So many confusing and exciting things have been happening recently, as I settle back into New York, trying to get back into my groove. Part of me misses Uganda tremendously, while the other part of me is a bit infatuated with her beloved city. Sometimes my two worlds seem so different that it feels like the two might rupture, while other times these two continents that make up my heart (Africa, North America) seem more connected than ever. Going through documents from the Population Council today, I was struck by a photo of a stand in a slum in Kibera that looked just like the countless stands I visited in Kampala. One silly memory I have is a late Thursday night when I went to the stand by New Vision to buy airtime or a snack, I can’t remember. I managed to drop my wallet into a crevice in the stand, spilling my cash, local and foreign atm cards, work ID, everything. I nearly burst into tears, and the ladies who ran the stand found a stick. We kept trying to push my wallet out of the crevice inside the stand, but things just got worse- coins, paper bills, everything was getting more and wedged in. The lady went inside and began hitting my wallet with the stick, and somehow managed to lift everything outside, except for a few coins that are probably still there.
Looking at this memo at my desk in New York, I saw the stand and smiled. How many women in stands like the one pictured did I buy airtimes, bottles of mineral water, hardboiled eggs, mandazi, and chapatis from? On Sundays, the stand near New Vision would close, and I would walk to Hot Loaf for snacks instead, a bakery in Kampala. But nearly everyday, I went to that stand to top up my phone, and fill my shrinking stomach (losing weight from stress).
When I hang out with my Ugandan friends in America, or when I would hang out with American friends in Kampala, it would initially cause me ‘cognitive dissonance’ as Igor and I called it, but then would begin to feel really good. Sometimes I just long to pull everyone into my room in New York (granted it’s small) that’s been a part of my life in both parts of the world.. or just have them all to one wickedly diverse dinner party. My relatives from California and Utah… my parents and stepmom from Long Island… my friends from Sarah Lawrence and the j-school… my homestay family, and all my friends from New Vision that got so deep into my heart and under my skin.
Things feel so uncertain (when will my reporting go well? will my business succeed? will I be okay?) that sometimes it works against me. I need to be working harder than ever, but sometimes I feel too scared to get out of bed and make calls, create content for the site, report. Eventually I take a deep breath and do it, but this fear inside me of failure sometimes feels so paralyzing.
My former professor Fred Kaufman told me to find a strong female journalist that I like and copy her graphs, line by line, in caps in a notebook. Eventually, he said, the confidence and strength will come.
What kills me is that I meet people who I know i should be able to have a real conversation with, and I am sometimes too scared or shy to use the strengths I know I have. At this event I was at tonight, I should have gone up to Nicholas Kristof and introduced myself (why not?) or asked him a question, but instead i felt overwhelmed with shyness, even though I know my experiences could add value to a conversation with him. I feel similarly whenever I talk to people I admire, or people more powerful/experienced/in a higher position than me. For instance, if I didn’t feel so nervous or tongue-tied, I am sure I could have amazing conversations with my editor-in-chief (an incredible, knowledgeable woman who has done so much for me and taught me a great deal) about so many subjects, but I feel so small and tiny that I can barely work up the nerve. Or my other editors– again, I feel so shy that I can’t have the conversations I need to have, whether it be about gender or journalism or politics or all three.
Some mornings, I am just so afraid of messing up, that I do mess up!
I force myself to reboot, and think– well, maybe November 3rd wasn’t so great, but November 4th is another opportunity to try again.