A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Monday, November 8, 2010

Traveling Compassion

Getting places in Africa takes a lot of patience and skill. Each country varies to some degree but most have some form of public transportation. Here in Uganda we have public taxi’s, “matatu’s,” and buses. You also have the option of taking a special hire that no PCV could ever hope of affording.

Matatus run from town to town and you get on or off as needed. To flag a matatu down you simply lift your hand slightly or if you are really skilled you raise your eyebrows catching the attention of the driver. If you are leaving from the capital city you go to the taxi park, a large area filled with matatus holding signs signifying the direction they are going. It is the biggest organized chaos I have personally experienced. There are men everywhere asking where you are going and trying to point you in the direction and even occasionally trying to get you to take their taxi, wherever that may be going.

The bus is the other option you have as a traveler in Uganda. While matatus leave when they have filled up, buses sometimes leave on a schedule regardless of how many passengers are present. Sometimes. Last week I went up to Apac and Lira in Northern Uganda to visit some friends. I left early in the morning to catch the 9 am bus to Lira. I arrived in town at 8 and was a little perturbed with myself for having so much down time before the bus would leave. I got to the bus park as the bus turned on and was about to go! A whole hour early! I managed to get on and made it to Lira with only a few extra stops along the way.

Traveling brings the best and worst out of you. With the constant bumps from a lack of shocks and bad roads, the dust that billows in through the windows, the cockroaches that crawl all over you and the heat radiating from the poor engine and beaming equator sun, patience and compassion tend to diminish. Yet, there are the redeeming times too when you look around and acknowledge the communal suffering. You smile and greet one another. And you commiserate over the terrible roads. Sometimes you even show the extra measure of kindness and share what you have with others. On my way home on the bus I bought maize for myself and my seat mates. Throughout the trip I received bottled water, a newspaper and a soda. There is beauty in human suffering (if you ever ride the bus in Uganda you’ll understand the strong wording) and it’s important to focus on the compassion and patience we are capable of offering to ourselves and to those around us.

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