Coming home is a paradox in and of itself. My heart is here, but my soul also feels the heaviness of this place. In fact, as we packed up camp with the interns and prepared to drive back, we later found out that the rest of the team narrowly decided against a full-scale revolt in bagging their return from the Kingfisher (where they stayed while we camped) and extending the heavenly weekend by another day! I understand that sense of unease, the lingering feeling that just one more day in the little paradise of flowers and order and escarpment breezes carved out by a German missionary would fortify the spirit for re-entering the miasma of Bundibugyo.
But in the end we all returned, the draw of home and the dread of facing problems again all jumbled together as we bounced over the rocky, rutted road. And the return was both grueling and joyful. Grueling in the physical and emotional toll (see below). And unexpectedly joyful, because of Julia and Jack. They get car sick and we were so crowded that we let them ride on the top of our crazy load of camping gear (tents, cooking equipment, clothes, etc for ten), groceries, cow feed and mosquito nets for HIV-infected families on the back of the truck. And they decided to wave greetings to anyone along the road, smiling, getting them to wave back. In Bundibugyo there are A LOT of people along the road. So instead of “mujungu mujungu” cat-calls or obnoxious curiosity, we entered the district being smiled at and waved to by several hundred people. They were of course responding to the kids, but from the front seat of the truck we could imagine that the grandmothers shifting loads of firewood to greet, or the dancing children coming home from their gardens, had specifically waited just to welcome us. It was very pleasant, the sense of being drawn in and celebrated mitigating the anticipation of the problems we would soon face.
This is the place of paradox, moon-washed mountain views seen from the valley of shadow, culture-crossing friendships tainted by misunderstanding, children plumping up on treatment while others gasp their last breaths. This time was no different, we were once again awash, as we knew we would be, with abundant views of creation splendor and crushing realization of the desperation of the Fall. Scott struggled all day with the bike of Jack’s that I ran over before I left—unfixable it seems, until we can get new parts, plus the broken toilet and the broken lawnmower, the obscure Ugandan bank statements and the neediness of people who had missed his help for a week. I plunged back into the health center where the third patient on rounds died right before our eyes, a little twin whom we had cared for with moderate malnutrition and probably sickle cell anemia, who needed a blood type that was not available and whose heart could not sustain him until the proper blood could be found. Nine patients have died in just over a week, including three transferred from the district hospital with end-stage severe malnutrition who did not even survive one day of treatment. In spite of all that, it is a relief to be home, to be together after all that edgy anxiety last week, to listen to a dust-dampening sprinkle on my own roof, to sit around our own table in candlelight and laugh. Paradoxically, we are pilgrims and strangers who have the sense of coming home.