I am starting the process of booking flights to Uganda for this year’s trip, and I’m getting that familiar buzz of trepidation and joy. Last year was the first year it felt a little “routine,” and then of course, I shook that up by going to Rwanda. This time, I won’t be adding anything to my trip — just a straightforward “business trip,” which still causes a little bit of dissonance.
It’s strange, treating a visit to a dusty orphanage in the foot of the Rwenzori mountains, 30 km from the DRC, as “routine.”
We’re never sure what will wash up to deal with while we’re there — a visit to the King of the Bacongo, like last year, or High Drama involving staff, like the year before. There are always moments with each of the kids where I’m deeply reminded of the intense responsibility for their very lives we hold — our girl who isn’t technically in the project fingering the hem of her dress while she thanks me for paying her school fees, admits she has no clothes to wear except the one dress. Counterpointed by the intense fashion sense of the bigger boys (they’re far more focused on how they look than the girls are), and predictable “teenager” behavior, like the boy who grew nearly a foot in one year and changed from warm and cuddly to diffident, the girl who refused to go back to her school because she didn’t “like the food.”
Two weeks ago, I finally passed my diving certification, on my second attempt. The setup was kind of screwy, again – the instructor for my solo class didn’t show up – but in the end, being in the group with the instructors I got was perfect. I went from anxious to confident-enough, demonstrated the things I needed to demonstrate. I’m still scared – it’s counter-everything to take your mask off underwater to practice clearing it, to suck on a huge tank of air as water presses you smaller. But I did it.
After, I sent a note to my “big girl” in Uganda, E, the one who’s in University in Kampala. We have a special connection, she says, telling me that she feels cared for by me in ways she never has. When I wished her happy birthday a couple of months ago, she said that no one has ever remembered her birthday before.
It really doesn’t feel like much, I need to confess. On one hand, committing to this project all 52 kids are grown, doing whatever it is I do to “direct” the project, support with fundraising – I know that’s something most people don’t do. And on the other, it’s not very much. Listening when I see her, tracking when her exams are, sending her emails every couple of weeks. Doing the same for the other big kids, the ones who have email. Loving them in the way I can from afar.
And, apparently, it’s a lot. A reminder of the immense privilege I have, not just to do things, to indulge in every shiny piece of technology that draws my fancy – but to be surrounded by people who love me.
I was flicked into remembering this yesterday. I’d told E about the diving success because we were talking about doing things we have to be brave for. And when I was writing to the Director of our project, I mentioned the diving as well. I guess I have some notion that if I talk about the things going on in my life, it’s a less weighted power dynamic, does something to offset the “White People with the Money” role that we inevitably feel. And he replied “congs. for passing your test. when you talk about all the things you do I envy you because I would never get the time and money to do all the bird watching and having some fun like you do.”
I was instantly ashamed, wondering how on earth telling stories about things I do that are completely out of reach for the people I care about in Uganda would be a connection point. Being paid reasonably well for Kasese, Uganda is not the stuff that diving holidays are made of. From friend-Cate I tilted into obliviously privileged-Cate. Time, again, to inject some gratitude.