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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Being Lost

I continue to find adjustment much more difficult than I was expecting. In my head I know about reverse culture shock and I keep thinking knowing about it should be enough. I'm strong. Why is this still affecting me? Well, I've cried in the grocery store, at a restaurant, at seeing a dog park and in my house more times than I like to admit. Now, I'm finding it's not even the number of items that stresses me out anymore. It's the choices we have in life. The choices of being socially responsible are starting to hit me. Do I buy food that is grown locally and more expensive to support my community or do I buy the cheaper mass produced food? Do I buy a shirt that is probably made by children in a sweat shop in Vietnam or a really expensive shirt that wasn't made by slave labor? Do I take home extra food in a Styrofoam container that I know can't be broken down in a landfill or leave the food to be thrown away? How do I mesh my frugality and being socially responsible and standing up for things I believe in with life?

Uganda was so much easier because there weren’t many options. You bought your food from the market or grew your own. You bought second hand clothes from big piles in the taxi park. You burned your garbage or gave it away to countless children who turned your garbage into their treasure. Social responsibility wasn’t much of a thought because you either already were being that, because of circumstances, or you couldn’t because the infrastructure didn’t exists. Before Uganda I was that person who tried to think through each purchase and determine how it affected someone else's life. Now, I still want to be that person but it takes so much effort here! And it's so expensive! And it stresses me out!

A great friend of mine left Uganda 2 days before I did. I wrote to him hoping to hear his easy and practical advice on adjustment and instead found him name some more of my feelings perfectly. He said, “I just fell so...lost, to be honest. A guy once said that, he didn't care too much about the stuff he didn't know. Instead, he cared about the stuff he did know and had wrong. This is kind of how I feel. I guess, before I left, a part of me thought I had things (such as the things you were talking about - the proper take on foreign business, food, American culture and trends...) pretty well figured out. Now I see that this stuff that I knew, I might have gotten wrong. But I don't know how to find the right answer.” Me too!

When someone says, “You’ve been lost,” in Uganda this means they haven’t seen you in a while. I feel like I keep encountering situations and decisions that I want to say, “You’ve been lost,” to. I haven’t had to come face-to-face with so many options and choices in a long time. And I’m living at home not doing too much right now. What will it be like when I have a job and have to conform, in a sense, to the way things are done by that job yet still be an American who is encouraged to think for myself and take stands for what I believe to be truth?

My world view has expanded exponentially. I understand some things in ways I never understood before. Some of what I thought I knew, I now know is wrong. Other things I'm even more sure of as being right. But I don’t know how to reconcile, well, everything! I guess that is the beauty of America – we have the opportunity to critically think and make decisions beyond basic survival. But that task seems so big and daunting to me right now! I guess it’s about time for me to leave the country again.


  1. Amanda!!! I know exactly how you feel. I returned to America on Monday, and have felt overwhelmed since I stepped foot off the plane. Everyone asks me how it feels to be back, and I never have the words to adequately describe it. Thank you for putting into words how I have been feeling. P.S. Now that we're back in the states let's chat soon :)

  2. Hey! I just commented on another one of your blogs, but I totally relate to this as well! I was sooo overwhelmed by those thoughts when I returned... I think now, the best thing is to buy local, even if you have to pay more for it. Chances are it will be better quality as well. One thing I found challenging was dealing with all the different kinds of wrappings we get when we buy something! The paper and plastic bags... containers that can't be used again... all this STUFF. Try not to be too hard on yourself though. Just do the best you can... I think we're all trying to learn how to live responsibly, little by little. <3 Sarah (Leaman)