We recently came back from a vacation around Uganda and I’ve got to say, I didn’t realize what it meant to live in the village – this is rough.
Try to follow me with this.
The village routine
After weeks and weeks of trying to integrate in to your community and learning the language, you felt like you pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Sure, every now and then you get the occasional “muzungu!” call out from the kids, maybe some of the adults too, but at this point you’ve gotten used to it.
Your daily routine starts off with a mental ritual: it’s going to be okay. Well, time to enter the outside world. After recounting all of the proper greetings, responses, and snaps back at the people who taunt you it’s time to go. You get your worn and rusty bike, just like the one the other villagers have and go about your commute. With your gardening hoe strapped to your bike and gum boots on, you’re definitely part of the village now.
At this point of service, you feel like you’ve integrated and feel confident that you can handle any situation now. The banter and stares you get on a daily basis have settled in to your daily routine and thus you account for that reserve of mental energy to ignore and look past it.
You go about your work and when the day’s finished, you finish off with the same mental ritual to return back home. It’s gonna be okay. Again, the occasional proper greetiengs, responses and snaps are all in the palm of your hand. Your ears are attuned to the usual sayings that you would get on your drive back. Oh look, the sugar cane guys again. It’s a gamble if they’ll treat me well or not, guess I gotta brace for that too.
Home sweet home. Put back the bike, cook up dinner and reset for the next day. All. Over. Again.
Imagine it. Day after day. Week after week. It’s the same sort of routine and all of the negative aspects of it has all become normalized in to your routine. You don’t feel it anymore.
Then I took a vacation.
The holidays were upon us. Christmas and New Year’s was just around the corner, so, I wanted to spend that time with the closest friends that I knew and had a blast. We went hiking up one of the mountains in Uganda for a grueling 8.5 hours roundtrip. With the spectacular views and personal triumph down in the books, we carried on through our vacation with splendor.
We had saved up enough money to feel a little less guilty with our expenditures. Food, drinks, and transport amounted to more than double or triple the amount we might spend at our own sites, but we were on vacation! It wasn’t just the company, or the sights, or the views, but it was this idea of my mental energy.
I didn’t need to start the day off with my ritualistic mental preparation process.
I could simply wake up and continue on our day. We were no longer subjected to the scrutiny and judgement of the people of the village. We no longer had to brace ourselves for the occasional callout for “muzungu!”, “muchina!”, “muyindi!” (foreigner, Chinese, Indian). We no longer had to recount the phrases we needed to remember in case we ever needed to snap back at someone who asks us for free things.
I was among the people who made up my safe zone. I didn’t have to take care to act in a particular way or uphold a certain image among the others because they knew who I was. And upon the completion of our daily adventures, I could decompress myself in a way that didn’t involve reflecting on why I was placed here in the first place.
Living among the community isn’t easy
Whilst the work that I am doing is definitely fulfilling, whenever we do get the work done, living amongst the community takes a significant toll on my mental capacity to act and react on a daily basis.
I get stressed towards the end of the week because my tolerance for change and constant banter from my daily routine wears me out. It still does.
For anyone that has gone through a similar experience, whether by volunteering in similar conditions as a foreign worker, or even reaching out to immigrants and other peoples who have moved from new place to new place, being the “new guy” is rough.
What I’ve Learned: People like to see their reflections
Wow. Mom and dad. Can’t imagine immigrating to America like how yoyu guys have done for us.
For anyone who moves from place to place, I think most can agree that adjusting to a new place will always come with some unique struggle. With the combination of background, history, personal beliefs, and the conversion of those worlds with the local community, it’s not an easy thing to navigate.
The mental, and thus, physical stresses that the challenge presents… it’s just hard. And this was only after 5 months in my new community! The combined 7 months that I’ve been here has been an eye-opener aftir eye-opener of how people works, even how the world works: people like to see their reflections.
People like to see the people around them that are similar, that reflect similar lines of thought and qualities that align well with one another. We feel better connected to those that share something similar between us, especially if we are one of the few among the many.
As an American, I will generally feel better among other Americans. But beyond that I would feet better among Asian-Americans. A level beyond would be among Filipinos. Beyond that would be Filipinos from Hawai’i. You get the picture.
This is what I’ve learned after 7 months. I’m still trucking along fine, but damn this is a tough ride haha.