As I venture onwards with my travels in Uganda, I find myself continuously in awe of it’s complexity.Yet the one thing that repeatedly comes to mind is this: in a country of many languages, cultures, customs and beliefs, there may be a multitude of difference yet one thing remains – the unity of communication, beyond words.
Wherever I go here, I have learnt now to be assured that if I smile at a local, they will smile in return. Their wide smiles brimming from side to side, and their eyes shining with happiness, that a mzungu has acknowledged them. (NB Mzungu = white skin. It is not meant to be derogatory in any way, though it can feel a bit strange at times when you are simply referred to by this term. Or when children come running from apparently nowhere, excitedly calling out “Mzungu! Mzungu! How are you!” whilst reaching out their tiny hands to make contact with yours, in fascination of who they see before them).
I have apparently already succeeded in traveling around more of Uganda than many of the Ex-pats that I have met here, and I have also had responses of total shock and astonishment by Ugandans when I speak of where I have been: not only can the latter find it unbelievable that I would want to travel around Uganda (cue my utter astonishment in return; Uganda has recently been voted one of the most beautiful places in the world to photograph), but they also express total confusion that I have been doing it solo.
(There are a multitude of stories of danger here, though mostly centralised to the main city where the majority of mzungus can be found and where it is very much said that to travel around solo in the evening is a very unwise thing to do. Ugandan men have spoken of this for their own selves; the darkness of night here is deep and sadly opportunity knocks more often than it should for pickpockets and robbery.)
Despite this, I have repeatedly had the glorious experience of meeting delightful locals wherever I have gone, whether it has been on a matatu, a coach, the back of a boda, walking down the street, meeting colleagues at work or whatever. I find myself talking more than I have done before and this is not from a need to fill an empty silence, but to seek more and more information to add to my fascination of the Pearl of Africa and its people.
I adore listening to the different stories and hearing the way the different languages are so diverse. Though of course it is making it somewhat difficult for my over-full Westernised brain to retain the snippets of language that I have picked up – no sooner have I learnt one, than another crops up due to my conversational partner coming from an entirely different village!
A conversational piece that keeps on cropping up is the curiosity and wonder at my tattoos, most especially my favoured one (designed exactly a year ago by a Buddhist monk in Thailand, as a protective talisman for me). During one journey, a fellow passenger remarked upon my green ‘Om’ symbol, enquiring as to what it meant. Recognising that the usual explanation of it meaning the universe is within you/is within me/is you/is me, we are one, and so on, would most likely be somewhat of a stretch between our shared pidgeon English conversation thus far…. I simply told him it means God. It means we are all one. And he beamed. It is true anyhow. Regardless of the words, my tattoo and my beliefs are this – we are the same, never separate. And being here in Uganda, Africa, reinforces this for me deeply.
I will continue to have my heart in Brighton and England too, as many that I love are there. And I will continue to extend my heart to settling into being here too. Whilst many words are different, cultures and traditions unfamiliar, and sights anew, more than ever do I feel able to personify not only my tattoo but my instincts, the reason I took Sannyas, and my inherent childhood love and trust in the world; no matter who, where or what we are, love is all there is. We are never separate. I see the Buddha in you. As you see it in me.
When my mother writes me a note to tell me that my journey is her journey, I am reminded that I take her with me wherever I go. I wear the labrodite bracelet she gave me on my wrist, as a physical reminder (and as a soothing crystal guide), but with or without this, I wear her every moment in my breath. Being here has really enabled me to feel this and understand it. Much like how I can similarly feel that, just because I am here, does not mean that I can no longer be loved for right now not being “there”. Love does not leave, it is in us.
When my father writes to tell me that he is proud of me, for taking these leaps of faith, expanding my world view and developing some long-lost confidence in my own capabilities and strength, I know that he is likewise saying he is proud of himself. We are one. All of us.
Words unite. Even here where there are more than 30 languages, I have always found a way to find the words that can connect. Much in the same way that I have always been able to communicate with my non-verbal students with severe autism. There is always a language to be shared, no matter the words, no matter the place.
And thus I speak to you, in my mind’s eye, in my thoughts, my dreams and my wonderings. Delighted as I am to be wandering, I am by no means alone. You are here too, beyond words, beyond language, beyond barriers.