Well Gulu, it’s officially time for your 60 day review. And unlike corporate America I don’t have to be tactful, politically correct, or kind with my assessment of your performance. On the anniversary of my arrival in Gulu, I thought it appropriate to send an update that would answer many of the burning questions I was not able to answer before I left or for a few weeks after I arrived because orienting myself was priority #1 . Those of you who have not yet heard from me about the transition to Uganda will be delighted to hear that I’ve had a relatively easy time acclimating to my new home. As expected, the Acholi people (that’s ah-CHO-Lee) are warm and welcoming and the cooler-that-Texas temperatures are a welcome change to my mid-August expectations.
So, let’s jump right in:
|| Home || (casa): of or relating to the place where someone resides; often ALSO inhabited by local wildlife including (but not limited to): geckos, spiders, feral cats, field mice, spiders, chickens, goats, street dogs, mosquitoes, cockroaches, driver ants, and spiders… so many spiders.
Apparently, in his INFINITE wisdom, God decided one of my character building activities in Uganda would be to learn the head of household role. In the process of making my home “the girl house”, as I have affectionately dubbed it, I had the chance to hire an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter, a security guard, a cleaning lady, an all-around repairman, and an exterminator. Our house was gorgeous and an unexpected blessing from the beginning, but now it’s this extremely livable hideaway and a place I love coming home to every evening.
One of the main questions I got before I left Texas was: Where are you living?
I think most people had fears that my year would be spent sweating it out in a grass/mud hut with no indoor plumbing or electricity. Little do most people know, those huts are generally 20+ degrees cooler than any shaded spot you’ll find while out in the districts. But — I live in a totally normal, western house.
We live in “Gulu Town”. It’s small, it’s quaint and the community is close-knit (more on that later). Think about every sleepy town you’ve ever lived in or passed through. It doesn’t take long to be a “regular” here and the places and faces become familiar quickly. And while, I love living in Dallas and have aspirations of making DC my forever home, I am loving my time in this walkable, wonderful Ugandan town.
|| Work || (trabajo): the part-time or full-time occupation in which your time and skills are traded for monetary compensation. Also, the way in which you prove that algebra, Microsoft excel and creative writing are NOT cross-culturally necessary.
Uganda is divided into 4 parts. The yellow is Northern Uganda and everything within the red squiggle is where IJM- Gulu works ( Amuru, GULU, Pader, Nwoya).
In a nutshell, IJM Uganda works to protect widows, orphans, and disabled people from violent property grabbing. When the male head of household dies, the women and children of the compound are left extremely vulnerable to extended family and neighbors in the village. IJM steps in to prosecute violent actions taken against the vulnerable and return the families to a place of dignity and sustainability through legal action, psycho-social intervention, income generating activities, and many other ways. Protecting vulnerable people from systematic injustice is woven into the fabric of everything IJM does. Because IJM is a relatively small member of this community we need partners who can come alongside and provide some of the services we’re not yet able to. That’s where I come in! Government and Community Relations Fellows (my official job title) meet with local government, law enforcement, community leaders and organizations who serve similar populations to crowd source our talents, resources, time and beneficiaries.
In this role, I’ve had more cups of tea, lunches, and town tours than most people will have in their entire tenure in Uganda. My small town is progressively becoming richer and more beautiful as the names and faces of the local business owners, restaurateurs, and NGO community come into focus. I’m learning when to expect the Acholi friendship handshake or if someone is going to shake my hand in the normal way. (Seriously, once I learned what that handshake meant, I didn’t want to be greeted any other way… except maybe a hug). I love telling people that IJM works to protect widows and orphans because we beleive their rights matter and their livelihood matters. Even though this is my 10th (official) year of “grown-up” working, I am amazed that there are still so many things I am reminded of everyday.
Biggest WORK learnings so far:
- Small office teams > large office teams
- Wearing many hats means you have many unique and unexpected experiences
- Say YES ( to going to the field, to learning Acholi phrases, to local food, to meeting with NGOs you’ve never heard of, to hearing how people got involved in the work they’re doing, to hearing about people’s LRA experiences, to holding babies, to dancing when the music moves you, etc.)
Work will get harder, I’m sure of that. But for now, I’m going to continue to let Gulu share it’s story with me one day at a time.
|| Community || a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common; aka: buddies, my people, clique, friends, squad, partners in crime, roll-dogs, besties, homies, fam bam, T R I BE; the people who are living this sometimes crazy (always fulfilling) Ugandan existence with me
The NGO presence is strong in Gulu. A lot of my job is to go into the community and meet people, I’ve gotten to learn about a lot of really cool organizations and meet a lot of amazing and passionate people. Locally, IJM is a part of the 4 families: IJM, Krochet Kids, 31 Bits, and Restore International. This is a group of organizations that have historically had partnership ties to one another, but…. I love it because “4 families” sounds like some kind of underground mob syndicate (gotta create drama where you can). In June, I was welcomed into the greater Gulu community from the moment I arrived. I like to think it’s due to my dazzling personality, but YEARS of interns and fellows before me laid the groundwork that I was able to skate in on (Thanks guys 🙂). Along the way, I have met people from Peace Corps, Hope is Education, Bicycles Against Poverty, WEND, a lot of the schools that are scattered in and around Gulu, and so many other organizations that help enrich the landscape of “Gulu Town”.
This is only part of my tribe. These people reflect so many of the things I prayed for and 1,000 things I never could have imagined I needed. I know everyone does not have this same experience living and working abroad, but I’m certain that these people are the reason I laugh until I cry, enjoy home cooked meals regularly, and don’t have time to dwell on all the life I’m missing in the states. The best piece of advice I received before I left was… “Find your Tribe”. I think that can be said for any new location or adventure. When I eventually end up back in the states these will be the people who will best understand why Gulu has a giant piece of my heart and they’ll be a big part of the reason.
|| What I miss || “God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.” – Isak Dinesen
Obviously it’s not always sunshine and rainbows( it rains EVERYDAY). And it is possible that I am approaching the end of my honeymoon period. On the days when I feel low it is nice to remember the things from home that make it a place that was hard to leave. So, here are the things I think of most when I long for home:
– TEX-MEX/ Mexican/ Street Tacos
– mom-cooked meals
– wearing shorts in public
– ice… Readily available and abundant
– cream cheese (actually available in Kampala but I’ve not figured out how to get it to Gulu and be fresh… See previous complaint)
– speaking Spanish regularly (my fellow Texans are keeping me sane in that though ❤️ #Texasrepresent)
– all day brunches ( cap n’ crunch French toast, amiright?)
– fast, cheap, and reliable wifi
-hugs/ beers/ long night runs on bad days
– hot yoga + saunas (TBH: all yoga in Gulu is hot, but not in the same way )
– Sunday mornings at IBC
– Lunch Bunch/ Work Husbands/ Walk breaks/ After work YOLO
– Sour candies, Trader Joe’s, fresh cut flowers, snow cones
Obviously there are an endless list of people that could be included above, but you should all know I miss you! And your babies and spouses and pets. So, keep the photos and videos coming! They are even more precious 9,500 miles away.
Honestly, y’all— Gulu is everything I hoped it would be and quite a few things I couldn’t have expected. I’m praying I skate past the valley that follows the honeymoon period because I am genuinely falling for this place. The greatest lesson I’ve learned since coming here is that I have found abundant joy when I lean into all that Uganda has to offer. I can only imagine what the rest of my time here looks like. I’ll post more later, but that’s enough for months 1 and 2.
Summary: It’s all good. Send sour candy.