The Unraveling

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.”


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.

The Guardians

  • To the office of the security company that guards my home:

    Dear sirs,

    I want to thank you for the men and women you have sent to keep me and my family safe, and for your non-stop support of my husband, and I, and our children. From that first day I have felt as light as air, basking in the professionalism around me, wonderfully ensconced in your protective shield, and still today stand in awe of your quick response when I have needed you.

    Like that first day, when that wonderful guard scared me so much by stalking me around my home. I am sure I was just being silly old me. I mean what’s a stalker anyway? Okay, yes she was peaking in my windows and standing at my door, but hey, maybe she just really likes wood and glass. But dear wonderful sirs, you came so quickly and were so so kind about my suggestion that since she had a gun and perhaps because I was fearing her more than any outside intruder that maybe we could just get a new guard.

    And a new guard you did bring! And she was lovely. Oh, so lovely. My 7 year old daughter especially liked her when she cornered her while sobbing because the night guard was late to relieve her one day and poured out her troubles until my daughter was sobbing and running to me. My 7 year old daughter! Oh, but sure, kids today need a little reality check, and it was probably just me being old worried mom again, but once again you rushed to my side and assured me you were working so hard to find us that perfect match.

    And I thought we had. Mark was sweet. I liked Mark. He sat and guarded and kept to himself. But oh, you sneaky sirs, you came and got him didn’t you. What was that you said? He drinks? Oh, okay, looking out for me! I could feel the father-figure dripping out of you and was such a little girl in your palm of your hand as you whisked Mark away, and that is, of course, when the revolving door of guards really began.

    But sirs, I don’t blame you for the theft that occurred in the wake of that. Silly old me again, leaving something on my deck, in my home, on my property. I mean really, what was I thinking? And I do know how busy you are, perhaps finding that nice Mark another job, so I don’t want to bother you with my little issues.

    And I don’t blame you either for the two people who showed up who did not know how to open a gate. On the contrary, I was deeply touched to see that you have absolutely no requirements for your employees and that just about anyone who walks into your office can get a job and be handed a gun and sent to someone’s home.

    I especially like the three you sent this last week, and really feel you’ve been saving the best for last. That one gentleman you sent who left to go have lunch was really a sweet one, but he has nothing on the lovely guy who disappeared and then climbed over the wall to get back in when we locked him out. Now that is talent!

    And who can forget that wonder of all wonders who decided to bathe on the property and had to run half naked through our yard when he realized we were leaving and needed to open the gate. I must say, he can really run and I highly recommend him for any upcoming team building sports days you might have.

    But, sirs. Dear dear sirs, nothing could have prepared me for what you brought us last night. And still this following night I cannot believe what a gift you are to the United Nations, who employ you to keep their staff safe. We have already spoken to the guard in question and have given him our deepest gratitude as well, because truly, what else could he have been doing but fertilizing our garden when he sat down and defecated in it.


    Sabrina Lloyd


What do you see when you see us? What do you see when you see someone? We make a narrative. Create a life. Fill in lines to a story we write, from our perspective, from our vantage point, clothing the person, the persons in our garments, to fit our own story of how life works. 

Heard too many times in Rome: “Oh, is that your daughter? That your son? Are you one of those women who couldn’t get pregnant so you adopted and then you had a miracle pregnancy?”

How can I answer? How can I erase those words now etched across my daughter’s scalp, words that say you were a second choice. You were the runner-up.

The surprise answer is NO. Actually she was a first choice, a first decision. She was our miracle. I watch people stammer and their tongues lag because my story does not fit in the hole they wanted to put me in. My narrative is not their own. 

Now back in Uganda my daughter has to hear, “Oh thank you for looking after her!” She watches as her mother is martyred. Like I am a savior.  What I want to say, what I want to scream is, “I am just a mother who has failed a thousand times today. I am a mother who wakes up every day and starts anew and tries and tries again, and I get tired and frustrated and fail and win, and I am just a mother and she is just my child.” But I don’t need to tell my daughter this. She knows all too well how very human I am. But I still want to erase, protect, steel her from such assumptions. 

We look through our own lenses. I am guilty of this as well. I wear my Americanism over my eyes like fog, but I like to think that on this bumper car experience of life, that each new culture I enter knocks away some of it, bangs a little out of me, so that maybe by the end of it–sooner if I am lucky–I will see people a little clearer, a little cleaner, and not assume anything, but discover everything.

River’s mouth

‘You can’t step into the same river twice,’ they say, they taunt, they warn. It may look the same; the water may feel the same, caressing skin between toes. The smell might even evoke a long ago memory that feels so refreshing you are tempted to submerge yourself fully, try to grab a current, ride it to your past to reshape, recreate, relive a better yesterday.

I knew Uganda would be different. I had no idea a river could turn into a sea so fast. I still see familiar corners, know my way around this way and that, but everything has changed, expanded, grown. It’s shiner. It’s faster.

It’s happier.

A refrain on endless cycle from before, heard from taxi drivers, shop keepers, dreamers, “Museveni gave us peace, but now there are no jobs. We have our lives but no money to live them.”

As we flew away to Rome, the earth spilled oil.

Six years ago my husband, daughter and I drove all the way from Kampala to Nairobi. It took us three days, through bush, through tea plantations, through gorgeous emptiness, and when we landed in Nairobi it felt like landing on the moon. We felt dusty, creased, Uganda falling off us like dirt in this city of shine, of commerce, of wealth. Just one country over seemed a world away.

Six years later Kampala feels like a new Nairobi hatchling.

Oil. Gas. Investors.

And hope.

The new cafés are filled with youth. The new shops with pulse. The people with hope.

How amazing to experience this change. To watch it shift. To step into something so familiar, and yet so new.