Lots of laughter. And lots of love.
When I look back on my summer fellowship in East Africa, I can’t help but think of the first memory that I have from there. Walking out of the airport in Uganda, I remembered feeling an overwhelming sense of what I can only describe as home. It is the same feeling that I get when I walk out of the Islamabad airport in my home country of Pakistan. And it feels like a wave of peace has washed over you. As if the arms of the universe are cradling you and welcoming you back to your true nature.
My trip to East Africa made me think a lot about my “true nature”. When I speak of my “true nature”, I am referring to the part of me that connects with others on a level outside of the superficial. In Pakistan and in East Africa, no one cared what university I went to. No one knew about my extracurricular activities. My value to others did not stem from any superficial forms of success that I had attained. Instead, people cared about who I really was as a person. They cared about how genuine our interactions were. We often engaged in conversations that I find so difficult to have here in America. In Uganda, we often conversed about the hardships of political corruption or the complex nuances of Western charity work in Africa. In Rwanda, I bonded with many of my friends and co-workers over discussions of the shared genocidal history of Rwanda and of Kashmir (my mother’s homeland). I’ve gotta say: things just felt so much more real in East Africa. I didn’t feel like I had to put on a front. Though people on the streets often referred to me as a mzungu because of the color of my skin, engaging them in conversation made us realize that we had more in common than I often feel like I have with people in America.
In East Africa, people cared about the love we shared and the laughter we bonded over. They cared about what we could learn from each other’s lives and shared experiences. And it never took too long for me to engage in genuine conversation with anyone. It was as if I could finally throw away the rose-colored glasses I often feel pressured to wear in the US and actually immediately dig at what I wanted to know most about people: how they engage with life, what they genuinely struggle with, what brings them joy and what brings them pain, and what they really care about doing with their lives.
Our incredible Rwandan translator, Agnes, sending us off at the airport.
People in East Africa were so open to being genuine and spreading love. And it was evident in everything they did. People often went out of their way to be kind to us. To be generous. Women in the villages we visited would often make us food or bring us water bottles they had gone out to buy for us, even though water was a scarce resource in their village. I remember getting really sick at one point during our trip in Rwanda. We made a visit to the office at some point and, upon mentioning in conversation that I had a sore throat, the country manager, Benon, left the office in the middle of work just to buy me Amoxicillin from the local pharmacy. Agnes, our translator and good friend in Rwanda, went out of her way just to drive with us to the airport so she could send us off before our flight back to Uganda.
One particularly memorable moment was when some of the lovely staff at the Uganda office surprised us on our last day in Uganda by making an impromptu visit to our hostel just to squeeze in one last goodbye to us before we left the continent altogether. What made this moment so memorable, was the fact that we’d had the loveliest goodbye party full of cake and dancing and pictures the day before. We had so woefully said what we thought would be our last goodbyes the day before, but were absolutely thrilled to find that half the staff had piled into the company van just to see us off one last time.
We were so thrilled to find the staff from the Uganda office waiting for us downstairs on our last day at Bushpig!
Even the staff at Bushpig (the hostel we stayed at in Uganda) along with Father Innocent and the guards at Centre Christus (the Jesuit center we stayed at in Rwanda) were so beyond hospitable and loving towards us. From having long and lovely chats at breakfast with some of the waitresses at Bushpig’s breakfast (who would later sneak some extra fruit onto our plates) to playing cards at midnight with the security guards at Centre Christus, everything about East Africa just felt so fun and so homey. It was little moments like these that made me realize that the people there truly understood the value of making others feel welcome like family.
I think more than anything, what my trip to East Africa made me realize is that what you put into life is what you get out of it. What you reap is what you sow. If you spread love and kindness and are genuine with others, you will receive it in your own life. If you live a life where you choose to be generous to others, the universe will find a way to bring that generosity back to you. If you go forth into the world seeking a means to make it a better place, life will find a way to make itself better for you. Life is about choosing to embody certain values in your interactions with the world. And whatever you embody, life will embody that back for you.
All smiles and good times at the weaving center in Rwanda A snapshot from our goodbye party at All Across Africa’s Ugandan office.
We live in a culture where we can often get lost in attempting to increase the importance of our own individual journeys in the grand scheme of things. This can lead to high rates of depression, anxiety, lack of self worth, and endemic self doubt. I find that the East African culture can inspire a lot of positive change in our lives if we choose to let it do so. From both East African culture, as well as many other Eastern cultures, I find that the West can benefit from learning the value of community building and choosing to live a life beyond ourselves. Uganda and Rwanda are by no means perfect. Decades of government corruption in Uganda as well as the ghosts of the genocidal past that haunt Rwanda make it clear that both countries still have a lot of work to do for their citizens, as do all nations. Any success stories from both of these nations, whether they came in the form of women empowering one another to develop financial livelihoods outside of depending on their husband’s income, such as the weavers in both nations did, or whether they came in the form of people from conflicting backgrounds choosing to put aside their differences to work together, all stemmed from the basic value of prioritizing community needs over individual desires.
I think that if we work together as a nation on creating a culture that fosters more of this, we will be so much happier for it at the end of the day. If we focus on improving the lives of others, on spreading happiness and love wherever we go, and on fostering more genuine interactions with others, we will come to find our own lives improved, our own happiness skyrocketing, and our own sense of self strong and secure. We will find strength in places we never knew we could rely on before. We will climb mountains higher than we think we could, and we will boundlessly open new doors. We will break barriers that lie in our relationships between each other and connect deeply on levels beyond what we had once perceived. For what you give to this world, is what you shall receive.