So you’re going to Uganda.
You’ve known this for a while. You did buy the plane ticket, after all.
But somehow, it keeps startling you over and over, whenever you let your guard down. Just when you’ve convinced yourself that as long as you find the right pair of walking flats and pack the correct number of bottles of saline solution and choose the good kind of toothpaste everything else will fall into place, something unruly bites you in the ass. You wake up at 4:30 in the morning with a clenched jaw and macramé intestines, thinking, thinking, thinking. Why are you doing this? What’s so wrong with your comfortable bed, your evening swim and your filtered water system?
Yes, you're going to do something good, hopefully - to be of use, to get kids excited about reading and encourage them to stay in school, something that helps build sustainable countries, healthy families and progressive societies.
But also, you're just a white person who’s about to spend a couple of months in some African village. Let’s be honest: you’re not going to change that much. The money you’re spending on airfare and ballet flats could pay a local teacher there, feed her family for a while, and encourage the economy in her country. Who do you think you are?
Could this just be an escape?
Isn’t it just a little bit financially irresponsible?
What if you don’t make it back?
What if you’re putting yourself in harm’s way by doing this?
Will it all be worth it?
Your meditation teacher recently advised you to contemplate the four common foundations of Buddhism, starting with impermanence and death. In the days leading up to your departure, you listen to a CBC radio documentary and learn more about the unspeakable, inconceivable horrors that happened in Uganda, and not just under the long-ago reign of Idi Amin. You speak to a friend of a friend, who has ovarian cancer and doesn’t have a huge chance of survival. You're on the phone with another friend as she’s driving home from work when you hear a bang, a crunch and a scream. For 45 minutes you don’t know if you’ve lost her. (Thankfully, by a miracle, she's okay - by a hair.)
You don’t know if it will all be worth it. Or why you’re doing this, aside from “because I’ve always wanted to.” But you know that, despite the comfortable bed and the filtered water system and the husband and the dog, something is still missing. And you’re starting to suspect that no matter how stable your bank account, how matching your living room furniture or how cellulite-free your thighs, there must, as Bjork said, be more to life that this. Maybe you’d feel differently if you had a kid. Probably. But that question might never be answered.
This next bit might piss some people off, but you’re okay with that:
You’re starting to understand that our society is obsessed with the idea of “Me.”
We strive, we push, we contort and we exhaust ourselves for the cause of Me, because we are told that if we just get it right – if Me finally comes together they way it’s supposed to – then contentment, bliss and inner peace will follow.
You’ve spent 37 years striving, pushing and contorting. Mostly, it hasn’t worked. Multiply that by the number of people you know who also haven’t found the elusive golden inner peace egg and you’ve got a pretty fucking huge number.
It’s not anyone’s fault. It's how the West was won. But it’s not working. At least, not as far as you can tell.
So maybe that’s why you’re doing this: to try something different and see what happens. Because despite your best efforts to the contrary, you might not be around forever. And you want to experience a way of life that’s maybe less Me and more We.
And, hopefully, to meet a giraffe.
(Pictured here with Park Ex giraffe, known for its love of souvlaki.)