self·less serv·ice (synonym: self-learn·ing)

Today I received some clarity after a trying week. I have been through a few of these phases while being here (coming up on ten months now). I think it’s something that I have to accept is going to happen. It’s only natural as I process life here.

During this time, I question how I am doing things and review/contemplate how I am relating to my experience here. This shift seems to come out of no where, which is why it can feel jarring. I also come out of it with more understanding and perspicuity, but at the time, it can feel difficult to connect with life as usual.

. . .

Today, Friday,  I was on. Meetings were successful and words of motivation spewed from my mouth in a way that there was no room for misinterpretation. Although there is always the possibility of misunderstanding when translating from English to Lasoga (or vice versa), using energy or enthusiasm can also get the job done effectively.

After work, I returned home during the golden hour, my favorite time of day. I took many detours, greeting everyone I met along the way.  Greetings are a cultural must, but just how long you let those greetings go on is up to you. It can be as quick as saying “jambo” or more in-depth, inquiring about the well-being of the home and family members.

I stopped by Mama Ali’s. Since I see a lot less of her and the family, I love catching up after work. Her beauty as an individual continues to amaze me. She is by far one of the most empowered, giving and hard-working woman in the village. As the resident go to for any questions pertaining to chickens, she is the village chicken doctor.

As I continued my leisurely descent towards the River Nile, I stopped by Mama Mesange’s house, a new regular stop on my walk home. Mama Mesange has the most infectious smile I have ever seen. It is huge, showing off her pearly whites. She is the adopted mother of Mesange, S.O.U.L.’s preprimary head boy (top of the class).  She is also part of the “2nd generation” of S.O.U.L. ladies, a member of the new tailoring group and chair person of our newest program, Agriculture.

I organized having lunch at her house on Monday. She desperately wants to learn English and having a mini class over a meal is perfect. I get to learn more Lasoga and this way, it guarantees she will have to sit down and enjoy it with me. That is hard to achieve as the Mamas are always too busy, or culturally just don’t feel comfortable doing so. They would prefer to sit on the floor in the kitchen with the children.

I also said I would bring my laundry around tomorrow. The wet season isn’t all that rainy this go around and jobs are scarce. I don’t have enough dirty clothes to satisfy all of the offers I’m getting these days.

Nearing my house some 40 minutes later, a gang of boys had formulated behind me, their mischievous roar building in strength. They were all asking me, “Buja aluwa” (where is Buja)? A question I hear about 50 times a day. The fact that I have a dog continues to spread and will never become old news.

They quickly let Buja out of his house and surround him, taking turns throwing grass at him and pulling his hind legs, playing with him the best they know how. They began growling and aggressively beating their hands on the ground, which I told them was scaring Buja. The fact that they had come to play with him was a big baby step towards dog appreciation in the village. Thankfully, Buja appears to understand who the kids are, so he plays nice with them and saves his vicious play for me.

. . .

For a few seconds, I was able to step outside of myself. As if viewing from above, I got to see the snapshot of my life, as it unfolds in a village in AfricaThe longer I’m here, the easier it is to go days just carrying out life like everything I experience is average and normal.

These moments are simple yet profound and ever so grounding. It’s like a refreshing wind sweeping my face on a hot Ugandan day. The fog of the week had lifted to give way to some new revelations.

I have always prided myself in gaining good perspective about the places I live in or traveling through. Here I grapple with the reality of not being able to understand as much as quickly as before. We all like to be understood, and here there are some things about me that will never be understood. This isn’t anyone’s fault but rather a limitation of relativity.

They may never appreciate the indulgence of an amazingly crafted adult beverage. Or the exhilaration of floating down a mountain on a blue bird powder day. Or they may not fully comprehend what it is I am really doing when I “lay” after yoga. Or even why I talk to Buja so frequently.

Nor will I know the worry of where my next meal will come or what it is like to walk five miles to school, barefoot. Nor will I feel the desperate desire to go university, a dream that for most, will never come to fruition.

These examples speak volumes for how privileged the western world is and for the hardships of daily life in the third world. It lays the context of how opposite the foundation of life is.

On the other hand, anyone from anywhere can delight over chai (tea) and conversation, enjoy a sunset and celebrate a much deserved success…like when Chicken Group A receives the biggest profit yet!

I asked, yearned and sought after this experience, but I had no idea what it would actually look and feel like. I have witnessed limitations of my own and put my expectations in check in terms of where I think I should be, as if when I reach a certain point my learning and awareness will be fulfilled and I can stop going on.

Those cultural checkpoints, although still present, aren’t as applicable here as other travels abroad. But I know one of my lessons here is to let go of expectations. It is about experiencing each moment (and always will be). It has been a choice to remain unattached to the work I am doing, my house, my garden and with Buja. I strive to let it unfold moment by moment.

. . .

As the boys left, Barbra (sponsored by a good Steamboat friend) and Byoti (daughter to Saalu aka Kaliphan’s dad, where Cassidy lived) arrived, as if to be perfectly timed. They played with Buja and let me write all these thoughts down on paper.

. . .

I understand that I will never fully understand all of the deeper workings of the culture, but I’m not meant to. This is part of the beauty of it all. Limitations of time and the lens of perception based on upbringing and personal experience won’t allow me to.

But I continue to explore deeper and experience more affinity to the village each day. I could spend a lifetime trying to experience it all, but it’s not so much the study of a village but rather learning the struggles, triumphs and history of each individual that creates it.

I have been lucky to experience many fleeting moments of absolute connection:

I do know that I have looked into the eyes of a young child and seen that he understands more about the world than some adults.

I have witnessed pure evil and been in the presence of absolute love.

I have been shown that love is limitless, as is hate. The one you feed is the one that grows.

I have broadened my understanding of what is family. I have met group members that love me like fathers, Mamas who are like second mothers and co-workers who are showing me more about human nature and diversity than any professor.

I have seen anger, sadness, fear and other emotions within myself I didn’t know existed. These are for me and me alone to feel and release. Sometimes I will never understand why I felt them in the first place. And that’s ok.

I know I am never too busy to say hi to someone. (I find it bizarre when a Mzungu won’t acknowledge a fellow Mzungu when in passing. As if they don’t see another white person walking in a village in Uganda.)

This being said, is life here always butterflies and fuzzy feelings? No.

Is living in accordance to the way I would like to live easy? No.

It sometimes feels like the lessons never stop and neither does the growth. This I’m sure is not specific to my experience in Africa but rather to being in my late 20’s and being open to it. I also don’t think this stops after your 20’s, but it can feel particularly tumultuous at this period of life.

But is it worth it? Yes, I would like to think so.

When I’m thousands of miles away from my friends and family and the mountains that provide me with so much grounding, these experiences can seem like a solo journey. Meaning it can make me feel alone at times.

This isn’t about a fear of deepening my independence but instead to see how to make my un-comfort zone my comfort zone. To see how much I can sink into my vulnerability and tackle the constant unknowns with ease and grace. Yes, I also love dichotomies and contradictions.

It is to see how much I can embrace the present moment. Consumed by insatiable wanderlust, this practice of living in the moment transcends the ever-changing landscapes and goes beyond the complexities of the human mind.

. . .

During yoga teacher training, I learned about selfless service and how it is a path to self-realization/enlightenment. I wanted this experience for the growth and the challenge but more than that, to be able to give back in a way that I never had before. The interesting thing about selfless service, is that you end up learning more about yourself than you could have ever imagined.

If there is nothing else I can give to this community, I hope that through my self-learning, I am able to encourage others to do the same for themselves, because I know that others cannot learn or change unless they are open to it. This requires willingness, humbleness and courage.

. . .

So after a week of endless questioning and uncomfortable contemplation, I was shown that clarity can come in many simple forms.

Tonight it came after some great conversation, understanding and an amazing sound board in the form of a newly found mzungu friend…over some Goan Fish Curry Punjabi Thali of course.

Even when you think you are experiencing something alone, life has a funny way of introducing you to someone with similar experience.

The thing is, as much as this journey is personal, it is truly better when shared, this blog is part of that.

Thanks for allowing me to share. xo

Lakota Prayer

A good quick read to slow yourself (and your mind) down…

A great site to read short, witty, “waste time online” write ups…especially if you’re in your 20’s.

6 thoughts on “self·less serv·ice (synonym: self-learn·ing)

  1. I think your Saturday was MORE profitable than mine! At least it looks better “on paper” Love you bunches…Took a friend to get a new coffeepot and then we ate at Red Lobster and now at 7 I am just getting into a good book…Best love Grandma

  2. Steph:

    Your writing continues to impress and improve.. Now you are using words I have to look up.. i.e. “perspicuity”.. i.e. “the ability to express things clearly.” You are one smart cookie.. or you have a good dictionary in Africa. Best , Darrell

    1. perhaps it’s a bit of both! 🙂

      i swear you, louise and my grandmother must be the most devote readers! so glad to hear you are still enjoying…the more i write, the more i am enjoying it!

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