About Me

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I teach abroad and continue to pursue the life I was given as if it was my last. Many people think it is. In my spare time, I enjoy lapping up ice cream, reading spy novels, and euthanizing manta rays.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Out of Africa

I sit in an empty house, void of the novels, photographs, maps, and clothes that made it a home. I sit staring at a guitar case, three bags, a TV, and four blank white walls, preparing myself to venture away from the continent I've called home the last twenty months.

Today I awoke and read some, penned some personal messages to students, ate some toast and peanut butter, cleaned out my fridge and bathroom. I am restive. I hear the vuvuzelas and car horns from my sitting room; Jinja road is alive with the sounds of a national holiday. The home team Cranes host Senegal later this afternoon not far from here, adding to the merriment and disonant raptures of an otherwise calm Saturday.

I leave in thirty-six hours. But I am ready to go. I reflect on the images burned into my brain. The colorful memories that are reborn and then disappear, like the sea foam crashing over an empty beach. Then I wait s'more.

Dan is cooking tilapia next door. The house next to me is being renovated. Workmen have been hammering all day. Storm clouds approach and then linger, like a fart in a blanket. I check my watch, burn some mail, walk to the Guest House and eat a plate of matooke, then finally call my boda driver for a ride to the game...

I have not written much in the past month. I have not really had the energy to. Mostly, I have been thinking, consumed with the idea of leaving Uganda. How can I sum up what it is I have done? What was the point of it all? What was it that I was supposed to do here? What was my final exam? How can I reconcile the days and weeks and months and years? Is there any point in doing so?

I meet three interns from the embassy outside Nelson Mandela Stadium and we walk towards the gate. The scene can only be described with hyperbole. I witness every sound, smell, and sight known to east Africa. In the space of twenty feet, horns are blasted in my ears, a shirtless man attempts to paint my face on roller blades, three cops in riot gear eye me up and down, and thousands of fans converge on a closing gate. It's madness. It's African Football. And it's very, very claustrophobic.

We wait for the slivered opening to swell, then are pushed like rag dolls into the fray, careening off couples, vendors, fans, and metal toward the turnstiles. Horns blast from every direction. The sound is still in my ear twelve hours later. It may never fully be quiet again. Like a permanent sea shell reminding you of the sea. Except that it's not peaceful. And there's no sea. And no shell...

As the game starts, I sneak my second plastic cup of beer past the policemen and smile to myself. Other thoughts early on in the contest:

The Cranes of Uganda might have the shortest eleven men this side of Three Mile Island; how they could ever compete with a world class team is beyond me. But they threaten early before giving up a goal in the waning moments of the first half. Senegal 1, Cranes Nil.

At halftime, a friend and I walk out of the concourse to sample the food and drinks. And proceed to catch hundreds of men with their pants down. Literally.

We find a goat vender and get slabs of meat before finding another cold Bell. We guzzle it, eat the goat, slap meaningless fives with drunk men and women, and soak up the atmosphere.

Second half. Sun is peaking through the clouds. Horns still unbearably loud. That is, until the Cranes are awarded a penalty and convert. Insanity. Bedlam. Deafness. I can't hear myself think.

Twenty minutes later I call my boda and proceed to Sports View Hotel, past thousands of men, women, children, and farm animals, past the slums of Kireka, trampled-on crops, grasses, and mud, past cops and trucks, past bodas and bicycles. Into the smells of more meat sizzling, more smoke billowing, more haze enveloping, more people surrounding. Basically all the worst parts of the Bible.

After my last deep fried whole fish in who knows how long, I listen to a blues band in front of the pool, as dusk recedes into darkness. I sit around the table and answer questions of the three African neophytes, just beginning their summer in Kampala. "How long you here for?" one of the girls asks.
"Till tomorrow."
"For reals?!"
"For reals."

They have lots of questions and I have lots to share. Food gets eaten. Drinks get drunk. Questions get responses. We get the bill and I hail a couple of bodas for the ride home.

Agury picks me up a few minutes later. The dust and sand and smog are hideously thick. I mount the back of the seat of his Bajaj motorcycle and hold on. We speed past lorries and buses and sedans, weaving from shoulder to shoulder, in and out of danger, until we make it to Banda: my slum, my village, my home, and make the climb one last time, over craters and cracks, through puddles and past vagrants, and into the pearly gates of Kyambogo University.

It's now dawn. My last African dawn. My last morning wake up call from the weavers and thrushers and crows and ibises. My last still morning on the patio, gazing out at the red sun rising over Ntinda. My last coffee. My last cold bath. My last soapy bucket of laundry hanging out to dry. But I'm not sad or nostalgic. I'm not weary or fatigued. And I'm not giddy.

Dan's at church now, like he always is on Sunday mornings. I count my cash, stuff my bags, blow my nose, turn on some music. It's a morning like so many others I've spent here. There's nothing more for me to do today. And that's the beauty of this place.