What they can’t take away

So far, my trip to Uganda hasn’t quite met expectations. I knew I was going to be working here, but I wasn’t quite expecting to be putting in investment-banker hours (eight days here so far and the other Research Assistants have calculated we’ve each worked at least 105 hours – you do the math). When I casually talked to the Principal Investigator of our project about the things he had done while he was in Uganda, he closed his cataloging of the fantastic national parks he had visited by saying “It’s too bad you guys aren’t going to get a day off while you’re here.” We’re here for 7 weeks and we’re not going to have a single day off? Wasn’t there some labor movement in, I don’t know, the 1880s that already dealt with the question of the 90 hour workweek? Add to that the collected toll on my body of not running and eating a diet consisting of greasy street-corner vendor bread and various forms of root-crop mash, and I get the feeling I’m not really on summer vacation anymore.

Obviously, this is the privileged and spoiled white American kid in me talking. In reality, if it has done anything, Uganda has made me keenly aware of how lucky I am to be so fortunate that I can visit a foreign country, eat regular meals, and have consistent work. But there is something very disappointing about the fact that I’ve come all the way to Africa and I’m not going to leave here with a picture of a zebra or any stories of adventures in the wilderness.

In the end, though, no amount of work or tedium can take away the fact that I’m in Uganda. I’ve taken midnight boda rides through an unfamiliar city dark enough to see the stars overhead. I’ve driven through beautiful countryside and even stopped at the equator. And I’ve learned more about humanity – about the way millions of people live and survive – in one week here than I’ve learned from years of study.

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