrospectively it’s easy to see all the ways in which we’ve lacked or handled things poorly. It’s so easy to say “I should’ve made that decision” or “I shouldn’t have done that”, but all we can do is look forward working towards becoming the version of ourselves we aspire to be. I’m a huge perfectionist and those first four months made me feel so far from “perfect”. It felt very messy and out of control; I felt messy and out of control. I know that God is calling me out of the ideology that perfect exists for everyone but me, instead using these months to teach me to sit in the discomfort that messy brings me, and instead of looking at where I lack to focus on who he is and that perfection doesn’t exist on this side of heaven. The late pastor Jared Wilson said, “no mess is too messy for the grace of Jesus” and this quote is now taped to my desk at work to remind me of this truth.
During this really confusing time with God, he’s been showing off his faithfulness in a really beautiful and surprising way: rainbows. Rainbows and double rainbows have been freaking everywhere here. I’ve seen more rainbows these last six months than I have the rest of my life combined. Up until this year I didn’t know the representation behind rainbows in the bible. I always thought they were pretty, but that was about it. I joined a really big bible study going through the bible in a year and read what they represent.
“God continued, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.'” Genesis 9:12-16
This has been a sweet reminder of who he is and his character during a really difficult period
I don’t want this to sound all fake christian speak though. I still really struggle with this, with trusting that God does have a plan, with trusting that God wants my mess, with feeling that I shouldn’t have mess at all. But right now I’m in the mindset of trusting even when I don’t want to or when I don’t feel like it. I don’t want my faith to be surface, I don’t want to believe things because other christians do or because I’m supposed to. I want to be in relationship with God and be confident in what I believe because I’m confident in who he is. And I believe part of what he’s doing through this hard period is stripping me of the fake christian aspects and redirecting me to him.
Another big aspect of this time was my lack of church community. Church is hard here period. Theology is really different from what we’re used to in the states and my only experiences with churches up here was less than pleasant. I have friends here who like the churches and are able to sit in the teaching but I couldn’t do it. I loved my home church back in Los Angeles (Vintage Church is the absolute best) and thrived there, which made finding a church home here that much tougher because nothing was like Vintage. I went to church only a handful of times in five months, and looking back that had a huge impact on me.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I was ready to leave. I kept telling everyone how stuck I was because I didn’t necessarily want to leave but I didn’t want to be here, I just wanted everything to be different. At one point I’d even packed up my room, told my parents that after our holiday trip in the Netherlands and Denmark that I was done and moving back, and emailed my organization headquarters that I most likely would be leaving. No one can ever say I don’t go all in hahahah. When December came and we were on the trip I felt no peace about the decision to end my internship early. Something wasn’t sitting right. I talk to a counselor and when I told her all this she said, “I just want to remind you that when we first started talking, before you even left, you told me that at some point you’re going to want to leave early and not to let you.” I couldn’t get her saying this out of my head. I’d dreamed about this internship and moving for 11 months before it finally happened, why would I tell her I’d want to go home early before I’d even left when I was that excited? I had no recollection of saying this either.
I told my parents I didn’t feel right leaving anymore during our final days together in Amsterdam, and that until I had complete peace about leaving I wasn’t going to. I headed back to Uganda and in all truth was extremely unhappy and upset about it. I was nervous to go back, scared to go back to the bad mental state I’d been living in. I was completely discontentment with just about everything.
This is where the post starts to get interesting. I flew into Entebbe and then spent a night in Kampala before beginning the six hour drive up to Gulu, around 11:30 the next day. I woke up early that Sunday (December 29th) and went to grab breakfast and coffee while I worked on applications for grad school. I was bummed about heading back to Gulu and leaving the nice little vacation bubble I was living in. At 11 I packed up my stuff at the coffee shop and grabbed a safe boda to take me to the hotel where I had stayed to meet the driver and start heading back up north. If you don’t know what a boda is it’s a motorbike that is the main means of transportation. I didn’t have my helmet with me since I’d been out of the country so I wore one of the ones that safe boda provides (safe boda is a company where the drivers are apparently vetted to be safer, so those are the bodas I use in Kampala), which do not fit well but is better than nothing.
Well long story not as long, I was hit by a car. Lol. I don’t remember a lot of the actual hit but a matatu (taxi bus) hit my boda (or maybe my boda hit him?) and we spun and I flew off into traffic, laptop and all. I was so disoriented and just wanted to lay there but I was on an extremely busy street and knew tons of traffic was coming so I stumbled up and ran/wobbled over to the sidewalk. A bystander saw the whole thing and was screaming at my Boda driver that he almost got me killed and then turned to me and started saying that I was an inch from being run over by a car. I’m not sure why he thought I needed to know that, but he just kept telling me how lucky I was to not be dead, asking if I was ok, telling me to sit down, and then continuing to yell at my boda driver who was recovering his banged up bike. I was so confused, my head was killing me because when I fell off my helmet didn’t stay on, my body hurt, and I couldn’t really wrap my mind around what had just happened. I ended up sitting down on the sidewalk, while what I remembered of the accident played on loop in my mind.
In Uganda when accidents happen mobs tend to form and they can get really ugly really quick. Our security stressed to us that if we were ever in an accident or by one to get away as quickly as possible. All of the sudden there were probably thirty people yelling and I’m just sitting on the sidewalk confused and clutching my laptop. I was right by my hotel and still so out of it but the nice, albeit loud, bystander helped me get a boda and told him to drive carefully because I was traumatized. As soon as I sat down on the boda I started shaking and crying and didn’t know what was happening. I thought that medically I was fine but really had no idea. I texted my roommate and let her know what happened and asked if she thought I should see a doctor, what exactly had happened and how she could help. I got to the hotel (where the second boda tried to get more money out of me lol) called our office security and filled him in/asked if I should see a doctor. The problem was that I was supposed to leave for Gulu in 10 minutes and if I went to the doctor i’d have to stay in Kampala another day because it would get too late to head back.
Security and I decided to have me go to the doctor and stay in the capitol another day. I couldn’t stop shaking and was terrified to get back on a boda to get to the doctor but didn’t know anyone with a car except for one person and my uber account wasn’t working. Our director of programs wife has a car and I was actually supposed to meet her for breakfast that morning but she was sick. Knowing this I felt terrible calling her but didn’t know what else to do. She was so gracious and amazing and immediately when I told her what happened said she was coming to get me.
My head killed, my arms, back, and neck were cut up and bruised, and I was suddenly exhausted, and overwhelmed by everything. The doctor said I only had a concussion and soft tissue damage, and I know I got so incredibly lucky. I don’t remember all of the accident but what I do remember replays in my mind. I ended up with a new tetanus shot and was on my way. Our director of programs and his wife were actual angels to me during this time. They paid for my doctors visit, took me to lunch, and brought me back to their house to spend the night so that I wasn’t alone, and even gave me rescue remedy to calm me down. They did all of this unasked and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was a really beautiful thing to receive even though I felt awful for them having to do so much. I am independent to a fault and now was in a position where I didn’t have a choice but to have to depend on other people.
It took about a day for me to realize just how bad my concussion was. And a full week for me to really understand how it was impacting me. The first week after the accident I couldn’t do anything but sleep. Everything felt really fuzzy and the only thing that didn’t hurt my head was laying there with my eyes closed. I wasn’t super smart because I only took one day off of work before I tried to go back and that was a complete failure. I was useless and ended up going home early until I finally gave in and took a few days off. Unfortunately I ended up with bad short term memory loss as a result of the concussion, which has driven me bananas because I’ve always had a scary good memory so to forget things that were happening just minutes or days before seriously has made me crazy. I currently still have the headaches daily, can’t remember anything that has recently happened, get dizzy/fainting spells, and sleep poorly, so I’m praying that will subside in the coming months.
I don’t know what it was about the accident; I didn’t have some big revelation or suddenly see life differently. But after it my attitude just completely changed in a way that feels slow and immediate all at once. All of the stuff I was struggling didn’t seem to matter. It wasn’t as if I felt like I was lucky to be alive and nothing beside that mattered anymore, I honestly can’t explain it. It was almost as if my tolerance for things that previously were really hard went way up. Maybe I was just so tired that it was too hard to care? I’m not sure, but the accident was the catalyst for a lot of heart change that I’d prayed about but didn’t necessarily think would happen. A couple of weeks after the accident I found that I had bed bugs (I’d suspected for a few months because *TMI* all these random little blood spots kept showing up on my pillows and blankets) and it didn’t bother me like I thought it would. Sure it was a total pain, but it didn’t freak me out at all, it was more like “ok, guess I gotta handle this,” and that’s just one small example.
These last two months have been so interesting, feeling wholly different although nothing really has changed. Logistically our compound is quite different though. Two of my previous roommates left, and we added three new ones (four if you count our roommates dog Maple)! Dry season was supposed to come but we’re into February and still seeing rain. I don’t mind the colder temperatures, but knowing its all because of climate change is sad, especially seeing the direct effects it has on the community and their livelihood in regard to farming and land.
Weekends are spent very calm; reading books during the day at Elephante (a great local cafe in town) while we charge all of our battery packs/electronics for when we inevitably lose power. You will know virtually everyone in the cafe so lots of conversation ensues (especially because we’re typically there upwards of seven hours). When we’re not at Elephante you can find me sitting by the pool, at the gym, running dusty roads, or rewatching Gilmore Girls with my roommates. Now that Bachelor is back Wednesday is Bachelor night! We all meet at someone’s house, order Elephante, drink Rosé, and revel in all things Bachelor… you could say it’s my happy place.
I spent a lot of December, January, and into February applying to graduate schools for the fall of 2020 to start once my internship is over. I started 13 applications because I was terrified of not getting in anywhere, but once I got into my first one I stopped applying. I ended up submitting five applications and have heard back from four universities so far. I really didn’t think I would get in anywhere so I didn’t think about what I would do if I got in multiple places and now I have no idea what I’m going to do. They’re all places I’ve never lived before, and aside from university I’ve never even seen them in person. I’m deciding between two different programs, one is a masters of science in applied behavioral analysis, and the other is a masters of social work! When I say I don’t know which one I want I am not lying, I’m so confused hahaha.
Lastly, one of the expat couples here decided to re start the home church they had done previously and I’ve already felt such an incredible shift since I started having somewhere to go to church. It’s not traditional church; we all go to their house, drink coffee, worship, watch a video from the bible project, and then watch a sermon from Bridgetown church in Portland, but it has been amazing! We’ll sit afterwards and talk about the sermon in community together, and while I may be in my pajamas and on someone’s couch rather than a church pew, it’s been so helpful to my mental state. I love how similar the theology of Bridgetown is to Vintage (the pastors are friends and John Mark would come and speak at Vintage so I shouldn’t be surprised), and getting back in the practice of church.
These last six months have been nothing like I originally envisioned; so many tears, laughs, movie nights, days spent at Elephante and Iron Donkey, back alley gym sessions, night runs from Lacor to town, stomach aches, rowdy animals, trips to Kampala, and so much more. I’m so excited for the next six months and how “un-ready” I’m sure I am. Uganda, you have been my wildest ride and my greatest gift!