I am loving Uganda more than I could’ve ever imagined. This country is so rich, and the people are so beautiful and kind. This was my first international trip since I was about 6 years old, so I didn’t know what to expect—especially with traveling with a group of strangers. In all honesty, I had some negative preconceived notions about what Africa was like, but all of my concerns have been things that have turned out to be myths or things that weren’t as big of a challenge as I expected. I’ve enjoyed my time with my travel team (Team Wakanda), and I feel like I have made lifelong friends. The entire program has been such an eye-opening experience. I’m so thankful and humbled to be here. The two things that changed my perspective most would be the rich culture and my experience at Ring of Hope.
Being an African American, I always felt like I lacked culture. Not American enough, but not African enough. My friends from other countries would tell me about their families and cultural traditions they had while growing up, and I always felt like I had little to contribute. I don’t know anything about the origin of my family other than my great great great grandparents were slaves. I felt like I lacked a definite culture, so one of the things I noticed first was the rich culture Uganda has. It was nice driving through the city and seeing so many people wearing Uganda jerseys for sports teams and having so much pride in their country. I’ve also enjoyed learning new words in Luganda, one of the languages spoken here. Most people know English, but I like being able to speak some of the basic words to people in their native language. My favorite word is “webale,” which means thank you; I’ve been using that word quite a bit.
This culture overwhelmingly beautiful, but I think my favorite part is how much the Ugandans love music and dancing. There is so much dancing incorporated into Uganda’s culture. On the first Sunday we arrived, we went to Ndere’s Cultural Center and watched a 3-hour performance. It sounds long, but there wasn’t a minute I didn’t enjoy. The energy of the performers was amazing. I loved learning about the way the dances varied per tribe, and the origins behind certain dance moves. I also absolutely loved the two morning African dance lessons we had. As a dancer myself, there was such a contrast in dance styles. In American dance, we’re supposed to elongate our bodies to make ourselves look taller and longer. African style dance is about getting low. It’s more tough and hard hitting, but I loved it! The beat of the drum set my soul on fire. I also loved the dance show we went to that one of our dance teacher’s Robert had. Being able to participate in Ugandan culture has been a blast!
The Ring of Hope was probably the most rewarding experience I’ve had on the trip thus far. After going to the site in Kakira we were all a little sad about the conditions these women and children were living in with the dangers of the alcohol production site and their lack of resources. Ring of Hope put everyone back in good spirits. We received the warmest welcome by a group of girls. In the words of the assistant director, “entertainment is the greatest form of flattery,” and I was indeed flattered! I felt a special connection with these girls. They were taken away from their homes because their parents abused alcohol and were unable to take proper care of them. The organization was so pure and inspiring.
I also loved being able to purchase jewelry and bags from the women that lived there. I felt like I was directly helping to put food on the table, and it was very rewarding. After purchasing jewelry, I spent some quality time with the girls that attend Ring of Hope. We laughed and danced, and they taught me some new words—my favorite being “bonga,” which means fist bump. They really reminded me of myself when I was younger, cheerful and full of life. It made me realize that no matter where you are on this earth, we are more alike than different. It was so refreshing to see that these children had what I would consider so little but were so happy. This visit really made me reevaluate my priorities. If you focus on what you don’t have you’ll never have enough. If you are thankful for what you do have you’ll always be content. I’m so thankful for this experience, and can’t wait to serve underprivileged populations in the future.