I was an emotional wreck today. I just kept panicking about things that were out of my control. As soon as I woke up, I bicycled to Bamunanika where I purchased 3 kg of beef for the celebration that my neighbors would be throwing in the late afternoon. Instead of making medium-well steaks, I decided to cook the beef the way that my neighbors would appreciate: by boiling it with an abundance of sauce until it softened like stew meat. Paulo Mulo, the black village cat, even returned for the day in order to say goodbye or eat the leftover meat. I had also set aside a lot of knick-knacks and small toys for the kids if they won some games like who could jump-rope the most or run the fastest.
At some point after lunch, I took my usual short nap in the living room. But I started to panic because in my daydream I imagined driving alone through the empty streets of my suburban neighborhood in Maryland towards my childhood home. It freaked me out to imagine that such a real world existed back there unfathomable by my neighbors here in a world that was equally as unimaginable for people back in that small suburban neighborhood. I’m thinking of a specific 4-way intersection in Owings Mills with streetlights even though the traffic never gets bad enough to warrant it. I see the clean-cut grass of suburbia with the tidy sidewalks and people walking their dogs. I imagine how quiet it is and how much space people have with clean clothes, climate-controlled cars, and 4G internet everywhere.
In the meantime, I am leaving behind a house with semi-consistent electricity, a borehole with cloudy water or rain water collection tanks with leaky taps, ungodly heat or torrential downpours, all manner of insects and livestock and children invading personal space, and dusty roads. I guess that before Peace Corps, the thought of not having running water or a toilet bothered me so much. Now I have become worried about transitioning to a life filled with creature comforts and amenities that are often seen as a right and not a treat. And I am also leaving behind my neighbors who have lives in this small village that may never interact with the much larger world. The adults will go on herding the cows, teaching 100 pupil classes, sweeping the dust, pumping water, cooking the matooke, playing in the backyard, and life will continue here as much as it has continued back home.
In some ways Peace Corps Volunteers are peerless. Village neighbors will never understand the lives that we lived beforehand, and those back in the states can only guess what we underwent here.
After having served the meat stew to my neighbors and received my own portion of matooke and rice, Master Godfrey played some Ugandan songs on his speakers. The children all started dancing and going crazy in the backyard. All I could do was smile as I drank some ginger caayi with a full stomach and the echoes of laughter and Ugandan dancehall music. The sunset through the backyard matooke trees and one of my neighbors, the mother of the twins, presented a hand-woven mat as a parting gift. After thanking them, one of the grandmother neighbors whispered to me, “You cannot forget this day.” It wasn’t a command; it wasn’t a reminder. It was simply a comment that today was remarkable in how normal and how special it felt at the same time. It was a particularly beautiful day living in Luteete village. She’s right though, I can’t forget this day.