Trip to Africa alters perspective

Sep 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Columns, Featured Articles, Opinions

by Victoria Branch

Ugandan

So there I was, inside a courtyard of a mud-hut village, with about 20 laughing children catching winged ants to be roasted and eaten later, and all I could think was, “What the hell am I doing here?”

Sometimes in our lives, situations and opportunities seem to be put in motion, almost beyond our control.

Things fall into place, schedules open up, and everything seems to point in the direction of whatever has fallen into our laps.

This happened to me in March, when everything was telling me to go to Northern Uganda. So, I went.

I’ve been involved with the group Invisible Children (invisiblechildren.com) since 2005.

I’ve campaigned against the horrifying use of child soldiers in parts of Africa.

I wrote my eight page term paper in ANT100 about it. I watched the videos, read the books, and saw the pictures, but truly nothing compared to actually witnessing it.

There is no way I could have been prepared for what I saw.

Yes, there was sadness. There was poverty, starvation, gun-bearing children and despair.

But there was also immense kindness, jubilee, laughter, booty dancing like I’d never seen outside of The Creek and the desire to know and be known.

I came home to the normal feelings of anyone who has been abroad and visited poor countries.

We are wasteful. We are rich. We have no grasp on real hardship.

Many of us lead very shallow lives. I include myself in these categories.

But truly, now I know what it’s like to not be a regular American.

I can eat weird food like ants and posho (a cassava/water based paste).

I can go a long time without a shower, and without running water. I can go to the bathroom in a disgusting squatty with flies all around me. I can live without much money or even without straightening my hair.

I think as Americans we need to be careful. I see a trend of materialism and wastefulness that’s gaining speed and power.

If you are bristling up at my words, hold on a second. I know that many people need to buy nice things because it makes them comfortable.

I know we weren’t brought up to think about how much food we throw away, or how little we really need to survive.

It’s our human, American nature to focus our attention on other things. This isn’t something that will ever be fixed, honestly.

But I think if there are people that have gone to places like Uganda, who know exactly what I’m speaking about, and those people speak up like I am right now, that can be a spark of awareness.

You will never, I repeat never, hear me call myself a poor college student. Poor does not exist in my life.

Some of the most precious moments of my life thus far came this summer in Northern Uganda.

The joy I received from simply walking around with a Ugandan named Gladys and her daughter Sharon, having them point out different crops and people to me, is unmatchable.

It wasn’t always easy. I had my heart broken just about every day over something —whether it would be a child with a distended stomach, or an old man forecasting a famine next year, or a street walker who was 14, or 15 or a homeless man on the streets yelling at God and the world—but it was worth it.

I feel better knowing that I’m no longer living blissfully unaware in my rich American bubble. I truly cannot wait to return to Northern Uganda.

So there I was, inside a courtyard of a mud-hut village, with about 20 laughing children catching winged ants to be roasted and eaten later, and all I could think was, “What the hell am I doing here?”
Sometimes in our lives, situations and opportunities seem to be put in motion, almost beyond our control.
Things fall into place, schedules open up, and everything seems to point in the direction of whatever has fallen into our laps.
This happened to me in March, when everything was telling me to go to Northern Uganda. So, I went.
I’ve been involved with the group Invisible Children (invisiblechildren.com) since 2005.
I’ve campaigned against the horrifying use of child soldiers in parts of Africa.
I wrote my eight page term paper in ANT100 about it. I watched the videos, read the books, and saw the pictures, but truly nothing compared to actually witnessing it.
There is no way I could have been prepared for what I saw.
Yes, there was sadness. There was poverty, starvation, gun-bearing children and despair.
But there was also immense kindness, jubilee, laughter, booty dancing like I’d never seen outside of The Creek and the desire to know and be known.
I came home to the normal feelings of anyone who has been abroad and visited poor countries.
We are wasteful. We are rich. We have no grasp on real hardship.
Many of us lead very shallow lives. I include myself in these categories.
But truly, now I know what it’s like to not be a regular American.
I can eat weird food like ants and posho (a cassava/water based paste).
I can go a long time without a shower, and without running water. I can go to the bathroom in a disgusting squatty with flies all around me. I can live without much money or even without straightening my hair.
I think as Americans we need to be careful. I see a trend of materialism and wastefulness that’s gaining speed and power.
If you are bristling up at my words, hold on a second. I know that many people need to buy nice things because it makes them comfortable.
I know we weren’t brought up to think about how much food we throw away, or how little we really need to survive.
It’s our human, American nature to focus our attention on other things. This isn’t something that will ever be fixed, honestly.
But I think if there are people that have gone to places like Uganda, who know exactly what I’m speaking about, and those people speak up like I am right now, that can be a spark of awareness.
You will never, I repeat never, hear me call myself a poor college student. Poor does not exist in my life.
Some of the most precious moments of my life thus far came this summer in Northern Uganda.
The joy I received from simply walking around with a Ugandan named Gladys and her daughter Sharon, having them point out different crops and people to me, is unmatchable.
It wasn’t always easy. I had my heart broken just about every day over something —whether it would be a child with a distended stomach, or an old man forecasting a famine next year, or a street walker who was 14, or 15 or a homeless man on the streets yelling at God and the world—but it was worth it.
I feel better knowing that I’m no longer living blissfully unaware in my rich American bubble. I truly cannot wait to return to Northern Uganda.
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2 comments
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  1. hey
    Thanks for saying what needed to be said Victoria! I really enjoy reading about other’s experiences. Please do email me (tardiowj@muohio.edu) i would like to talk and hear more about it. I was in Northern Uganda (in Gulu) this past summer for a month. I had a blog about my trip and experiences which you can read here: http://unifiedforunifat.wordpress.com/

    I struggled with a lot of the same things as you and some different things, all guiding me towards a better understand of not only who i am but who i want to be. Again thanks for sharing!

    Thanks
    ~Will-i-am~

  2. Victoria, this is an excellent piece – so often people in America and the rest of the first world are blind to the poverty and conditions of the rest of the world. We ignore the way in which our privilege is a stark contrast to how most live, and we take for granted basic necessities and luxuries that others never see.

    Thank you so much, for telling others and for being a little more aware than the average college student.