Uganda was familiar yet so much had changed. It still remains running in my blood, when I look at my daughter I am there, she wraps the county around me so I can still smell it and feel it, even long for it. I see in her the people I knew for 4 years, the people on the street, in the shops, walking along the road. I see them all when I look at her. And miss them.
How lucky I am to have lived in the country my daughter is from for 4 years. To know that part of her.
The city is choking. Day after day I found myself unable to breathe. When the rains came it was perfection and I loved it and then the dry would come and with each minute, day, week, month, as the moisture left the air turned brown, then grey, then dark.
My daughter started to get asthma.
My son seemed pale.
The dry season slammed us.
I started to pull in, worry. Shut myself up. Wait for the rain.
And in that waiting…
…there was the horrible food poisoning that laid my son and I down for weeks.
…the middle of the night emergency room run where no doctor was available.
…the yellow fever outbreak running through the villages coming closer to the city.
And then the election.
The president of Uganda, Museveni, was running again, his 86th term (or there about) and word was his main competitor was not going to let the election be “stolen” again.
I was hanging on when I heard phones might be shut off. I was hanging on when I was assured the UN would evacuate us if need be. I was hanging on.
And then my dear English friend who raised her children all over Africa, my dear friend who thought nothing of being in a car in the worst neighborhood without a cell phone, my dear friend who seemed to have no fear said, “Oh no, but darling you must evacuate. It’s not going to be pretty.” And then she left.
That’s when I heard the opposition was planning to burn the city down.
By the day of the election, with most of my friends gone, I was no longer hanging on.
Me, to my husband, “But how will we get out if we need to?”
Husband, “Don’t worry, we will.”
Me, “But if the city is on fire how will we get to the airport?”
Husband, “The UN will get us to the airport.”
Me, “BUT THE ROAD WILL BE ON FIRE AND THERE IS NO OTHER ROAD!”
Now I know my husband would have never let us be in a dangerous situation, but I no longer heard him. I had let go and 8 years of wandering came flooding out of me….
And then we heard the gun shots. The walkie talkie comes on to tell of riots. The government shuts off all social media. We hear the opposition has been arrested, the streets are filled with soldiers, more riots, an occasional yell pierces through the deep silence and I felt adrift and lost and terrified! I ran to my bedroom and crawled under the bed and called my neighbor who was thankfully still there. Through sobs I told her I needed to know there was a way out. She told me she had the Irish ambassadors helicopter as her escape plan and no matter what the children and I would be on it if need be. She promised not to leave me behind. I will never forget her kindness. Those words soothed me, saved me and buffered me as we stayed by the walkie talkie and listened to it all unfold, my heart pounding in my chest while I clung to my children.
There were no fires.
The riots were very small.
I can safely assume no one else crawled under their beds with fear.
But it was clear that I needed a break. It was clear there was something more going on. It was all too much, too wonderful, too scary, too full of adventure, too much chaos to find a new center after I’d left all I’d known so very long ago.
I needed a break. I needed to go home. I needed clean air, and good food, and to just catch my breath, to feel connected. I needed to rest.
I could have never imagined when we made that choice for me to come back that I would end up not at home, but in another country, alone on a mountainside, on a tiny island with my 2 children and nothing else and it would be nothing like rest, there would be snowstorms and power outages, my husband a million continents away. I would be more cut off than I’d ever been, more isolated and more vulnerable than I thought possible, and that it would prove to be the best and most wonderful 2 years of my life.