First Night

DSC00193I am in Entebbe, Uganda. It seems like just yesterday that I randomly saw a post from a friend on facebook about an Internship in Uganda, and thought “would I be crazy to consider going there for the summer?” I had plans to go to DC for to do a paid internship and to get some great business experience, while possibly learning more about how our government is run. Yet here I am and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I left Salt Lake City two days ago. I flew to New York where I caught a plane for Amsterdam. I have always dreamed of going to Europe and especially to Holland during the tulip festival. It killed me to be there at this time of year and see nothing outside the airport. I did take this picture, as I was thinking of my mom and her love of tulips. She would have loved these beautiful boxes filled with tulips that line the hallways of the airport in Amsterdam.

I found the gate where my plane would leave for Rwanda. Two black ladies were sitting chatting and when I sat near them they struck up a conversation with me, asking me where I was going and giving me lots of friendly, helpful advise. I left my bags where I could see them and ordered a sprite. When I returned the ladies gave me a little lecture about how I should never leave my bags even for a second. They told me that in Uganda I would meet many people like them who would be friendly and kind and I would be tempted to trust them, but “If you do and you leave your things where you can’t touch them, even for a second, you will come back and they will be gone!” they told me.

I had to go through another security check leaving Amsterdam but the plane ride to Rwanda was not as uncomfortable as the others had been since the plane was not full so I had the whole row to myself. The armrests did not move so I had to try to maneuver around them to sleep. I decided that plane rides are neither here nor there, the seats are almost comfortable, they allow you to almost fall asleep, the food is almost tasty and the drinks almost enough. There is almost enough room for me to stretch my legs, and I almost feel sick the whole time.

The plane only stopped briefly in Rwanda and then we were off for Uganda. As I exited the plane the air was thick with the sickly sweet smell of many bodies, rain water, and something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I went through immigrations and got my visa and then gathered my bags from baggage claim. I was told that someone from a hostel called “Backpackers” would be meeting me and to look for a sign with my name on it. I scanned the line of people holding signs, but didn’t see one, someone suggested trying outside. I stepped outside the door and almost immediately spotted my name on a sign. The man holding the sign wore a blue coat with the hood on and his head down. When he looked up, in the darkness I saw only his eyes. It frightened me for a moment and for just a second, I thought of Harry Potter and the Dementors. The man’s name was Collin and he helped me load my luggage into his car and laughed when I attempted to get in the wrong side of the car, since apparently in Africa the driver’s side is on the right.

We talked a little as we drove. Soon we came to a tall wooden gate, which was opened after a few seconds by another man. Collin led me into a small living room where I signed in and was taken to the dormitory.

DSC00200Inside the dormitory there were four sets of bunk beds. One of them was already occupied by an Israeli man named Nimrod. He told me his name with a chuckle and explained that someone had already told him that in America Nimrod means basically the same as Dork. We were told to keep the door locked from the inside and that if one of us left early we were to wake the other so that they could lock it again after us. We were both cautioned not to go outside of the gates alone as there were often people waiting in the bushes to jump you.

I guess I had slept enough on the plane, and since my bodies clock thought it was morning I wasn’t tired at all. I wondered how many before me had slept on the sheets and if they had been washed. Nimrod showed me outside to the shower and toilets. I had seen better in camp sites and I hoped I wouldn’t need to use it until morning.

Nimrod was friendly enough and we lay in our beds talking for several hours. He told me about his life in Israel, and answered my many questions about Judaism. Finally I thought since he had already been in bed when I got there I should let him sleep. After a few moments of silence, he whispered, “Vilate, are you asleep?” I told him that I wasn’t and didn’t expect that I would sleep much that night. “Tell me what it means to be a Mormon.” He asked.  I stumbled a little as I struggled where to begin and what to say to this man who did not even believe in Jesus Christ.

I decided to start with God. I explained how we believe that he is literally the Father of our spirits and how we refer to him as Heavenly Father. I explained that we believe that Jesus Christ is his son and that when we die,, we have the opportunity to become Gods like them.

He asked about marriage and if we could marry outside of our religion. I explained to him that we can, but that because of our beliefs in our ability to progress eternally and because we believe that the best kind of marriage starts with a temple ceremony that will seal us together for all eternity, it only makes sense to marry someone who also believes those same things and can participate fully with us in the temple.

We talked about our similar beliefs about the Sabbath, the word of wisdom, and saving sex for marriage. Finally we fell silent and after a few moments he whispered again. “Goodnight Vilate.”

I lay there trying to sleep aDSC00197nd pretending that I didn’t feel the need to visit the outdoor bathroom. But after a while I couldn’t deny it any longer and I slipped from underneath the mosquito netting, pulled my dress over my head and headed outside. The door is reinforced with bars, like what you might imagine to see in a prison and it took me a little while to figure out how to unlock the door. I eased it open, careful not to wake Nimrod and stepped out into the darkness. The bathroom door wouldn’t lock and there was no light so I hoped for the best, did what I came to do and went back inside. I couldn’t find anywhere to wash my hands so I made a mental note to make good use of the hand sanitizer I had brought with me.

I woke this morning early, surprised that I had indeed slept. It was raining quite hard and yet there were so many birds twittering outside the window that I couldn’t begin to distinguish between their many sounds. I am quite sure that some of the sounds I heard were monkeys. Nimrod is still sleeping and I am not sure what I am expected to do at this point. I understand that someone will be picking me up today, but I am not sure when or if I should try to call someone. I hear voices so I may go inside and see what I can find out. So until next time…DSC00199

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