I'm still adjusting to the time zone, as much as I feel like I'm on top of it, nights are just difficult in some ways, and suprisingly easy in others. Last night I went to bed around 11 and fell right to sleep, but woke up many times. My guts are feeling a little loose and I feel totally fine, not ill at all, but it's a distraction that wakes me up. So it's almost 5:30am and here I am, listening to the music of the African morning. It's still dark and will be for another half an hour or so, the sun rises and sets here in a 12-hour time span because we are so close to the equator. When the sun wants to go down, He goes down quickly! The moon is becoming fuller each night and I feel the intensity of it. I can't wait to be under a full moon on African soil.
I was sleeping and sort of chewing on my post from last night while I slept- I'm dreaming a lot and easily but every dream so far has disappeared as soon as my consciousness rises. I think these reflections I have about my relationship with the people here, my role, my "self", what that is, what it means, how it's impactful, trying to be responsible, trying to be loving- how can I actually do or be any of those things if I'm constantly trying to be them? I have to let go of something big and fundamental and I am surrounded by teachers who have given me big clues.
|Lisa Saper-Bloom & Moi|
The volunteers who work at Shanti have this easy, honest, way of being with the Ugandan people- and I think on some level it's because they don't see them as Ugandan people, they are just people, exploring and experiencing a different way of being on the earth than they have. It helps that they have all traveled around the world and to different cultures and have a deep sensitivity that is not ego bound or a performance, or overly caretaking. Watching Lisa laugh with Rabina, cracking jokes and talking with her as if they have been friends forever, made me realize that I am tiptoeing around worrying that I will offend, or won't make a good impression, or that I will miss some important custom - basically worrying a lot about myself. Really, that's the situation, at the end of the day.
|Me, Hazuki & Madeline|
I think that is something that is rubbing against me in some way about my involvement here- and I do see it, this awkward intention to be loving and to be on common ground, but we stumble in with egos. I don't know how to not do that, and I know it's because choosing to let go of ego is really, really hard and scary. I give myself permission to not do that easily! But I also know that true compassion means seeing the thread that binds us, not the things that separate us from each other - and that is something I'm very good at. I know because I'm writing this that the moment will arrive where I will release this and I look forward to that moment, and hope it arrives before the day I have to leave.
|Sara & Me|
I truly feel that my heart can not take everything I am experiencing here, and this painful growth is growth indeed- my heart stretching wider, and deeper, so that Africa, Uganda, her people, her dusty red roads and her matoke, and morning calls to prayer, and wailing roosters, her mosquito nets and wild chickens and pineapples fresh off the bush, will all settle comfortably within me. Like a mother who is stretching and opening around the body of her baby as it emerges from her, who feels she can not possibly go for one more instant, she does it, and her baby comes out, and she's intact and knows something new about herself that no one can ever take from her. I feel this is happening to me, too. How can I take anymore? How can I absorb one more thing? And then I leave the sanctuary of my room and I see one more amazing, beautiful sight, or am touched by one more person, or hear something so funny and share unrestrained laughter with people who don't know me but who are so glad I'm here, and then I cry because I have never known gratitude in this way before.
Gratitude is something that is a very easy place for me to be, and there is something about being here that has cracked that box wide open. This place for me, it's all about being broken like an egg so all my gooey insides can come out, it seems! While it's become an easy place for me to be, I am truly, truly taken aback by the intensity of the gratitude I have just to have stepped foot here.
|Me and Jane at the drum shop :)|
I knew that Uganda was holding something for me, that there was something waiting here, that I would experiencing a great "Letting Go", and it is happening, and I cry a lot. Jane looks at me once in a while (I don't know if she does this to anyone else, she probably does, but it feels like a sweet secret between us) and says, "We're HERE!!!!" It makes me cry almost every time. I see how much this community means to Jane and how much she is a part of it, and how much love she pours out here, and I am profoundly humbled that she would find me worthy of sharing this with her. Like a master gardener, she warns us all to step gently, to watch the new ideas that have sprouted and to tend them with love, to have respect for the things that have grown deep roots and strong branches without us, before we can come in. We've been invited in to plant our own seeds, and to harvest some of the fruit of the experience, but we are to tread carefully because this is her Eden, in some ways. I love that.
I want to just pick something to write about to give a snapshot to what it is to be here, bear with me because wrapping words around Africa in an attempt to describe it is like trying to explain a Holy experience- in some ways, it is just impossible, and in some ways, it makes the experience a little mundane, and in some ways, we just don't have words.
Maybe my morning rituals, I'll start there. I wake up and instantly hope that it's late enough so that I can just get up. I sleep without blankets and while last night was nice and cool, it was still too warm for blankets. There isn't power at night, just the generator, so the fan doesn't work after about 10pm. Most people sleep with their windows closed to keep mosquitos out, I have slept with it open every night but last night because it's just too hot. When I wake up I come out from under my mosquito net and use the toilet. Having a toilet is a great thing and I'm grateful every time I sit on it that it's not an outhouse, or a whole to squat over, - all of which I would have been fine with, but this little comfort is so luxurious!
The shower is a hose with the handheld attachment but my hose is broken right at the base of the attachment so water shoots out there, instead. Sometimes we have water, sometimes we do not. To shower I just hold the hose and wash that way, but there is some kind of electrical charge and so holding the hose is scary because it has this buzzy sensation that makes me fearful about standing in a pool of water! I shower quickly.
I don't have a towel and none are provided so I dry off with some of the dirty clothes and hang them to dry. I pray that I won't get mango flies in my room because I think I would die on the spot if I had to squeeze a larvae out of my body like a pimple. Die on the spot. I have no choice but to take the chance though- mango flies lay their eggs on wet clothing and when the clothing is worn, the eggs hatch on the skin and burrow underneath the skin to mature. Like bot flies, they have to have their air hole cut off with vaseline or nail polish to kill them, and then the body is squeezed out like a pimple. FUN! No, no, no, it's not fun.
I generally get dressed and grab my Nexus (thank you, Husband!!!) and will read or write for a while. Yesterday I was able to visit with Jane and Kelli a bit and that was sweet, to start the day with laughing and crying and more laughing. We get dressed and then I go into the grass to spray myself as lightly as possible with that awful DEET bug spray. I only do this once a day because I just can't stand it and the mornings/evenings are the most likely times to deal with mosquitoes. I go into the common room where breakfast is served- generally it is pineapple, watermelon (both native and AMAZING) and perhaps toast with peanut butter or eggs. Coffee grows here everywhere which is really neat but interestingly, Uganda exports their coffee so the only option to have coffee here is to have instant coffee. I appreciate so much to even have that option, and bought myself a little jar of Nescafe.
We eat breakfast and then the schedule for the day begins. Yesterday we were picked up at 9ish and went to Shanti, where we first had a wonderful hugging and reconnecting time with the midwives and volunteers. There were many women in labor (Shanti has usually about 10 babies born per month, the last two months they saw that number going up, so yesterday they had a surprising five women in labor at once!) which brought a sweet energy to our gathering.
|Organizing the class folders.|
First the group did yoga with some of the pregnant women, while Jane, Melinda and I went over our curriculum for the day. Then Lisa led a massage session for two of the mothers, one of which was in labor and the other was not. She taught techniques for helping to massage our clients safely and in the ways that would feel good to them, some very basic techniques that I think will be helpful. It made me miss learning new fun tools to help my clients when they are birthing- something I haven't done in a long time because I'm convinced I'm retiring (even though so far, I can't say no to the opportunity to attend births!)
After this time we broke for lunch. Lunch has been brought in by I think a local caterer, which basically means someone who has a restaurant locally prepares our food, and then Ben, Shanti's driver, goes and picks up the food and the person who will serve it. We eat on mismatched dishes under the shade of the trees, sitting on papyrus mats. Yesterday's lunch was probably my favorite meal so far- rice, beans, fresh pineapple and greens. We eat all vegetarian which is fine because there is a lot of protein in the foods we are eating. Ugandan food is very dense and heavily cooked- it has to be to be safe. There are no salads here. There's really no way to grow vegetables for a salad, or to pick an apple off of a tree and have it be safe to eat. Things must have a peel that can come off, or be really cooked in order to avoid parasites. Water must all be boiled for at least 10 minutes to kill anything in the tap water, and we drink and brush our teeth with bottled water.
We sat under the papyrus with the doula training people, the volunteers, and chatted and enjoyed each other. Bugs crawl all over the mat and I just watch them, and wonder about them, and hope they won't bite me. I did get bit by probably an ant yesterday which hurt for a few minutes and then went away. Once lunch was over we pulled over more mats and the midwives joined us to begin our session. We did most of it outside but it gets quite warm and sort of sneaks up on you, so we went inside the Shanti reception area where it is much cooler. As we were talking a storm blew through, blowing wind through the structure and cooling us all, which felt so good, and felt like a whisper of home with all of our rain and cooler temperatures.
We talked excitedly together until 6pm and then left to Mama Pico's (aka, Rabina, who is the leader of the textiles group) for dinner. We clustered around her living room with sofas and comfy chairs and she set out the food she'd prepared for us. I didn't know what to say- I don't think that the Ugandans want for food, it's growing everywhere here, but to be welcome in to her home with her husband and children (all of whom remained outside while we filled up her living room and ate together) was profound for me, and of course Jane picked that moment to pull, "Hey, look, we're HERE! Can you believe it?" - and I started to cry. Rabina is "Nalongo" (I hope I spell that correctly), which means "Mother of Twins". Her husband is known as "Salongo" and introduced himself to me this way. Twins here (depending on the tribe) are a huge blessing. Older children will get a new name after twins are born that means, "Before Twins", and children born after the twins will have "After Twins" attached to their names. All twins have the same name here, one means "Older twin", and the other means, "Younger twin" - I'll try to find out again what those names are, I'm not recalling it just now.
(People are starting to wake up and talk in the courtyard now, and I am continually surprised at how natural it is to hear people speaking around me in Lugandan, I don't feel out of place, or that I need to try to understand, it's just part of the dense immersion I'm experiencing. I love it!)
After dinner was completed with thanked Rabina, "Mwebele Nyo!", to which she replies, "Kale!" (KAH-ley!) which means, "Thank you for appreciating me." I will be bringing Kale back with me, because it is such an amazing sentiment! We piled into the van, too many of us, and Ben drove us down the bumpy roads weaving between pedestrians of all ages, people on bikes carrying drinking water, and many boda bodas to get the volunteers home. We dropped them and then came here, where Melinda and Jane and I debriefed and generated ideas for today's session.
At night I don't know what to do with myself, it's so quiet and there is nothing for distraction. I'm grateful I brought my Nexus because it means I can write easily and even listen to a little Zoe Keating when the night is too quiet. I usually write and write and write until I can't keep my eyes open because that makes it easier to fall asleep- I don't want to lay here in the dark waiting to fall asleep, and this is working well so far. I do have melatonin next to the bed just in case, but so far I think I'm so heavily stimulated from the day that my brain is so grateful for the quiet, and the darkness, and the colorful background noise of bugs and bats and people getting ready for bed. I turn off the lights and in pitch black, I fall immediately to sleep.
We have a busy day ahead of us- we'll be picked up at 9am and then will go on a tour of the local hospital and maternity wards. We had the luck and luxury to meet one of Shanti's partners, a local physician who supports Shanti's mission at one of the local hospitals. I'm not clear on their relationship but there was great affection between Sadie and the doctor - we joked about how many cows he would need to give in order for her to marry him. It was very funny and sweet. We also talked about how if Shanti is going to support a teen girls group, that teen boys must also be supported. He spoke about how when boys are not connected that they grow up to be angry and that it is not good for families. This touched me deeply, because it is my thought as well and something I'm very conscious of back home- too little support for young men to know what it means to be men, too little tribe.
I'm not sure if we'll see him again today but we'll visit the hospital and then have a chance to do a little shopping. Apparently there is a drum shop in Kasana and I have been looking for a drum of my own- I don't know for what, it's just something I want to have, and I hope that there is something I feel good about buying because it would be amazing to take a drum back home!
After lunch we will do our session for today and then I'm not exactly sure what we're doing for supper yet. We fly by the seat of our pants here a bit - we did get a wonderful schedule sent to us ahead of time of what our plans would be but I left it at home and don't feel at all like I need it. I like getting up and finding out what each day will be, and being in the easy flow of things.
So far I have not been terribly hungry, but I really, really miss ice cubes. I wish I could have a really cold water and I could if I bought one from the little market in town, probably, but it seems like such a wasteful thing to spend money on.
I suppose I could keep writing but I think instead I'll get my tired behind out of this bed (which is pretty comfy, I have to add!) and maybe shower, or see if there is water for coffee boiled yet. I hope the adventure of this trip is coming across and I hope it's enjoyable to read my long, rambling thoughts.
|The floor at Shanti Uganda|