Uganda Cultural Immersion Trip 2018 with Far Away Friends

For three weeks in July of 2018, I traveled to Uganda on a cultural immersion trip with the nonprofit, Far Away Friends. We spent 8 of those days in a small fishing village of rural northern Uganda called Namasale. Here, Far Away Friends partners with the community and local schools to help alleviate generational poverty through education and cross-cultural connection. Part of that partnership includes Global Leaders Primary School, which Far Away Friends helped fund the building of from the ground up.

 


 

At any event of significance in my lifetime I find myself counting the ways in which my decisions precisely led me to this point of being, and had I walked any other path, would never have taken me to the moments I hold as the ones that define me entirely.

 

Think about it. I don’t subscribe to the “this is your destiny” and “everything happens for a reason” worldview, but I totally see why someone would. If these things hadn’t happened, if I hadn’t say, begrudgingly gone to a film screening about child soldiers in central Africa so that I could receive easy credit for a non-major class in the fall of 2011, well, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be where I am mentally and I definitely would not have just spent the three weeks in Uganda after facing my greatest fear for 19 hours and then again for 22 hours on the way back.

 

On July 10th, 2018, I left on my very first trip out of the country. Destination: Namasale, Uganda. 19 hours of flying, 7+ hours at airports, one night at a hotel, 3+ hours of driving, and a 45 minute ferry ride later, I arrived. This is in spite of the fact that I once had a very long and serious conversation with myself on whether I could lead a happy life if I never stepped on an airplane again. I think I decided yes. But people change. And now, having gone, having experienced discomforts I didn’t know existed, I wouldn’t trade it for certainty.

 

Eight mzungus sleeping in a van and one who can't (me)

Eight mzungus sleeping in a van and one who can’t

 

This trip will be one of those moments I look back on and say, “That moment. That’s where I changed. Things are different now.” The people I traveled with are now my brothers and sisters. Namasale, my second home. But such feelings are not to overlook the discomforts I faced. That would be a disservice to you and I both. As one of my newfound brothers wrote, “There is something extraordinary about traveling to other cultures, knowing other humans, eating their food and being in their homes. The further from your current comfort zone, the larger the effects.” I was well outside my comfort zone. I needed to be.

 

The Far Away Friends team walking up the dirt driveway of Global Leaders Primary School

The Far Away Friends team walking up the driveway of Global Leaders Primary School in Namasale, Uganda.

Things work differently in Namasale. And in Uganda. Time moves at a different pace. I love that I got to observe that. And I hope I can bring some of that back to the US.

 

In Namasale we made several visits to other local schools, local health facilities, and some of our students’ homes. Every single time, without fail, chairs and makeshift seats would be pulled from all locations to make sure everyone was able to sit down and be comfortable as we talked. People were so accommodating I felt guilty. Who am I to deserve this respect from a stranger? We were often given gifts for no other reason than showing up. Cold water and soda. Snacks. A portion of the family’s harvest. A rooster. What is this place where total strangers can stop by out of the blue and be treated as honored guests?

 

Team members of Far Away Friends enjoy reuniting after a year apart and meeting the newest member of the FAF Family.

My new extended family from Colorado and Uganda. Times like these were my favorite moments.

 

Driving from Kampala to Namasale to Lira to Chobe to Gulu in two packed sweaty vans was a test of patience and self control. To the towns we passed, we were a spectacle. But those long drives gave me time to reflect and observe. And one thing that I observed is that car signals are used differently here in Uganda. Horns aren’t used aggressively. They aren’t laid on for 30 seconds straight to show the guy in front of us just how much we hate him for cutting us off. Instead, they’re used to simply say, “hey I’m here” so bodas, humans, cars, and livestock can coexist on the same road in impressively close quarters. Impressively close. Blinkers are used just as much (if not more) for letting cars behind us know whether it’s okay to pass or if someone’s coming the opposite direction as they are for signaling a turn. What is this world in which transportation is a team activity? Where the goal is not to beat the car next to us, but to work in a way that most benefits all?

 

Global Leaders Primary School overlooks its well used soccer field where little grass now grows.

This is Global Leaders Primary School. I am so proud of what they have accomplished in just a few short years and can’t wait to see the impacts of these students years down the road.

 

The students and teachers at Global Leaders Primary School have impressed me beyond anything. It is so clear how much each teacher cares for his or her children and for seeing the school grow into one of the best in the district. I learned the long hours every student spends at school every day, particularly the older students who are studying for the exam that will get them into secondary school. Some of our team had the honor of staying with these girls in their dorm overnight to get to know them better without the pressures of a teacher or principal hearing. We asked if they were tired because of all the work, and they were. We asked if it was hard, and it was. But then we asked if they thought the school day should be shorter, and allow more time for rest. To that they said no. Their education is so important to them that waking up well before sunrise every day to study before class even starts was not a question to even be considered. I respect these students so much. When education is a privilege and not something taken for granted, respect for that education, for teachers, and for community is a beautiful and invaluable byproduct.

 

Two students of Global Leaders laugh together, enjoying the company of Far Away Friends visitors

Spent an hour this day passing the soccer ball with the kids and FAF team members. Hard work must be balanced with play, after all.

 

Four Ugandan men lay bricks that will be the future dormitories for Global Leaders' boarding students.

These men are laying bricks for what will be the future dormitories for Global Leaders’ boarding students. We’re still working on raising the total of $30,000 to have them completed. If you’d like to donate to this project, you can do so here

 

It’s amazing how such small moments can mean everything. The respect of a stranger. The team mentality of getting from one place to another. The dedication of a child. Nothing miraculous in its own right (although sometimes I think it is) but these weren’t one-off instances. It was everywhere. Baked into the culture in a way I haven’t seen before. It was refreshing. And real.

 

I find myself in awe of new places, new experiences because they give me a perspective on life that I was previously blind to. How lucky are we as humans to have that? The ability to see and experience and be completely different when we come out the other side? That’s what I find myself chasing after again and again, even if it’s just in my head. I want to learn and change and come out the other side closer to this thing that connects us all: Earth, humanity, life, what have you. That thing that makes us desire to do better. To care. To help. To empathize. To protest. To speak up. To speak out. To fight. To love. It’s the thing that makes me confront my phobias and embarrass myself in front of strangers. It’s the thing I’ll be willingly vulnerable for.

 

Four Global Leaders Teachers sit in a classroom attending a child safety lesson with some members of the FAF team.

I had the privilege of sitting in on a child safety lesson with the Global Leaders teachers and FAF team. It was a great moment of learning how we can better serve and protect our students.

 

“I remember the moment I first realized I’ve been living my whole life in black and white. It was like discovering a color I never knew existed before. A whole new crayon box full of colors, that was it for me. From then on, there was no putting the pieces back together. No going home. Things were different now.” – Anthony Bourdain

 

Things are different now.

-B

(keep scrolling for more photos!)

 

Hanging out in Mama Jass' shop in town drinking sodas and learning everything we can

Hanging out in Mama Jass’ shop in town drinking sodas and learning everything we can

 

The FAF team appreciating a visit with Itat

We have so much to learn from one another

 

The Far Away Friends family shares a drink and conversation

The Far Away Friends family shares a drink and conversation

 

Close up of a giraffe near Chobe Safari Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park

After our time in the village, the FAF team traveled around Uganda to see more of what this beautiful country has to offer and that of course included Murchison Falls National Park

 

A herd of Cape Buffalo in Murchison Falls National Park

Found a herd of cape buffalo and their bird friends

 

Overlooking the Nile River at Chobe Safari Lodge

Can’t explain how cool it was to wake up in Chobe to the sound and sight of the Nile River

 


To learn more about the work of Far Away Friends or donate to important projects at Global Leaders Primary School and within the Namasale community, go to www.farawayfriendsglobal.com