After a long, long journey home (46 hours of total travel time), and a day or so of trying to readjust my time zone, I find myself reflecting on the past month with a great deal of emotion. This trip brought many challenges – emotional, physical, and intellectual. I think today is a perfect day to write about these thoughts.
If I’m being completely honest – I went to Africa this time with an agenda. The last time I went I realized that I had fallen in love – with the country, the people, and the experience. I loved the intensity of the connections I made while I was there. I wasn’t sure I would ever feel that connection again – I had spent the past year trying to figure out what made it all so impactful to me. As I prepared for this trip, I tried telling myself that it would be still be good, just different. But in reality, I was scared that this trip wouldn’t allow me to access those emotions, and would feel routine and tedious. My agenda on this trip was to “get over it” – to work hard and to do the absolute best for my students, but to move on from the feeling of being in love that I had struggled with.
But now on the other side, I can say that I completely failed to “get over it”. This trip was everything I could have hoped for and so so much more. The heart and soul of this experience was the students. I cannot be more proud of the work they did – in the clinic as well as the interpersonal work that an experience like this demands. They all challenged themselves to grow and change and to be flexible professionally and personally. They are now able to do things that most other pharmacy students in their class cannot do – think laterally and creatively about clinical issues and take in to account other cultures, complications, and in some cases the almost complete lack of resources. I know know for sure that it is the maturity that develops on a trip like this that is perhaps the most important outcome.
I also simply cannot express my gratitude to the many people in Uganda that helped us to set up experiences and also spent hours shepherding us through the professional and cultural challenges of these experiences. Winnie, David, Janine, Arthur, Walter, and so many others cared so much for us and gave so much of themselves without expecting anything in return. It is just how the Ugandan people relate to the world. I sincerely hope I can become a bit more like them every day – and say to everyone I meet “You are welcome”.
And once again I was reminded that Uganda is a country that is so incredibly rich in one of the most important resources in the world – community. As I write this I am watching a local news report about a person who is trying to “score three TV’s – a 42″, 55″, and 65” at a Black Friday sale. I can’t help but see so clearly that for how much stuff people have in the US, we lack so much in community these days. The smiles, the welcome, the sharing that all of us experienced on this trip will last with all of us forever. I hope that all of my students on this trip and in to the future can see that this is the true value of the experience.
In the coming days I am asking each of my students to write a little bit about what they are feeling now that they are home. These feeling are acute now, but they do fade, and it is important to capture them so that we may be reminded and not lose the clarity we have right now. For me – I didn’t get over it. I didn’t turn it in to just part of my job, in to a vacation from my everyday. It was so much more intense than any other part of what I do, and it asked so much of me. I am still in love – with the country, the people, the sights, the tastes, and the intense personal challenge that I find so much growth from. And you know what? I’m now more in love than ever before – because now I have 8 other people that I found so much appreciation and insight in to. So they will join the reasons I love Uganda and Africa, and they are now also part of the bittersweet longing I’ll feel every time a song or a taste or a smell takes me right back. I hope they all know how much they mean to me, and that my appreciation for them will follow all of them in to the future no matter where they go. I told them all I sometimes have difficulty moving on from things. But now I know I shouldn’t “move on” – it is precisely these connections that sustain all of us and create community even when people are far away.
Oh – we also ended our trip by going on a safari trip! It was spectacular – I hope that the student share their beautiful pictures and their wonder at experiencing yet another display of Uganda’s richness. And I hope we are all inspired to protect and to visit these natural spaces – to lose them would be a tragedy to the community we are all a part of.
I can’t wait for my next trip. It is an honor to work with these extraordinary students and to help give them these experiences. Until then – stay tuned to this blog for updates and developments from Wilkes and our efforts to develop teaching and learning opportunities in public and global health!