pipe dreams and reality

Are you tired of hearing about Africa yet? :) 

To be honest, I stopped journaling after what I've told you. Not because I wasn't thinking about things anymore, but because, as I mentioned after visiting the prisons, I stopped processing. My head literally hurt trying to figure out why I was on this trip. And then finally I just heard a voice saying Stop. Stop trying to figure everything out. Just be here. 

So after graduation, I stopped trying to analyze and process. I stopped stressing about fitting all of this into my life and instead just embraced it. 

On our last day in Gulu we hosted a witch doctors' graduation, during which time we washed their feet. I'm so grateful I'd gone into this mode by the time we did it. This was only my second time washing feet and the last time was on a mission trip in high school. Back then, I don't think I realized the gravity of it. 

There is something very humbling about both washing someone's feet and also having your feet washed. I felt honored to be on the giving end of it. The experience almost brought me to tears and also filled me up with certainty and joy. That seems to be the theme of this trip - teetering on joy and pain at every minute. 

I once read that there is actually a very thin line between love and hate - the two being closely linked, emotional extremes. I think joy and pain might be the same way. The joy I feel is so absolute, but also deeply tied to the pain I see. How can they feel so much emotional joy when they have so much physical pain? And how can there be so much emotional pain in the US when there is so much material joy? Can we not have it all? Are we seeking it in the wrong places? Is there a solution?

On the trip I realized the beauty in a simpler life. Now that I'm back into my U.S. routine, I yearn for my makeup free, hairbrush free (basically dreads), get ready in 12-minutes, including a shower lifestyle. I yearn to be unplugged again. I yearn for the deep, deep sleep. I yearn for my afternoon agenda to consist of ring around the rosie and Ugandan tribal language lessons. 

And there's more. 

Because I yearn for the way I didn't care about being skinny. The way I didn't worry about getting my workout in. The way I didn't look in the mirror. The way I wasn't constantly bombarded with the idea that smaller and skinnier is beautiful. 

The way that, in fact, vulnerability was the most beautiful thing I saw. The way honest joy and pure openness and excitement and gratitude were abundant. Hope in Christ and unabashed faith. 

Why, just one week later, am I already worried about working out again? When I first got back, I thought I looked a little funny with my hair curled and makeup on. Now, I'm back to my routine: makeup and wifi and exercising and overscheduling.

Don't get me wrong, I love my life in Atlanta. I love my material comforts, my social life, my mascara (though my hairbrush has largely lost its appeal now that I realized I can go that long without it). 

But what I can't stop wondering is: can there be a balance? Can we meet in the middle, somewhere between the developed and undeveloped world? Does it have to be all or nothing? I can't help but think the most perfect world falls somewhere between the two. A little bit of unplugging for America, a little bit of development for Africa. 

Unrealistic, I may be. But I'm OK with that. I never, ever vowed to be realistic. But what I hope is realistic is my desire to hold on to what I learned.

To stay less vain. To care less about how I look.

To remember kindness first. To love fastest.

To remember the peaceful feeling I felt while in Africa, the emotional and spiritual rest I felt.

To never, ever become complacent. You don't like your job? Quit. You're in a bad relationship? Get out. We are not called to a life of suffering for no reason.

Not to say things I don't mean or do things out of guilt. We only have so much time and I want to use it well.

And that, my friends, is what Africa taught me.

Thank you, thank you for reading and for your incredible support. I hope you enjoyed it :)

joy, sorrow and community

The time in Gulu so far has been a bit of a whirlwind but also really important, so I'm going to do my best to explain it. 

I feel really happy tonight but am so emotionally exhausted. I can't make sense of the pain I've seen, but am also overwhelmed by the joy the people here have. My mind races with ways I want to help - yearning to stay here and tap into every resource I can give in order to end the injustices I've seen. 

But at the same time, I can't focus. I don't understand the pain I've seen. I can't


it because if I begin to, I fear I will unravel. I fear I will begin to cry and will never stop. I never want to forget what I'm seeing; I never want to lose sight of the perspective this world has offered. 

On the first day in Gulu we went straight to Restore International's school. As we arrived, the kids sang and danced to greet us. They were so excited to see us.

We took a tour and met them and I began to fall even more deeply in love with this place, this mission, these people. 

Today my group feels like dear friends instead of new acquaintances. Africa feels familiar. 

As I stood on campus with the kids, the sun setting in the distance, I knew, fully, what total contentment feels like. Thank you, Africa. 

Thursday morning we woke up to a full schedule. We started at Krochet Kids, which trains women to crochet and sell their products. In turn, the women can feed their children, provide jobs to their husbands selling the products, and rejuvenate their families. It also gives them confidence and independence, as they're able to graduate from KK's school and work on their own. 

I sat in a hut with some women and they taught me their native language. I held a baby and laughed wholeheartedly with them - amazed at how much easier it was becoming to let down my guard.

I am a big believer in the idea that we are all in this world together - many ideas and people but one body - and I loved watching the way we all let our guards down and realized how similar we are. 

After that, we visited Mend, which is an Invisible Children operation. Women here sew purses and bags, which are sold around the world. I bought a few bags from a woman named Lily.

It was awesome to be able to thank her directly for the bag; tell her how much I loved her work. Tell her my sweet niece is named Lily, which is why I picked her products, specifically. 

It's amazing to see these companies that are rejuvenating Uganda by offering both skills and jobs to the country's people. This morning was so joyful. These operations filled me up with hope. 

After that, we took soap to Gulu's largest prison. It holds 250 people, but had 1,000 in it.

My heart ached in a way it never has before. I looked at these men - many of whom have not committed a crime but are being held because a police officer was paid off (or some other injustice) - and could only think of my brothers. These men - boys - have sisters and moms at home, praying for them. They don't have trials lined up because the system is too backed up and they can't afford a lawyer. They sleep on the floor, piled on top of one another. 

They showed us the women's side, too. I held an infant that had been born just weeks prior - in prison. I cried behind my sunglasses and prayed that this baby's life will prosper. I felt so hopeless. I wanted to take this baby and run, carrying it with me to freedom and safety. 

But then, the women started to sing and dance. Ugandan music is unreal. It's so beautiful - they have such talent. And they were so joyful, thanking us for our visit and praising God. How do they do it? I can't imagine feeling so unfairly treated but being so truly joyful. It's amazing. 

After that, we visited a children's prison. We took them new mattresses and they, too, sang and did a choreographed dance for us. I only wish we'd been allowed to film this. It was breathtaking. Seriously unreal. 

After these two stops, I felt confused and helpless and joyful and sorrowful all at once. I'm so grateful to be here but can't figure out what I can do to help. Where do I fit in? Why am I here? Why is there so much pain? I don't know. 

My heart throbs - wavering between pain and joy, joy and pain. By the end of the day I felt like I had to shut down emotionally - no longer able to process what I was seeing, but instead just catalog it - come back to it later. 

We ended the day at Sister Rosemary's house for dinner. She is this tiny nun whose doing workkk in Uganda. 

At one point at dinner, I looked around to see a room full of new friends - strangers a week ago - talking, laughing; the room bursting at the seams with community. 

And that, friends, is what filled me back up. It doesn't all have to make sense or be solved right now. We just have to love the people in front of us the best we can.

two safari tuesday

After our time in Kakooge, we headed to Murchison Falls for our play day, AKA two safari Tuesday. 

While it was happening, I felt really guilty. It felt so indulgent to spend time on a safari when my heart throbbed with pain and my hands ached to get dirty. 

In retrospect, though, I know we needed the break. Had I known what was coming in the following days while I was actually on the safaris, I never would have doubted the need to take a moment to regroup, process and recover. The rest of the week would be emotionally exhausting. And, also, to go to Africa and


hang with giraffes really feels like a missed opportunity.

So with that, I give you two safari Tuesday. In all honesty, the pictures say a lot more than my words do, but I figured I would still share what I was thinking...

Today we drove to Murchison Falls. As we drove through rural Uganda, I kept thinking:

wow, this is so authentic, it really looks like Africa.

And then I'd remember it


authentic. This is really where the Lion King took place.

Today our group got to know one another so much better. I pivoted on the bus the entire time - one minute looking forward to talk to Kenna, the next minute turning around to talk to Vicky, Brittany, Teri... 

I can't believe I only met them 72 hours ago. We've already seen and experienced things together that no one else in my life has seen. One day I will look back on this and try to explain it to other people, but as much as I can offer with my words and photos, only those who are really on this bus will fully understand it. 

I love getting to know people so much. I love hearing their stories. I love seeing the way we've all cried in front of one other - largely still strangers - but unable to help the way different things have struck us, melting our hearts and breaking down our barriers. I love seeing raw, honest and unstoppable vulnerability.

The landscape here is nuts - there is so much variety. Palm trees and evergreens and cacti all hang out together. Orange trees grow next to fields of wheat. Huts are made of mud and hay and clay. 

As we drove further away from civilization and closer to our destination, more and more animals emerged. We're not on the safari yet, but it seems the animals are ready for us. Chimps come out from hiding to greet us. Baboons dance in the trees, staring us down, daring us to come closer before darting away.

We reached the Nile and I was shocked - somehow expecting to be able to


that it flows the opposite direction. 

We had to drive our bus onto a barge to cross the river - not quite like our

Bald Head Island ferry


The next day we awakened bright and early, gearing up for our sunrise safari.

Uganda is enchanting in daylight, but there is something magical about seeing it wake up. Early mornings are sacred to me - I love nothing more than seeing the world before everyone else arises; the still quiet, the peace. To see the African landscape come to life in the blue morning haze was beautiful.

After our land safari, we boarded a boat for a water safari on the Nile. I thought it was cool on land - but, my oh, my, it was beautiful by water.

We got eerily close to elephants.

We floated over crocs.

We inched up to hippos, just saying hello.

After about 45 minutes, we got out of the boat to hike to the top of Murchison Falls.

Once we reached the summit, we stood between


waterfalls; the mist soaking our faces. I took deep breaths and basked in its beauty, grateful to be cooled down after a hot, hot hike. 

As we left the park the next day to head to Gulu, I noticed the way the hippos, elephants and giraffes were becoming normal. Becoming commonplace. We didn't even take their pictures anymore.

Hello giraffe. Hello elephant. Hello old friends. 

Isn't that a little scary?

But you know what's worse? I noticed it with the poverty, too. The constant flow of it normalizes it. It becomes less shocking and instead scenery. 

On the one hand, it's terrifying. But on the other hand, it's amazing because I'm no longer thinking about myself. I don't care about germs. A fly landed on that? Oh well I'll still eat it. That baby peed its pants and isn't wearing a diaper? Give it to me! I'll hold him. You all want to hug and dance and love one another? I want nothing more. 

I'm desensitized to certain things that I want to remain terrified by, like poverty, but grateful for the way love has overcome my own fears and has captivated my heart.

And now, as sweet memories of giraffes dance in my head, we're Gulu bound!