I’ve spent the last two days at another workshop about child protective rights*. The workshops are supposed to help me prepare for the Child Rights Club that I’ll be starting at my own school next week and to provide counseling and guidance to children who have been abused or neglected. After the second day, my coworkers at World Education Bantwana took me to meet Immaculate, a 9 year old girl who was repeatedly sexually abused by her uncle for “as long as I can remember,” before my coworkers at Bantwana intervened. Now, Immaculate is at a boarding school for needy children called Hope Academy (which was started by a Ugandan woman and her “muzungu” husband). She is a beautiful girl with a reluctant smile that breaks my heart.
After the visit, one of my coworkers looked at me and asked “Are these kinds of things, there? In America?” I tried to keep my voice steady as I responded “There are bad people everywhere.”
Later, as I laid in bed trying to make sense of the day, I dissected the flurry of emotions that had taken over. I was sad for Immaculate, and for children like Immaculate, whose innocence is taken far too early. But I am grateful for all the good people in the world who far outnumber the bad.
Since I’ve been here, at least one of my coworkers has been absent from school every week because of a burial or a sick family member. I have never been to a funeral in my entire life.
I wonder how I would feel
if the sentence “But this one, she looks African”
was not followed by “She is beautiful.”
She asked me “don’t you get lonely, here?”
I thought back to 10 minutes ago when I was day dreaming about someone, anyone, touching me. Playing with my hair, brushing my hand, resting their head on my shoulder.
I thought back to sitting on my couch the night before. The urgency of the day giving away to a stillness that, although usually comforting, left me with a sense of overwhelming sadness.
I thought about all the people I left back in America and how my heart literally aches thinking about them.
I thought about a boy.
And then I thought about all the boys I’ve been with and how many moments I had lying awake next to their sleeping figure wondering if there was anything lonelier than this.
I told her “No, I don’t get lonely here.”
Loneliness is when you have no one, not even yourself.
In the countryside, there is nothing but space.
Space to think.
Space to breathe.
Space to be.
It’s in the emptiness that I find room for myself.
Since I’ve been in Uganda, I’ve acquired many nicknames:
and my personal favorite – tahri.
I like the way it sounds, unfinished.
*Read about the first one here.