One day about a month ago when I was walking with one of my fellow American co-workers (who I view as being fiercely strong, independent and deep in her faith), admitted to me that there are days she goes to her hut and just cries. I was shocked! I would have never guessed. She seemed so cool, calm and on top of things. Well… after today, I understand.

I have always been the one that my friends call “sappy” because I freely express my love for them, and I have been known to get choked up on more than one of these occasions. They make fun of me, in a loving way of course. I hug people in greeting or parting, I cry when I watch sad movies (or really, really happy ones), and I care…maybe too much sometimes. I care about the girls here without even knowing them really well. I want to share with them love that has been absent for so much of their lives. I tell them how special they are, how smart, how capable, how strong, how beautiful. I laugh with them and work with them. I teach them and I learn from them. I play with their kids and reprimand them when they need it. It is natural for me to be this way, to care. Sometimes though, caring means you get hurt.

I often forget that many of these girls are still just teenagers. Even the girls who are older (a few are even my age), have still been through a rough past and so their rebellious attitudes reflect that at times. The hard work I put into projects to help them is thankless work more often than not. To make a long story short, the girls repeatedly did things to disrespect and flat out disobey me and other staff members this week. Today, I just couldn’t take it anymore. For the first time since I’ve been here, I walked out of class, went directly to my hut, shut the door and (can you guess)…cried! I get it now. While I would never let them see me this way, it had to happen nonetheless. I curled up on my mat, hugged my sweatshirt, and let it all out. I got mad at myself, mad at the girls and then I prayed. I knew it wouldn’t do me any good to shut myself up in my hut the rest of the day (even though I felt like it), so I did what I normally do when I’m particularly upset or stressed..I ran.

As I was running, I laughed at myself for considering what a sight I must have been in my Keen sandals and skirt, huffing and puffing in the dead heat of the African afternoon. Stupid idea. I miss shorts. Then I thought about a lot of things like maybe I shouldn’t be so nice anymore. I thought, “This is all happening because I care too much, and this isn’t the first time I’ve been burned either. Maybe if I just didn’t care, then I wouldn’t get hurt. Yea…that’d be a lot easier. ” Deep down I didn’t want to be bitter or hard-hearted and I knew that I didn’t come to Uganda to just make lots of papers and teach lots of classes and be done; I came to Uganda because of the people. But at the moment, I wasn’t ready to admit that. I just wanted to be mad for a while and wallow in self-pity and the feeling of being unappreciated.  The whole time, I was rationalizing these feelings in my head to God.

An interesting thing happened just a minute later though. A boda boda with three guys went by on it and one smiled and yelled “Thank you!” I thought it was funny that he said that. Thank you for what? Running? Maybe he doesn’t really know English. Oh well. I kept running and somehow everyone I passed smiled at me and waved. Kids ran out to the road to meet me—‘Mono how are you?’ they said and waved me off. I kept running. A group of women who were carrying loads of sticks on their heads smiled and gave me high fives as I ran by. I kept running. A little girl about 7 years old was carrying water on her head in front of me. She stopped, put the can down and just smiled at me. It was a great smile. ‘Thank you!’ she said and clapped for me as I went by. Wow, I thought, this is like my own personal cheering squad. I wish I had this every time I ran!

I kept running…and running…I hadn’t run this hard in a long time and my body was really beginning to feel it. I had a blister on my foot from the Keens and my mouth was incredibly dry from all the dust flying off the dirt road. Then a guy came up next to me on a bicycle and greeted me. “Where are you going? Do you want some help?” he said, motioning to the seat on the back of his bike. Thinking he was just another young guy trying to be “friends” with the mzungu, I dismissed him and said no thanks. He went ahead of me a bit but not too far. Struggling to run, I kept my eyes on his bike and used it as a goal point, trying to keep the pace. I was alongside him again. He smiled but said nothing. I said, “You are helping me after all” and briefly explained my mental method while gasping a little for breath. After we ran and rode alongside each other for a while in silence, I finally stopped running.  He told me his name was Morris. “What does that mean?” I asked. (Every name in Acholi has a meaning behind it). “It means ‘the one who brings great happiness’” he said. I smiled…of course it does. After some small talk, I had reached my stopping point. As we were parting ways, he turned around and said, “Oh hey, mzungu, thank you!” and rode away. I smiled and thought, “alright God, point taken.”

I still don’t know why those three people said thank you, but somehow, I didn’t feel the need to question it. I walked back up to the center gate feeling refreshed and satisfied, ready to care again, even if it hurt.

 

The road where I run..it goes straight to Sudan

 

 

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