I saw the eclipse Friday morning! It was only visible in Africa and Asia and I got to see it briefly before the sun blinded me! It was cool to see, and even more special once I heard that it was not able to be seen back home… Then that afternoon, I went to Kampala with 7 other USP students and we were quite proud of ourselves as we navigated there and back in public taxis all by ourselves. This semester is not a “feel good” type of trip because while we there for lunch and shopping we were confronted with toddlers barely old enough to talk sitting alone with their hands out begging. This country is full of harsh contrasts- amazing scenery, beautiful and strong people, yet complete and abject poverty in places. It breaks your heart.
Then, Saturday morning I went to my home stay where I will be living for the next 2 weeks, and will continue to visit throughout the semester while I remain in Uganda. After spending 2 weeks living in a home stay in Guatemala last January, I was excited for the experience and expected it to be a lot of fun. I will enjoy this home stay as well, but after spending the first weekend, I have already realized that it will be a lot harder than I expected. Up until now, the trip and program are all about US, helping us to adjust, learn, and get settled. The Ugandans we have met so far has been limited to campus, and they are used to American students coming for a semester and so are friendly, welcoming, and always speak English with us. Also, because they are university students, everyone is good at English because that is what their classes are taught in. I did not explicitly realize, but I have come to expect that, but this home stay is not supposed to be like that. We have the chance to live as a family member, and they carry on their lives as normal, simply including us. Two of the girls in the family were confirmed yesterday, and so when I arrived, there were many extra family members and the day was spent preparing lots of food for the celebration after church. They were very welcoming, but all had chores and the family prefers to speak in Lugandan, a local language. I am not sure how proficient all of the family members are in English, so that could be a factor, plus the younger children do not know much English. It was fine at first, but a whole day not speaking much to anyone but sitting and watching them work, and occasionally being allowed to help, was exhausting. By that night, I was homesick and counting down the time until I could move back into the dorm. My day was not all bad, by any means. The family has 4 young children, ages 4-11, plus there are many cousins that come over during the day. The little kids love sitting on my lap or rubbing my white arms. The 11 year old girl, Daphne, is very good at English and talked to me some while she washed clothes and also took me with her on one trip to the nearby well to get water. This is real Africa, like where you hear of people going to get clean water. They live pretty close; you just have to walk maybe a quarter of a mile down a nearby hill. You take what they call jerry cans (plastic water jugs that vary in size to hold several gallons) and fill them up. Some of the people clearly have a longer distance and you see several people with at least 4 or 5 cans tied to their bike to get filled. I also peeled a big pot of potatoes for the mom. The hard part was spending most of the day not talking to any of them and feeling awkward when I wasn’t helping. The meals are also difficult for me to enjoy because I am given some of the biggest portions, but cannot eat it all and feel rude. I am always given a chair and served first. One of the ways adults are shown respect is by the kids kneeling down to greet them or approaching them by walking on their knees. As a white guest in their home, the kids have to do the same for me. It is very awkward having them serve me that way with my food and a basin of water to wash my hands in. Slowly, they are becoming less formal with me, which I greatly appreciate, but it means simply that I am allowed to clear my place after I eat. That night laying in bed I was trying to figure out what I had expected or wanted that was making it seem hard. And then it hit me, that for the first time here it wasn’t about ME, the family had chores to prepare for a family gathering and simply didn’t have the time to talk or entertain me. They weren’t trying to leave me out. I didn’t want to be entertained, but felt like I wasn’t as included because of the language barrier. That combined with the awkwardness of being served and shown respect that I didn’t deserve just made it hard and made me long for what is comfortable. At that point, I spent some time in prayer and thought just trying to change my attitude. Being served and not allowed to help was humbling, but after all that to be disappointed in the day because I didn’t get to interact with them as much as I wanted was even more humbling and even made me feel ashamed of myself.
Sunday was much better, mainly because I had intentionally thought about my attitude and how I needed to change it. The day was about celebrating Daphne and Constance (a cousin living with them)’s confirmations and I met several of the extended family members. An additional blessing that made the day much more enjoyable was another USP student is living with one of the extended family members so we were able to spend the afternoon in our own English conversation, and occasionally being included in the family’s conversations. I do appreciate the younger boys- at church one fell asleep in my lap and I carried him outside afterwards and that evening the other fell asleep on my lap. Also, as their family celebration ended, the house quieted some and I was able to talk a little more with the parents and a couple aunts so that I could get to know them better.
Ultimately, I will enjoy living with this family- already I am experiencing how they really live and it is less awkward as I am slowly becoming a member rather than a guest. Last night I got to help wash dishes. I am bathing in each night in a basin and using a latrine out behind the house. My room does not have electricity so I even read my Bible by candlelight last night. It has just been humbling being served and treated as such a guest and dealing with the language barrier. I know that I will continue learning a lot from them and about myself as I learn a different lifestyle and am stretched. It is a good reminder that I chose to come so that I would be stretched… One thing I am also learning is how to enjoy silence and simply people’s presence rather than needing to fill it with conversation, it is something I appreciate about the culture here as I adjust, though I still prefer our culture of being free to be more casual with each other and not being so formal with respect either.