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By Jillian Rutherford: Women’s Income Generating Group Coordinator
- Don’t bring so many socks. You won’t need them. Twelve pairs is too many. Two pairs is enough. You may think that you will be wearing your hiking boots every day, but the reality is you’ll be wearing flip flops and everybody knows that socks don’t go with flip flops. Fight the urge; don’t bring socks.
- Take the sun seriously! If you come from a place where the sun isn’t so hot, and where you can get by without wearing sunscreen on your ten-minute walk to the grocery store, then prepare yourself for a change. Standing in the sun in Uganda is just about as close to the sun as you will get anywhere on Earth (because you’re standing on the Equator and it’s physics). You’re skin probably isn’t used to protecting you from these death-rays, and so you’re going to have to help it out by liberally applying the white stuff every day, on every inch of skin, and then re-applying later. Do it. Your skin will thank you later.
- Prepare to stick out. Also prepare to blend in. Prepare to move frequently between the two situations as you travel from the village to the city. Kampala, like any capital city, is a metropolis full of variety including variety in background, culture, and economic means. You will fit seamlessly into the multicultural fabric. Kasana, however, where Shanti is located, is less dynamic and you may experience the fishbowl effect while doing mundane things like buying pineapples or walking to work. This never goes away, but it does become part of the routine. You’ll adjust.
- The kids next door may be poor, they may not have enough to eat. They may be dressed in rags and run barefoot down the street. They may not attend school and instead be forced to remain at home doing chores. But above all, they’re still children. They’re children like any others who like to play, smile and laugh, who are innovative and imaginative. They love to give high-fives and receive hugs. Don’t give them pity; it’s not useful to them. Give them the same love you would give any child next door.
- Everything becomes normal. When you first arrive, it may seem overwhelming to acclimatize to the chaotic city, the bizarre street-rules, the cold bucket-showers, the unfamiliar social greetings, and the strange food. However, I can assure you that it will all become normal, sooner than you expect. Give yourself some time to settle in and just enjoy the newness, and one day you will wake up under your mosquito net and find that everything is second-nature.
- Water and power are not God-given rights. In Uganda they come and go as they please, and you must adjust your outlook to respect that fact, or else be continually disappointed. Some days you will have to choose between drinking water and a shower. Some days you will have to do work by candle-light. And on some dreadful days you will have to have a conservative bucket-shower by candle-light. But again, it becomes normal, and in the end it will probably leave you with a healthier respect for the resources you use on a daily basis.
- Not everyone’s schedule reflects yours. There is no universal measurement of time or urgency here, and when you are told “tomorrow” it likely means “next week”. You should take this into account when you are planning, and give yourself plenty of time and others plenty of notice.
- The concept of “hot” that you have when you leave home will most certainly change, unless “scorching” appears regularly on your daily weather report. Ugandan heat is something else. Some days will be unbearable by 10 am, and you will have to find ways to deal with it. Wearing minimal clothing isn’t an option around town, but taking plenty of cold showers and sitting in the kiddie pool on your porch certainly are. Be creative! Think cold thoughts!
- Your English is going to take a tumble. Down a big hill. And maybe get concussed at the bottom. You will pick up “Lugand-glish” and start using it in your daily interactions, with native speakers and your room-mates, all without noticing. It sneaks it’s way into your conversations and mannerisms, and soon you will be pronouncing them “mos-KWEE-toes”, and nodding “Ah-haaaaah” when somebody guesses something correctly. You’ll forget about your grade 7 grammar faster than you can say “ain’t”. Embrace it. It’s communication, and your family back home will love it. I hope.
- Home is not something that is painted a certain colour or houses certain individuals. Home is something that looks very different across the world, and across cultures. Your home here at Shanti will be a blend of the ideas of “home” of the various occupants who live here, including you! And in order for it to feel that way, you’ve got to put in some effort too. So get out your family photos, set up a games-night, eat dinner together, invite new friends to be a part of your extended family, and make yourself a home here in Uganda.