At our wedding I walked down the aisle with Michael’s pre-recorded voice singing the then-popular song by Thirty Merc entitled ‘homesick’. The chorus is:
I would give all my time
just to spend my nights with you
I will lay down my fears
just to spend my years with you
‘cause when I’m standing at your door
I don’t feel homesick anymore
In the ceremony handout we explained that:
This song means a lot to us both– with our hearts firmly divided between two continents, we no longer have a set ‘home’ except the one we have found in each other and our God.
Cheese, I know. But give us a break, we were star-crossed lovers and a little obsessed with each other at the time.
When I wrote those words in our handout, they conjured up romantic notions of unfaltering love, of fearless faith, and the aroma of adventure in Africa.
As I read those words right now my heart hurts a little. As if it is sick.
I love Uganda. At times I really love life here. At times I find it exhausting. Most of the time I feel fulfilled living here. Sometimes I don’t. I feel privileged to get to do what I do. Sometimes I feel like my calling is more a burden than a blessing. That’s life, really. Contradictions.
But at this moment, I miss having a physical place where I good-and-truly belong, where I’m not so obviously ‘from out’ as Ugandans say. We are going back to Australia for a visit at the end of this year, and despite my nervousness about returning home, I’m ready for a trip to Oz.
I have never felt homesick before. Honestly, never. It’s a foreign feeling for me, probably because I’ve never left my own country and culture for more than 6 months. In Kamwenge, I am quickly approaching 2 years. While it’s a good place to live, it may almost be the polar opposite of Adelaide (except that everyone knows each other and/or is distantly related here too!). What I see, hear, feel, touch, taste and experience every day is worlds apart from the first 25 years of my life.
From day to day, I don’t see the vast differences so much. I notice it more though, when visitors come from Australia. A friend visited us a few months ago and I took him into Kamwenge town. We walked down the street, greeted a few people, bought some meat from the butcher, and came home. I didn’t think anything of it, but when we arrived back to our house his comment was something along the lines of ‘wow, this place is really different…’. It made me realize that I don’t notice the landscape much anymore – the fact that everyone is a different colour to me, that women are carrying baskets and firewood on their head, that people speak in another language, that my local ‘butcher’ is an old man in a little ramshackle shed hacking up a cow caucus on a dirty wooden bench with a machete.
Being ‘used’ to a place, however, doesn’t mean I have forgotten the last 25 years of my life. It is amazing how much our culture and what is familiar and ‘normal’ is engrained in us.
Community values and norms, expected patterns of behaviour, social symbols and their associated meanings– never have I quite understood or appreciated these concepts as I do now. Each day, I interpret all my interactions through another cultural lens to understand the meanings behind the simplest of exchanges. And my natural way of understanding the world is almost always the ‘different’ or ‘wrong’ way in Ugandan culture. No matter how many times I experience some situations, each time I have to force myself to ignore the flashing red lights in my brain signalling actions as ‘bad’ – actions that are acceptable in a Ugandan context. Most of that interpretation I do silently, swiftly now …but it is still a tiring process.
Mostly, I miss the soothing familiarity of my own culture – and the deeply embedded understanding that comes when interacting with Australians. After almost total immersion in a different culture for 2 years, interacting with Australians gives me a peculiar sense of déjà vu – the ‘knowing’ that comes when you find yourself living out a scenario of a long-forgotten dream.
Or the feeling you get when you’re driving a familiar route home and you wonder how you arrived safely because you can’t remember much about the journey. You had switched to autopilot.
I miss being able to switch onto autopilot.