There were six of us running around the capital city that day, each carrying our own luggage while trying not to lose sight of the others. My 50 pound book bag was strapped to the front of my body to keep it from being ransacked by thieves. I had a tote bag on one arm, a side bag on the other and in my hands I was carrying my mosquito net and a plastic bag filled with the things I could not fit anywhere else. The African sun beat down on my head and sweat dripped off my body like water. The six of us weaved through crowds of people to get to the bus park. Once there, we were to board a bus to Hoima, where we would each meet the host family we were staying with for the next month. This was the last part of our training before being sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers.
Because of the fast approaching holiday, the dirty streets of Kampala were crowded with people. Although I was exhausted from being up at 5:30 a.m. and spending 5 hours on a different bus, I plowed through, keeping my eye on the familiar red, white and blue Peace Corps tag of my friend’s book bag in front of me. We crossed unmarked streets void of any traffic signals. At one intersection, I came close to a speeding taxi. Motorcycles, called “boda-bodas,” swerved around me and I jumped out of the way just in time. The straps of my book bag dug into my shoulders. My nose burned from the polluted air and I could feel a stinging in my lungs. I was nauseous and exhausted and for the first time in 5 weeks, I thought “I want to go home.”
But home was not Detroit, or even America. My home was in the Kyenjojo District of Fort Portal, where I had spent the last three days without running water or electricity. Home was my house in the staff quarters of Kyakatara Primary School where I would be working for the next two years, starting in February. Home was the place built with love, the only house on the block with paved walkways and an enclosed bathing area. It was the place of carefully hung pink curtains and details so perfect that I had to wonder how people could know me so well before even meeting me. Home was the place of my future co-workers who earnestly thanked me over dinner under a starry night sky “for being so loving,” a sentiment I quickly dismissed but treasured wholeheartedly.
My mind drifted back into Kampala as we reached the bus park. My shoulders ached and I longed to set my things down on the ground but there were far too many people and not enough space. “Link” Busses, comparable to Greyhound busses in America, were parked along the makeshift sidewalk. Just as I started to wonder how the vehicles were going to navigate their way out of the lot, I heard the rough sound of an engine. A bus filled with passengers and completely surrounded by people started moving, nudging bystanders out of the way. People were being run over. I watched disbelievingly, unable to escape the chaos that surrounded me. The harsh stench of fuel filled the air and I could feel myself growing weak. I sat down on a box on the side of the road. A sour taste filled my mouth and I threw up the only thing I had that day – water. My friends surrounded me with worried looks on their faces. My vision blurred and I could not make out their words.
I closed my eyes. I was back in the hills and valleys of Kyenjojo. I could see the tea plantations that made up my backyard and hear the rustling of the tall matooke plants that belonged to my neighbors. The scent of herbs filled the air. The softest breeze swept through and I opened my eyes expectantly, hoping that I had fallen asleep in the field with Gloria, my coworker’s baby who was suffering from malaria, and not on a box drenched in my own sweat and vomit in the overcrowded streets of Kampala.
My vision was clearer and my hearing slowly returned to normal. My friends were discussing how to navigate to our bus with my things. I stood up, insisting that I was fine. I hauled my things back on to my aching body, each bag weighing me down even more. We pushed on. I could feel myself swaying but I knew I could not let myself stand still or I would be lost. I kept my eye on the blonde-haired figure of my friend in front of me. A man with a bunch of dead chickens tied around his body pushed past me. Their sharp beaks pierced my skin.
Two hours after we had arrived in Kampala, we finally boarded the bus feeling as if we had accomplished a great feat. I sat next to my friend Marguerite who turned to me, her big blue eyes shining brightly, “I am so glad we have each other.”