A New Life in an Old Place… Home

It’s funny, but all Ugandans seem to have this one phrase memorized. “East or West, home is best.” At so many different times, Ugandans from all walks of life have told me that.  In fact, my Ugandan mom tellls me that all the time.  I never knew what to make of that– was it a not-so-subtle hint for me to go home? Or, were they just right? Is home really the best? Americans always say “you can never go home again.” But that may not be accurate…

Thousands of miles away from Kampala, I’m in Brooklyn, an hour’s drive from my childhood home.  I’d still have to hop on a plane to visit my birthplace, but I grew up in New York.  So who is right– Ugandans? Or can you never go home again?

Well, my Ugandan friends and family weren’t kidding.  You can go home again, and it’s fantastic.  Uganda is my home in reverse, and where much of my heart lies, but there is no place that seems to fit me as well as New York.  The first few weeks I was here, I would just look around and burst into tears. Not because I was sad, but because I felt ecstatic.

All those small things that I missed while I was away are here… seeing my parents on the weekend (a train ride away on the LIRR), buying coffee at bodegas, my editors at Women’s eNews (I just feel good stepping into their office! What a fantastic place!), and of course, the subway! After being jostled and smacked around Kampala in the city’s taxis (their word for buses, or public transport), the MTA seems almost delightful.  And of course– the Gray Lady on my doorstep! Nothing like reading the newspaper on the train to feel like home.

The best part is that the next time I am in East Africa, I’ll feel just as good! I’ll trade in my cereal for rolex, a cup of wine for a tot of banana gin, and the NYT for some of my favorite Ugandan reporters.  Whether I am heading home or to Uganda, I feel like I am going home either way.  No matter the direction, I feel so safe and loved.  Blessed, in every sense.

And it all feels very Wizard & Oz to me.  “Now Dorothy, you knew how to get home, all along…” My life is intertwined with Uganda, my other home.  But for this moment in time, I am clicking my heels three times…

Royalty Free
The City of My Dreams: Home
vincent and becky
Vincent Kasozi and me, in my last day at New Vision

Life in New York  has been full of all sorts of pleasant surprises and moments.  I am doing a bunch of interesting things… first, I’ve been working on a website for the Ugandan diaspora (we go live on Nov. 30!) with the support of CUNY and the Ugandan Association of New York (UGAANY), and my fantastic business partner, Emmanuel.

Emmanuel and I have started a web company called Africa Connections, which finances independent journalism in our readers’ home countries through diaspora services.  We are starting off with Uganda as a model group for our project, which makes sense, given our backgrounds.  I’ve been to Uganda four times, most recently writing for New Vision, but for a variety of adventures/endeavors over the years, such as a four-month study abroad program in college, where I lived with an urban and rural host family in Kampala and Busia (an agricultural town on the Ugandan/Kenyan border).

Emmanuel is a Ugandan who seems to have lived my life in reverse.  He grew up in Busia, which is how we connected– I wrote a travel piece for New Vision about my time spent in eastern Uganda, and he was able to find my e-mail through this blog.  For college, he moved to Kampala, and studied at the same university where I did for study abroad.  (FYI: I was reading the Ugandan news today, and apparently Makerere University, one of the best on the African continent, can’t pay their light bill!)He did the social sciences (I did too, with a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence, and a concentration in Africana studies), then moved to NYC for a CUNY program, and lived at -yes- Ihouse!!

ihouse
Valentine’s Day at Ihouse: Min, Jackie and me

I also stayed at International House (its full name), a fantastic grad dorm where a thousand students from 100 different countries (Really!) live together for up to three years.  (I did one year there, at their historic building in Morningside Heights, for fall 2007-spring 2008.)  He went back to Uganda, then came back to study web design at John Hopkin’s University, and is now doing an MBA at the University of Maryland.

We became friends when I was in Uganda through one of my potent addictions: gmail! (Coffee and gmail run my life.  Or do I run them? It’s a toss-up.) While I battled homesickness and work stress (writing for a Ugandan daily was like boot camp, except for the fact that staff served us ginger tea every 2-3 hours), Emmanuel would encourage me, laugh at the way Ugandan sub-editors would ‘Ugandanize’ my copy and writing style, and generally cheer me on.  We met up in Baltimore where he lives, and decided to go into business together.

So, look out for our website on Nov. 30. ! It will go live at http://www.ugandansabroad.org.  Ugandans Abroad (the parent companyis AfricaConnections) will feature a ton of content (most written by me!), bloggers, video, loads of thoughtful news aggregation so you can get your latest Ugandafix, and helpful diaspora services.  These include a store to get Ugandan products, a wire transfer service cheaper than Western Union and Money Gram to send cash to Kampala, and a delivery service to sends gifts to relatives in Uganda using pay pal.

You can follow us on twitter and facebook, and this will help me stay in touch with you (the audience that lifted me up when I was abroad).  Friend UgandansAbroad, or check out some of our twitter feeds at: BugandaKingdom (latest tweets about Buganda), HealthyUganda (latest health news, such as the recent plague threat in Nebbi, and a cancer that interacts with malaria, killing Ugandan kids), and UgandaBusiness.

Suggestions and ideas? Let me know.  E-mail me at rebecca.jane.harshbarger@gmail.com.

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One response to “A New Life in an Old Place… Home

  1. Hey Becky, great observation on “Ugandanising” English phrases and sub-editors Ugandanising your copy! Now, I chanced upon something hilarious on Ugandan English. Go and google up “Ugandan English” and click on the wikipedia link….I know you will get stitches. But dont say I did not warn you in time.

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