February 22, 2021
Sundays in Uganda are my time. I always hope for a bright, sunny day so that I can dart off to the Red Chili Hideaway and soak up sun by the pool. When I do so, I’m guaranteed to run into familiar faces, interrupting my worship to the sun god only briefly. But, too often, the skin gods win out, and it’s too cloudy to strip to minimal clothing and perform diligent reverence.
This Sunday is one of those, “but I’m in Africa, where’s the sun days.” I get up, flick on the hot water heater and enjoy a cold Coke Zero while the water warms up. I’ve come to realize that as low maintenance as I am, hot showers are a first world convenience I’d prefer not to do without. I bathed with icy, cold showers in Uganda up until only recently when my mother was traveling with me and I knew cold water was a deal-breaker.
I enjoy my hot shower, then head to Dancing Cup for my nutella, banana crepe fix. A couple of years ago, they changed up their menu, and no longer have it listed, but the wait staff know me. They don’t even bring me a menu. And, thankfully, they’ve indoctrinated new hires so that I’ve been able to continue to resist breakfast change.
I wipe my plate clean, the way my mother only hoped I would’ve done as a supremely picky-eater child, and take the underused paper napkin and tuck it in my pocket for later use. I walk out to the main road to grab a boda (my preferred method of transport) to take me home. I walk up the carless and quiet street for a bit, when two bodas coming in the opposite direction spy me, and both turn around to gun for my business. They jockey for better positioning, entreating me and competing with each other for my ride. We share an amused laugh. I look them both over in a way that I hope is discreet. The one who nodded in my direction first is younger and cuter with fashionable shades that are totally unnecessary on this cloud heavy day and has a newer motor bike. The older one has cardboard pieces strapped around parts of his sputtering bike. Clearly, I choose the cuter one with the faster bike and we zip off.
I return home to my quiet compound. Laying on my couch, door ajar, curtain pulled back, I watch the palm leaves gently blowing and the sun creating a glow to the worn clay, brick wall separating my compound from the adjacent one, a certain calm and peace fills me in these moments. In the US, it’s nearly impossible for me to duplicate this serenity. The cool breeze paired with the warm sun. The near silence, except for muffled sounds of traffic from the road ahead, just beyond the compound’s heavy, metal gate. Here I don’t stress and fret and consider the myriad of tasks competing for my attention. I can simply enjoy the quietness that comes from not striving to accomplish anything. It’s here that my mind can be still. Soon, when I reach the Quarter, this quietness will instantly disappear.
The people, the sounds, the potent smells, the immediacy of unexpected problems will engulf me. The ritualistic greetings as I walk around, trying to photograph and create powerful images to tell this story, will intrude. The consistent requests to take someone’s photo, which I don’t necessarily mind, detracts and distracts from my real goal of meaningful documentary, spontaneous, capture the moment imagery. The entreaties along the way, “Madam Kareny, I need to talk to you. You see, I’m having this problem…” it trails off and concludes with some variation of, “I am needing school fees,” or “my auntie has died and I need money for the burial.”
So, in this moment of calm, in my house, I still myself, mind and body, and savor the lack of demands, either from others or those demands I place on myself. I breathe. Deeply. I breathe the way my yoga friend, Angela, taught me. “Breathe deeply in so your belly fills and then let it out.” I breathe deeply, so that my belly becomes round and full and pronounced, and for a moment, I get distracted. “I must lose that 10 pounds this year,” I think to myself. Then I take another deep, sustaining, mind-quieting breath.
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