Only a week ago, I was walking barefoot through the green fields of the South Downs, with people I love dearly. I am now sat in a tropical garden in Entebbe, Uganda, alone. Yet with these people and more, in my heart and thoughts.
I arrived here at 5am on Friday 29th July, feeling disorientated, bewildered and curious. And time has been fluctuating through many continuums ever since.
Whilst at the airport still in the UK, I was struggling to catch my breath due to the enormity of the change I had created for myself, when a tiny, beautiful, little baby walked over to me and just held onto my finger, looking me straight in the eye for a passing moment. That to him, probably felt insignificant and minute. Yet for me, caused time to stop, for a while, and my breath returned.
On the first flight, I was held in awe by the excitement and exclamations of the little boy sat next to me, travelling home to ‘Zim’, about the fact that I could show him how to play games on the screen on his seat, that we would get a meal given to us, and that his brother one row ahead could choose different games and movies. Well, once again my heart melted and time went into a different space.
The second flight involved a lot of turbulence, and unless I was just too tired to hear, our landing was unannounced and I admit that at first I actually wondered if we’d crashed! A bigger family had travelled beside me on this journey, and watching an aunty sing an African nursery rhyme to her niece, involving the cupping of hands over hands (to release on cue with the song’s words) and which her nephew then also joined in with, incited my intrigue and joy about what is yet to come for me here in Africa.
I want to learn about family in a way that seems to be disappearing fast in the UK, I want to learn songs, stories and dances that tell a history of a land that is foreign to me.
And thus before I had even landed here, this started for me…
Upon meeting my Ugandan driver, I was greeted with the message “Wow, you are coming to live here? Uganda is very happy about this. Uganda welcomes you!” And when I arrived at the beautiful hotel 2Friends, Entebbe, I received similar greetings of welcome and delight.
The early morning sky remained dark, so it was hard to get a visual sense of what was around me, but the aural sensations were strong and the smell of the air was of warmth, spices, flora, and things I am yet to name.
My first day here in Entebbe passed by with wonderment, as I took myself on gentle wanders around (I had tried to catch up on sleep but my active brain didn’t accept laying indoors when there was a whole new world out there waiting to see). I bargained with time, that we would meet for rest at some other point therefore.
Before my explorations began, I also had the pleasure of meeting Albert, one of the hotel staff members, who seemed to me like a guardian angel. He has an incredibly gentle yet grounded energy, and he invited me to learn the game ‘Jackpot’, something which apparently most guests pass by and that he felt I would enjoy. He was right and I do. (It has taken me three days however to win at it. Albert tells me he has only won it once!)
At an Amma Satsang last year, I heard an anecdote of hers: “the clock and I have an agreement which works well for us both. I don’t bother it, and it doesn’t bother me“. This was how my first day here panned out.
Hours were spent wandering about the Botanical Gardens with a local guide named Bright, who told me this was his way of earning money for books to support his university scholarship. I learned about many medicinal plants, tasted different herbs and leaves, collected sap from a frankincense tree, held hands with velvette monkeys, and watched as a Golden Orb spider stealthily caught a beautiful dragonfly in its huge web, and stored it away for a later supper.
Time slipped past without my noticing and soon I was already leaving there…
Every person I passed that day, (bar one, slightly disconcerting and darkened soul), smiled with joy to greet me. Children and adults alike were enthusiastically waving at me from across the road or stopping in their path to say “hello” and ask me how I was. I have already picked up the phrase “I am very fine“, which I like a lot; it resonates beautifully when said with such genuine grace.
The second day however began very differently, as I awoke forgetting where I was and a lurch landed in my stomach. I ached for where I had been and felt confused about where I was, and why I would be alone. I knew that a lot of this was due to tiredness and a release of stress chemicals through my body after a big build-up to make all of this happen. But it was there all the same.
So I chose to rest, and soak up the sunshine that I have been seeking for so long…
The hotel has a beautiful outside space anyhow, and it seemed foolish not to enjoy this as well as what lays beyond it’s barbed-wired fence walls. And very soon I found myself in the company of a 51-year-old Danish man, who had just completed two weeks of training work over here for the UN. He has a colourful military and travel history, and I could tell I made him curious.
Time disappeared without me noticing, as we discussed science-vs-religion, the idea of time being wasted or controlled, countries, cultures, films, music and so on. Each of the tattoos on my body tells a story and ‘Per’ was fascinated by each of these tales too.
When asked why I have come to Uganda, especially when it means such a physical separation for quite some time, the answers flowed easily for me and without conditioned response.
I am here because Africa has called me.
I am here because I saw a future of myself repeating the same meetings and days at work, with them no longer standing apart, thus time would be spanning out ahead of me endlessly, without inspiration.
I am here because I feel I have something I can give, that is more than the very comfortable life I have back home. And that for all the times I felt big discomforts in that life, I was not really experiencing suffering but imaginations of my mind and the ego. And that I am so much more than that and no longer want to be governed a fear of it.
I am here because I hope that by making such a step, my future time will be richer; both by the experiences and sights I will come across whilst here and also by the strength it will give my heart if I can achieve the work I have come here to do. (Admittedly, right now it feels insurmountable and entirely unknown how I will manage to fulfil the role for which I am hired. Yet I have achieved everything in times gone by that I have needed or wanted to).
And with all of this, I feel I can only open up doors for my self, my heart and my life, including those that share all of these with me.
If I do have children, I want them to know how big a place the world is, and how much love it contains, and for them to have a sense that it is all within their reach. Taking the step of coming here is about love for me, in many ways. Despite how sore this may also make my heart now and then.
The Danish man had a late afternoon flight, and seemed to be gone as quickly as he appeared. And the universe had basically gifted me with yet another reminder of grounding and care, when I needed it.
That night I had intended to sit and write this blog, but yet again time had a different intention for me …
I sat on my terrace by candlelight (as the fuse in the bulb had blown), burning incense for protection, listening to Ludovici Einaudi, whilst finishing a cold beer, when my next door neighbour appeared, asking if I would like another drink, and began to tell me of his story. It was a big reminder of how time cannot be controlled or held on to, as he described how he had been evacuated from another African country only two weeks ago. With his luggage now containing bullet holes and his mind awash with all that this experience brought for him. Once more, I forgot myself and found myself chatting about life and its many twists and turns.
I have barely left the UK, and no doubt to everyone back home there has been little to no reason to even notice I have gone. For me, I already feel like I have passed a lifetime within that time frame, and it’s a bizarre and intriguing feeling for me to not know at all how long this ‘time’ here will last.
Boda-boda (motorbike) drivers are utterly confounded by my presence, as I have not yet used a single one. Preferring to walk, with nowhere to go.
I have received my first marriage proposal, with offers of cows rather than dollars as the young man was not a rich one, and I have been told that there are two bodies for each of us – the internal and the external. And that my inside is entirely accepting and I shouldn’t forget this. This I was told by someone who was just passing their time by practising their English with me.
Each moment of time seems to hold a different capacity to me right now. Some moments are feeling so long, so far away, so uncomfortable. And others are moving so quickly that I cannot think as fast as all that is happening, as all that my eyes are seeing and as all that my ears are hearing.
I feel so far away from where I want to be. And I simultaneously feel like I am in exactly the right place, and delighted therefore to be here.
Time and I – a partnership that is being realigned and revisited.
‘This’ will take time.
And I am taking it.