I’m never sure how to say goodbye to Uganda because every time I’ve left, it’s been with the distinct feeling that I will return. This time is no different. In fact, I started writing this post on the day I left a couple of weeks ago, but I am only finishing it now because my brain is only now getting re-adjusted to the U.S.
Perhaps this feeling of ambivalence about how I leave Uganda can be summed up using the enigmatic phrase that children often use to greet me: “bye muzungu!” They say this to me even when I am saying hello in their language and even if I’m clearly going to be around for a while. An elder once told me that the etymology of the term muzungu refers not to the color of white skin, but to a habit that white people in East Africa still have: they pass through, they are transitional, they ultimately don’t stick around. In this way the children remind me with their greeting that they were here long before I came and they will be here long after I leave. I alternate between the discomfort that this causes (it lumps me into a group with 19th century explorers, colonialists, and missionaries) and the notion that when I do come back, Ugandans always receive me with warm hospitality. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back.
So it’s goodbye to these schoolchildren who feign shyness when I reply to their collective “bye muzungu” in Luganda. It’s goodbye to their families in the village:
Goodbye to baakisimba dancing,
and to drumming with my friends.
Goodbye to the host family that was so good to me. Magobas, how can I ever adequately thank you?
The charm, wit, and wear-with-all of these folks have been the heart of my living experience. I have been fortunate to have all kinds of instructive research experiences in my time here, but a soulful host family really makes a journey extraordinary. You’ve seen other pictures of Magobas and their family on this blog, but I’m not sure any sum up the simple, beautiful way they bid me goodbye on the day I left their home and Uganda than this silent gesture that young Mugumya sent my way:
So among all of the things I take with me as I leave Uganda, the most appropriate memory to leave here in the public sphere is one of family and warm hospitality. I don’t see the world through rose-colored glass, so it’s only fair for me to note here that my stay in Uganda this time saw challenges and frustrations as well. Those things are natural, and I write about the ones relevant to my research here and elsewhere. The others I simply let go in the hope that when I face similar challenges in the future, I will be prepared to deal with them.
Until next time, Uganda: