It had been an incredibly long, difficult year and yet in a flash we were on our way to Uganda again. We had landed in Amsterdam. It wasn’t a long layover but long enough for coffee and apple strudel at that place with the giant teacups. Travelers from around the US arrived for the flight to Entebbe. There were new faces and familiar ones. And there were the ghosts of previous volunteers that would follow us throughout the week, still present in some mystical way. In six years I have met, talked with and had coffee with many different people in that airport and their presence was still strongly palpable, pangs of nostalgia pulling at me.
We had left it all behind. Our jobs, families, friends. The hurricanes and politics. Major life changes and health problems. All of it. Our pasts are inescapable. Our histories influence us and yet here we were once again. All of us broken but together we are whole. We are a dysfunctional family that somehow functions well together. It’s the love that binds us.
Soon we were on the plane and in the air headed to east Africa. The stopover on the dark tarmac in Rwanda always feels long and heightens the anticipation of arrival. I try to hold my anxiety in check by sleeping, reading, and taking deep slow breaths, reminding myself that I am here now, in this plane, among friends, and all is well.
Immigration and getting our luggage was really smooth this year. We pushed our precariously overloaded luggage carts out into the Ugandan night, the air heavy with humidity and the smoke of thousands of cooking fires. The carts bumped along the sidewalk that led to the parking lot where we stacked them onto a waiting truck.
The Honorable Reagan Okumu was there to meet us, his confident and reassuring smile welcoming us to his beautiful country. Our big group disappeared into five buses and we began the trip to the hotel in Kampala.
There had been new construction in Entebbe, continued Westernization with coffee shops and chain restaurants. Those that had been on previous missions talked and explained and rested, while the first-timers watched out the windows. Shell stations, tiny bars with a single string of neon gently pushing back the night, beauty shops, raw meat hanging inside wooden kiosks, the dark edges of Lake Victoria, small hotels and people.
There were people everywhere. Walking, standing, agilely driving motorcycles inches from cars and trucks, and packed tightly into taxi vans, peering into our buses as we slowed in traffic.
An hour later we made it to the Hotel Africana to be greeted by the early arrivals with a key to our room for the next few hours. Some people had a beer, some called their families to let them know we were safe, and some showered. Then we all slept.
We were nearly there.