June 10th: headlamps and culture shock

12:31 AM

Today I experienced real culture shock for the first time. A college class from my freshman year gave the stages of cultural immersion. Right after the honeymoon stage, it is normal to feel culture shock, a feeling of being completely out of your element.

We got on the bus from Rwanda early without a problem. However what was supposed to be a 9 hour bus ride soon turned into an 11 hour bus ride. One thing about Uganda that is very different than America is the importance of time. Ugandan time is much slower. To Americans who rely on schedules and deadlines, this has been an adjustment.

Once arriving in Kampala, we met up with Boni and then proceeded to Ronald's hostel where we had been keeping the rest of our stuff. Although Ronald's hostel wasn't too far from the middle of the city, the traffic in Kampala along with the difficulty of finding a taxi headed to Nakawa resulted in another 2 hours of traveling. At one point in time, the taxi sat for 30 minutes for a reason that I still am unsure of. I have realized how antsy of a person that I am through this experience, I really should learn to have more patience.

Once we reached Ronald's hostel, we met up with a young girl about our age. We were settled by her kindness and then unsettled when we discovered the electricity had been cut off. I have never been more grateful for head lamps. We were told that this happens often and many assume it has something to do with the government. I keep having to stop myself from thinking that things are strange or weird and that normal is not universal but culturally defined. 

We finally packed up our stuff and found ourselves sitting in the hostel with a single candle lit, absolutely exhausted. Up to this point, I had been able to handle and appreciate what made Africa different than the US but we had hit a virtual wall of sickness and sleep deprivation, and that is when culture shock hit me the hardest. I became frustrated, and then became even more frustrated that I was allowing myself to get frustrated. I was frustrated with my own frustration. Boni could tell that we were struggling so he went to find a private hire while we sat and took some deep breaths. Even now our cry count is at zero. After stopping and praying and reminding ourselves how blessed we are to be here, we mustered up strength and we headed to our hostel. 

Now before you go off thinking that Kampala is awful, let me tell you about the hippest place I have ever been. Anna and I had been recommended to a place called the Red Chili Hideaway. It has great prices for single rooms, cottages, and you can even bring a tent and camp for very cheap. At check in, I signed the guest book and realized that I was surrounded by backpackers from Sweden, Germany, America, London, etc. A women came and walked us to our room, it was a simple room; two twin beds with cute red covers, mosquito nets, and a fan. It was attached to a bathroom with a shower that we shared with three other rooms. Everything matched the Red Chili theme all the way up to the name of our room, "Tobasco". After setting our stuff down we decided to go check out the place. We found a hang out area with people playing pool, drinking beer, eating food from the restaurant and taking advantage of the free wifi. The place had a fun vibe, filled with conversations in many languages. I almost wish we had more time to talk to the visitors and to hear what brought them here. We ordered some waters and refueled (we still don't have much of an appetite). Tomorrow we head up north to Gulu & I am excited to meet up with my friends up there and get away from the busy streets of Kampala. Even now as I write, a lot of the shock and anxiety has faded. I'm continuing to build on the things that I have been learning: patience, trust and embracing.

I have also learned that if your happiness is defined by how safe you are or how clean you are, then Africa is not your place. But if your happiness is defined by a brilliant, terrifying fullness of life, then you must get here immediately. 

P.S. they actually have the largest birds I have ever seen in my life here. Check this guy out. I wouldn't want that thing to land on my car window, I'll tell you that.

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