Living in a Ugandan Village: The Real Deal with Erica Fye
Interested in living in a Ugandan village? Here, Erica Fye shares the highlights and challenges, as well as her tips for an amazing experience abroad.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where are you from? Where do you currently live?
I’m a New Yorker who has moved to Northern Uganda as a missionary. I have lived here now for the greater part of the last eight years. I have just married a Ugandan man a little over a month ago. I moved here when there was a war going on, in order to work with the people who were displaced and especially with the orphans. The war has ended but the people still need a lot of assistance in rebuilding their lives. I have stayed because I fell in love with the people and many parts of the culture.
You can read more about my experiences on my website. In 2014, I published a book about my experiences.
What made you decide to move abroad? How long did you live there for? Tell us about how you spent your time in your new destination — whether you worked, studied, traveled, or did something else.
I always wanted to travel. While I was on a trip with a group of people to Kenya in 2005, I watched a video about the war that was happening in Northern Uganda. I saw thousands of faces flooding concrete hospital and church floors, trying to escape rebels in their villages. I was heartbroken and I wanted to help the children who were displaced and running for their lives. That is what brought me to Kitgum, Uganda in 2006.
I stayed only for a month on my first trip but immediately upon my return to New York I began planning how I could return. Once I came back, I started working with two local orphanages, a school for disabled children, and some camps of displaced people. I was part of a team that counseled formerly abducted child mothers and tried to bring hope to the hopeless through Bible teaching and other trainings.
What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while living abroad? What were some of the greatest highlights?
Some of the challenges have been learning the local tribal language (Acholi) and adapting to the culture. For instance, people are oftentimes very poor. When you visit them at their home, it is a great honor to them. They want to show that they welcome you by cooking you a meal. Sometimes, though the meal is delicious, it means they will go hungry. It is so hard to accept this but so offensive if you do not. Living here is quite humbling–especially seeing people who have so little giving so much. Anything most Americans give is from their excess and it doesn’t even affect us or our pocketbooks.
Another challenge is always being seen as an outsider because of my skin color and accent. I feel like I no longer fit in where I am from in America, and yet I will never fully belong here in other people’s eyes because of my differences. That makes it challenging to find where my real place is in the world. However, it is also exciting because I’m a sojourner and it is worth it to get the chance to be here.
Some of the greatest highlights have been dancing with all of my heart with women and children in remote villages, being called family by some of those I love here, watching hope be restored to broken lives, and knowing I am living out a great adventure.
What do you wish you knew before you moved?
I wish I knew the language, and I wish I understood a lot more of the culture here. It would have saved a lot of confusion and made the transition that much easier.
Any favorite restaurants/events/sites that you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
Well, there are not many restaurants in this area. However, there is a beautiful game park called Kidepo about an hour’s drive from where I live. It is wedged in the corner of Kenya, South Sudan and Northern Uganda. There is really exciting wildlife (zebras, warthogs, buffalo, elephants, lions, and more) and it is barely touched by the outside world. It is an oasis.
In other parts of Uganda, there are many beautiful attractions as well, such as Murchison Falls, the source of the Nile River, the equator, Victoria Falls, and a place to go gorilla tracking. Uganda is a very beautiful and exciting country to live in.
Are there any tips you’d give someone else considering a similar move?
I would advise them to read up on the culture, become familiar with the tribal customs and languages in the area they plan to visit or move to, and most of all, to be open to let the people change you to become a better person.
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they move to your destination?
This is a society that views women as second-class citizens. That is changing gradually with education and sensitization, but it is still an issue. Setting an example for other women that you can be educated, have a voice, and are still very much a woman is a big deal.
Also, it is good to take proper precautions when out in society, such as dressing in a way that is not offensive to the local people, and recognizing the way that women dance and speak. We can all learn from each other!
Photo credit: Ed