oh, uganda

the moment the plane touched down in entebbe the windows fogged over.
kenya, you’re great. wonderful, even. but, i have to confess, uganda is the one who has stolen my heart. you know its love when the water content of the air is so high that airplane windows immediately fog–immediately–and you smile.

this time, disembarking the airplane, the air smelled right. not just good or familiar, but right.
following the neanderthal-looking painted footprints from the tarmac to the immigration hall as familiar as if i’d last passed this way yesterday.

upon entering the arrivals hall everyone’s hands were squirted with hand sanitizer by a woman wearing scrubs, surgical mask and plastic apron (like perhaps a butcher would wear?). then we are handed a card by a man in uniform who is not wearing gloves. counterproductive. classic.

these cards were not our declaration cards (we already had those from the airplane) but the ebola screening cards. the majority of them weren’t copied well, so the last question is sort of cut off–its the big one, too–“have you been to a country that has had ebola” and, i assume, you’re supposed to circle “yes” or “no” but that part has slanted off the page. so as to leave no question i wrote NO as largely as i could in the space below the last question and circled it. three times.

once your card is complete you have to hand it to either the woman in full surgical garb or the fellow still not wearing gloves. (i’m not sure if these were the same two people who hand out the hand sanitizer and cards in the first place…i got distracted.)

an important aside–lines in uganda. these are a unique experience in this beautiful country. theyh do not function like lines in america, or even a good french “i’m going to cut in front of you” line. these are more of a mob of people jockeying for position. think less orderly line and more black friday mob scene with fewer televisions and xboxes. and about 50% less intense. (most of the time)

so you take your card to the people, in aforementioned line, and they are checking to be sure everyone filled in every blank. most people didn’t notice the question cut off at the bottom-rather than fill it out elsewhere said finishers of form, and people filling out the entire form, crowded near the front of the queue. sigh.

i fell in line behind a very well dressed and very scowly british lady who was elbowing her way to the front of the line. when in rome… i followed her right up to the front and handed my card in to the woman checking cards–she had to pull my arm so i could pass between two men trying to fill out their entire forms at the front of the line. her gloves felt damp. yick.

and then, in a classic showing of uganda bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake–the switch-back line built for…oh, say, 200 people…now has about 50 moving through it. it is a lot of switch backs in a small space. i was already deeply amused at “we’ll just leave it and make them walk through all of this quickly and maybe get dizzy” leadership at play here. but then literally giggled when the baganda man in front of me (who was speaking luganda over me to the fellow behind me) drug his rolling bag over every. single. stand. i stopped counting at 20. perfection.

at this screening there were four ladies clad in surgical wear, all the same as the original woman i mentioned–like a flock of dr. who characters, or strangely out of place butchers. when it was my turn, the lady handling my line gook my card and looked it over, looked over my declaration form and then took my temperature by holding some wacky thermometer just in front of my forehead. it didn’t touch me, just hovered.

she stamped my paper and i was free to go to the visa line. no ebola here, check.

fast visa secured and i was out the door and securing a private taxi in two minutes flat. we negotiated the price on the walk to the car–the exact same walk i first made when coming to uganda and meeting father joe–and he complimented my uganda english. everything is circular. everything.

the ride was smooth (as smooth as that road is regarding both traffic and potholes)–the music was east africa pop, the breeze perfect. webele. webele. webele.

i’ve never really minded getting stuck in the [traffic] jam or taking long journeys in uganda (or east africa in general, really). and while riding along this evening i pondered this and concluded that these times of not having to make conversation and being in transit by vehicle are one of my best daydreaming/pondering places.

the airplane is okay, but not great. but in a vehicle? it almost rivals walking. except in a vehicle i don’t have to consider anything–not the direction to go, or if i’m going to step in a hole. just sit, relax and let the driver do his thing, and ponder. this particular drive conjured some really lovely day dreams.

and then we reached the meeting point where A of A&A was meeting me–i paid the taxi driver, hugged mr. A and we were off to home.

oh, uganda.


not hardcore

i’m not sure if it has been the time away, getting a teensy bit older (i mean, i felt the ontological change at 30 and some sort of shift at 31) or something else, but, i totally caved on taking a bus from nairobi to kampala and bought a KQ roundtrip airplane ticket. so. not. hardcore.

there are benefits! i “save” an entire day of sitting on a bus to now get to spend here in nairobi, and more time to spend in uganda. that “extra” time will most likely allow me to even reach karamoja if things work out well. (!!) so these are really great things–more time at terra nova, more time to see more people and more time to go to sparkles and boda boda and take a nostalgic turn through nakumatt. (if you find yourself judging that i might get a manicure, have a cocktail and go grocery shopping just think of the things you want to do when you go home! nostalgia reigns!)

i can’t help but feel that i’ve sold out a little, though. am i “saving” time? is this time not spent on a bus really “extra”? not sitting on a bus means that i will not travel through eldoret or kisumu or busia–places i wouldn’t mind to travel through and give a friendly wave.

flying costs 4 times as much. ouch.
my rear won’t be as tired if i do take the 12 hour trek by road up to karamoja. that’s a plus.

so why do i feel like i’m cheating?

NBO 10k of unexpected grace

why yes, of course i would love to run a 10k at 530 in the morning at a mile high altitude and minimal training and nominal jet lag!

my brain, after basically half a mile “i hate you.” mile 1 “did i mention i hate you?” mile 3 “WE’RE DYING!” mile 5 “i’m pretty sure we’ve died.” mile 6 “hey that was pretty great, lets do it again!”
me: “seriously? such a drama queen.”

there are hills in nairobi, for those of you keeping track at home.

i woke up at around 330 nervous and ready to go–and tried to go back to sleep,mostly tossing and turning and trying to force daydreams until my 520 alarm. this was…mildly successful. if nothing else it produced an interesting dream involving the ethiopian restaurant we went to yesterday, jomo kenyatta, john wesley and sylvia plath. wild. all i remember is that they all joined us for dinner and we had the most interesting conversation. sylvia plath was remarkably funny and the men sort of sulked and stared at each other. colonialism?

the sky was stunning when we left the house–the stars so vivid and bright–
the air was cool and fresh

i wish i could stay the sunrise was really gorgeous–but i’ll be honest with you, it rose while i think we were climbing one of the zillion hills. so my experience of this sunrise was “it is dark” “it is now not dark” alas.

my running hosts were gracious and endured my times of needing to walk. (or when my brain said i needed to walk–frankly, my body was annoyed with the walking. deal with it body.) and marika reminded me that she began running all those years ago on the same c25k program I started and blogged the heck out of while preparing to leave karamoja. (so i really brought this on myself, i suppose!)

and every once in a while i would remember–“hey, dummy, you’re running in nairobi. look around and see the trees–smell the air and listen to the birds and the city waking up. this is something you’ll want to remember beyond sore calves.”

and so i tried–and yet again running taught me a lesson on mindfulness and community:
it is good to be able to practice mindfulness on ones own, but sometimes you just need other humans to be running along side you, or just in front of you, or just behind you to remember the goodness and joy and beauty that is life. especially when your brain is being dramatic.

so while i didn’t watch the sun rise from the horizon, i can say that it felt like a superbly magnificent one.

well be back

the woman in front of me with a rolling suitcase was having a hard time with the stairs.
either she wasn’t expecting to disembark the airplane down at least a full flight of stairs, or she was hoping that this one time it would be different. well, it wasn’t, and she was dragging her little black suitcase loudly and not terribly gracefully down the stairs.

the woman behind me, grumbling about the situation in kiswahili, was following so closely behind me that my balance was threatened a few times. what personal space?

trying to help the woman in front of me, i reached down to grab the bottom of her bag to help carry it–she turned to see what was going on, looked terrified, and pulled the handle so quickly she nearly lost her balance. the bag catapulted forward, launching three steps ahead of her. fearful that she may lose her precious cargo, she never let go–and somehow managed to not tumble the rest of the way down the steps.

behind me, still so close this was practically in my ear, as if a personal message: *tongue cluck* “pole, pole. pole…” i couldn’t help but laugh a little.

while waiting for the second bus (the first one filled quickly) to take we travelers to the terminal for immigration and customs it struck me how many people had smart phones–because they were all taking photos of the airplane from the tarmac. a lot changes in a few short years!

the delight of the cool evening air, the suitcase and crowding situation, and pondering of the role of the smart phone in travel distracted me from realizing that i really should have used the lavatory before the plane landed. this realization struck me with urgency while the bus was loading. urgency.

fingers crossed as we pulled up for immigration and unashamed to move at a western-fast-pace into the building i dodged around fellow travelers and prayed for a washroom. victory! coffee of the netherlands and complimentary KLM heineken, meet water of kenya. the great mystery of international travel…

feeling so much better about life i wasn’t even sad to be at the end of the line for visas–whats the rush?

this realization “whats the rush?” was tested mere moments later–upon entering the country via the international airport each person’s temperature is checked. single file you step forward into a big yellow box and see yourself projected on a television screen mounted from the ceiling in front of you. only its a heat-reading camera or program-i wondered why my body looked remarkably orange and was enlightened when the woman monitoring my line wrote my temperature down on a form and instructed me to get out of the queue, fill the form, and hand it back to her.

i promised, on the form and in voice, that i hadn’t been traveling in any country with a recent ebola crisis, was given instructions in case i do develop symptoms, and ushered to the diplomat and airline crew line for visa purchasing and entrance. not a bad pitstop for front of the line visa buying!

visa in hand, customs cleared (“i have nothing to declare” but in my mind i always, always, always say, in my most affected southern drawl, “well, I Declare!”) sim card purchased and airtime topped up i found myself on my way to a private taxi.

i should have known something was up when we didn’t leave through the main exit of the airport. celestine led me to where some vehicles were parked and said that the driver would come to us. “okay.” she tried to force me to speak swahili–i have very little–and laughed at me when i asked for hot water or cold beer. priorities.

the driver sped up and she started rushing me, “okay, now hurry hurry! this is illegal parking.”
she literally threw my pack into the back seat and me into the front seat and waved us off.

this timid driver, who had trouble picking my accent, didn’t know the place in westlands where i was headed. so, like any idiot, i just kept repeating it. rolling my eyes at myself but not knowing what else to do in the moment. i did try different inflections–teacher tone, over pronouncing, repeating three times, just to name a few.

he drove kind of slow, and with no headlights on until we reached rhapta road and i said “can you be putting on the lights, i cannot read the signs.” “OH!” and on they snapped.

rookie mistake: not settling on a price before getting into the cab. it seems i have been away!
after reaching my friend’s home i spent the next 5ish minutes negotiating the price from the equivalent of $30 to about half that. (said friends jumped in and made it plain that the asking prices was way too much. community, y’all.)

the expected unexpected–the best welcome back to east africa i could have ever hoped for.

i want to see the colors of another sky

to have a tender heart and not bury it away under lock and key is to choose to bear a sweet burden that sometimes fits as weightlessly as a mantle, and other times as heavy as a rather cumbersome millstone.

at times my tender heart is paradoxically weightless and cumbersome at one and the same time. there are periods of time–some short as a moment, others as long as a season–where this particular thin space blooms as if a lotus around and inside of me:

the sky becomes more beautiful and the wind more meaningful.
love for all creation bursts forth like a robust and equally fragile sprout of first spring.
sunshine feels warmer and the joy of rain palpable.

harder to celebrate during these periods is the presence of my shadow.
those less joyous sides of myself that are more exposed in these thin spaces:

the pressure to preform up to traditional western standards regardless of how those fit with my gifts, talents and best way of being.
jealousy and comparison demand attention.
it becomes difficult to feel where and how i fit.

it is not as if i want things to be different.
i need neither coddling nor comfort.
just the colors of another sky, which is really this same sky above me now.

and the bells rang

technically i’m a year behind.

if you’ve read here for more than a post, or have met me anywhere (even in my own office) you’ll have noticed that i tend to run what westerns call “a little late”. i’d argue we all arrive when we do, but we can share that existential thought another day.

a year ago i was to submit my packet of original writing for consideration for full ordination as an elder in the united methodist church. this didn’t happen. on some things i drug my feet and procrastinated others i purposefully put off.

a year later, on the actual day everything is due, i have submitted my entire packet (NOT THE CHECKLIST. BRB. CHECKLIST.) okay. checklist submitted. (why is this a thing? i digress.)

so, a year later, on the actual day everything is due, i have submitted my entire packet. and, i kid you not, the moment i hit “send” the bells of one of the churches next to the conference office began ringing. it is very possible they do this every day, and it is very possible that i would have noticed them before today–but on this particular wednesday evening on january i noticed them all the more.

the bells rang.
i submitted and hit send.

i’ll keep listening.