So, it is now January 2010. Looking back at my diary of the time I spent in Uganda I can see how abruptly it ends. In my diary my journey finishes high in the sky over Libya. In spite of how strange this may be, I feel that it is in some ways fitting.
It is fitting that the plane never touches down again in London as I feel it was written – maktub – that the moment I got on the underground in Wimbledon, a sizeable amount of my heart would remain in Africa and, more specifically, Kabale for the rest of my life.
A plane touching down so easily can represent the end of a journey, but, as I was writing that last entry, I knew that this was in no way an ending. To revert to cliché, it was just the beginning.
In the months since coming back, a multitude of things have happened. Our party leader, and then principal, Liz, has retired and we have someone new leading us, Raj. Furthermore, I ceased just to be another mzungu heading over to Africa to see what goes on. My relationship with Kigezi High School, Kabale and Uganda has become a lot more purposeful and rewarding.
In some respects everyone wants to go to Africa to help; to help the children; to help the people; to work with aids orphans. There is so much more to it than this – it is not just some fascination with the academic pseudo-theories of ‘the Other’, neither is it a manifestation of the white man’s guilt for the Irish never enslaved anyone (think no Blacks, no dogs, no Irish).
What this trip has represented for me is the opportunity to work with people who are truly appreciative of any help you can provide. To work with people who have a genuine interest in becoming members of a global community and partnership. To immerse yourself in the local customs and ways of being rather than trying to westernise them. To say “no” to the idea of aid being the road to empowerment and “yes” to universal accessibility to education as a means to empowerment.
It would be easy for me if I really wanted to make this partnership about the imposition of Western values upon a developing country. I could go to Kabale with money I have saved, give everyone some food, some clothes and some loose change, but this would achieve nothing. Aid is a form of relief, not a permanent solution. This partnership is about empowerment and creating a level playing field for a small group of people in a community in Uganda. A playing field that is void of the politics imposed by borders that cut across God’s earth dividing us and keeping us apart.
With this in mind I continue to assist in the planning for the trip in April this year. I can reflect on having made some genuine friendships as a result of the partnership and not just with Kigezi staff, but with members of the town’s community and, interestingly, with my colleagues at my college with whom I had never really had contact before.
“Life changing” is a cliché – “soul enhancing” is more fitting.