Elizabeth Ragan is a senior at Oregon State University. She is pursuing a degree in Public Health and Anthropology with a minor in French. Elizabeth recently returned from Kampala, Uganda, where she interned for Prometra Uganda through IE3: Global Internships. Below is a reflection summary from her blog.
My final day in the village. Waving goodbye as the last truck of traditional healers rounds the corner of the dirt road and disappears out of sight. I know that they’re going home, and I’m going home too. But I’m struggling, because I can’t help but feel like I’m going home and leaving home all at the same time.
As the sun dips below the surrounding hills, I set off down the road, needing to walk, needing to think and clear my head. All of my senses are magnified, like I’m trying to absorb every final memory with bound determination. The sounds of the night seem to keep time with the rhythm of my breath and the pounding of my heart, my heart which is in a silent struggle between happiness and sadness.
Making my way through the airport. Some internal instinct or motor memory instructs me through the motions, but I feel like a stranger in my own body, like I’m observing myself from a distance. Security checks, customs, gate transfers, coffee shops, loudspeaker announcements, the whirring sound of suitcase wheels on hard floors, small talk and strangers. I’m in a transition between worlds and I can’t help but feeling sickened at just how easily I’m slipping right back into it, all of the excess, the naivety, the ignorance. People living in their comfortable bubbles, happily ignoring the world around them. The population around me has changed so dramatically in the past 24 hours, from the morning I left Kampala on my way to Entebbe to where I sit now in Heathrow.
3am, laying in my bed at my parents’ home, staring at the ceiling. It’s not just the 10-hour time change and jet lag that is keeping my mind awake. The middle of the night and I have become familiar companions over the course of the summer, my mind busily milling over all of the experiences that I had, trying to make sense of it all. The one thing I simply can’t get myself past is the disparity and the blatant ignorance. How great the divide is between being concerned about when you’re going to get the new iPhone 4, that new pair of leather boots, or new dining room furniture, and the fear of not being able to feed your family or losing yet another child from a preventable cause.
We’re brought up in a fast-paced world. Our society has taught us to be concerned with what’s in front of us, and I’ve found that you have to work hard to learn about the problems of low-income nations. I force myself to remember all of the problems that Americans do face, like recession, unemployment, unaffordable health care, declining social services, rising costs of higher education – all serious problems that leave people powerless. But then I take these things and line them up to the concerns of people in Uganda, like infectious disease, hunger, clothing, drought, shelter, clean water, primary education. I believe that it’s our responsibility to be a world citizen and to treat everybody as human and to fight for their basic rights. We must become critical of ourselves and the lifestyles that we lead, accepting that our actions and decisions have ramifications that will trickle down far beyond our perceived reality.
Coming to a country like Uganda does something powerful to you. It is indeed a rare opportunity, one that many people will either never get the chance to take, or may decide not to take out of fear or apprehension. But there is great potential in taking such a step. If you allow it, Uganda will lay bare to you all of your weakness, misconceptions, ethnocentricities, and the blinders that America and all of the comforts of home have been allowing you to wear your whole life. Then you will be given an option, approach a crossroads of sorts. Do you stay on the same path that you have been walking along up until this point, knowing that you are ignoring what your eyes have been opened to about the world, or do you change your direction and become a person that has a deeper understanding that in this world, we are all human, and we are all connected. Travel the world, learn about the struggles of the people, and as a consequence, learn about yourself.
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela