Saying Goodbye to Gulu: Leaving My Home in Uganda
Sometimes, Northern Uganda feels exactly like my true home of Texas. The crickets, cicadas, and toads all sing a chorus the same way. The clouds sit at a high ceiling and the sun is strong. The thunderstorms roll in at night with the same wind. The people greet you as you walk down the street, always at the ready for a good joke.
And, in all respects, Gulu has become my home. Considering my last post, this may come as a bit of a surprise. But I have to admit–though the past two months have been challenging as I sort out a reconciliation of my professional requirements and personal desires, the dissonance between these two fronts forced open a vault of all things loved and cherished in this place.
As I learned that I would be uprooting once again to move to Kampala – Uganda’s big, hectic, and exhaust-ridden capital – I saw each moment through a new lens. I still toe a line. I miss my forthright siblings, my exuberant nephews and nieces, my compassionate mother and logical father. I crave cheese and I long for the ease of knowing each little piece of the map no matter which direction I choose.
But what are the precise words to describe the realization that everything feels normal? That it all has worked its way in as a part of me? That I have a family here in Gulu, despite what our genes may reveal? That my understanding and definition of “home” will forever be altered? To be transient is to be constantly in search of solid ground. My true home is distant, but, with a sudden realization that my new home will soon be too, I long for nothing to change.
The right words are on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t think they’ll be working their way onto a page any time soon.
But author Rebecca Solnit, in excerpts selected by Maria Popova from the book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, takes little stabs at what feel like the right ones.
The title in itself captures something – that it is possible to be losing all direction and finding a new one all at once. But she hints at more. Blue, as she described, is the color of distance. It is the “light that got lost … that disperses among the molecules of the air, [that] scatters in water.” It is intimately intertwined with desire, and longing created by such distance. But, as she recognizes, “Sometimes gaining and losing are more intimately related than we like to think. And some things cannot be moved or owned. Some light does not make it all the way through the atmosphere, but scatters.”
As I begin to say the first round of goodbyes in Gulu and move onto the next temporary chapter, I find myself grasping for that light that might be lost.
My students quickly revert to the assumption that I will never return. My fellow teachers express dismay. Daisy, a woman with whom I share a compound and who has become like a sister to me, insists that “without me, this place will be dark.” When I try to assure her that I will be back as soon as I am able, she lightly (though seriously) denies that such efforts will be enough – “you are lying!” she exclaims.
And while my intentions may be true, she may be right – the presence may never be quite the same. I cannot move or own the sense of belonging that is specific to this time and place. As I get farther from the here and now that I am currently living, the more the light will scatter.
“The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel. If sorrow and beauty are all tied up together, then perhaps maturity brings with it not … abstraction, but an aesthetic sense that partially redeems the losses time brings and finds beauty in the faraway.”
Kampala will likely scatter that light. And my return to Texas soon after may scatter it even further. But remnants will always remain – and I will treasure them, harboring their source, always seeking to illuminate them.