My last full day in Uganda.
It's difficult to reflect on the last month, as I have encountered a full spectrum of emotions, and much more, during my time here.
One thing is for sure, I will miss this place. There is an aura of humanity here, a genuineness of place and people that I have not found elsewhere. Smiles and hugs are like currency, passed from person to person easily and without second thought at every turn. Ugandan friends excitedly grab my hand and walk me from place to place, eager to show me something new. Little children saunter up to me in the clinic, wary at first, until I stick out my hand. Their curious eyes widen, followed by a toothy grin, as they slap me high five.
I will miss the laughter in my office, the constant cultural comparisons that brought curious looks and never-ending giggles. I will also miss seeing the doctors and nurses working; they have a sense of purpose and devotion to their patients that is subtle, but breathtaking. I will miss the walks through downtown Kampala, a place that at first looked like utter chaos but, as I have gotten to know this town, exhibits a free-flowing, sometimes-manic, order. I will miss riding buses across Uganda, packed three into a seat built for two (small) people, as chickens wander on the ground, clucking and pecking at my feet, while Ugandan hip-hop music blares from the bus's speaker system. I will miss the boda-boda rides, the matoke and beans, the African sun, and so much more.
Of course, this is Africa. Poverty abounds, to the point that after a month, I often ignore it. Walking home from work yesterday, a coworker pointed to a collection of makeshift shacks, right off the main road, with disbelief. I recall noticing them on my first walk to IDI on my first day here, and then never looking again. In Africa, suffering blends slowly into the background.
I will never forget the faces at the clinic. Given how much I love this place, it is not difficult to forget that the people we are here to help are sick. Really, frighteningly, sick. Before Uganda, HIV/AIDS was an abstraction for me, a list of statistics chronicling the plight of a people far away. For me, far away meant Africa, or the other side of Washington, D.C. But these faces, they will stay with me. They are old and young, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. Their faces tell stories of suffering, but they are resilient. Their faces are strong.
And, of course, the bombings of Sunday night will forever remain etched in my memory. I have seen a city at its lowest point, trembling and afraid. But I am also watching it slowly return to normal. Despite the repulsive efforts of those that want to do us harm, life always returns to equilibrium. The decency and humanity of so many will always outweigh the unconscionable behavior of a few. It simply must be so.
Perhaps my lasting memory of Africa will be saying goodbye to one of my colleagues, Benson, who I have written about before. Embracing, we discussed the bombings, my trip back to the United States, and my plans to return. I then thanked him for everything he had done for me, helping me to get adjusted, and explaining how the clinic worked.
Benson, HIV positive for ten years, smiled beneath his bushy mustache.
"You are most welcome," he said. "See you next year."