Belonging (or Not) in Another Country

A view of Uganda from the airplane

 

When I came back from spending two weeks in Uganda, I didn’t want to talk about it. My friends were surprised. I usually loved to talk about my trips. “I’m still processing it,” I would say as an explanation, although I’m still not sure what that was supposed to mean.

Family parties were unavoidable barrages of the question. At one, I tried to escape after answering most of the well-intentioned inquiries as quickly as I could, but my aunt cornered me behind the white wicker chairs.

“How was Uganda?” she squealed.

“Good,” I tried to smile.

“Didn’t you just love how the air felt?”

“Um…yeah.”

“And isn’t the scenery beautiful?”

“Have you been to Uganda?”

“No, Kenya. Aren’t the people just so nice? And happy?”

“Right.”

“And how about—”

“Oh, look! Dessert!”

 A week later

My mom: Are you still processing?

Me: Yep.

 A week later

Mom: How’s the processing going?

Me: I still don’t really want to talk about it.

I think the reason I couldn’t talk about it was that I was afraid that if I opened my mouth, I’d lose control and scream, “I JUST WANTED AFRICA TO LOVE ME BUT IT DIDN’T.”

I wanted so much to belong in this place I had been studying for months before I left. But did Africa care that I had worn its clothing, listened to its music, read its books? Nope. Not at all. I thought I’d feel like I belonged by virtue of sheer desire. I didn’t. I hadn’t found the “home” I thought I’d find. Africa didn’t pay me any heed, didn’t even glance in my direction. It just kept turning, and I was irrelevant. Unneeded.

I wanted to be needed. I wanted to belong. Uganda taught me that maybe these aren’t innocent desires. That, in wanting to belong, I am clinging to a white savior, girl-runs-to-Africa-and-saves-starving-children type of image. I can’t just get off a plane in a different country and be loved. It doesn’t work that way. It shouldn’t.

A fuller account of my immersion in Uganda can be found here.

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