Can one really MAKE a friend? I’m beginning to think that is completely impossible. The best I can maybe do is to BE a friend.
I met Victor at a party last spring. We hit it off quickly but I was soon to learn that he had recently lost his business — a partnership in a spa. They just had too little capital and a bad location. As we got to know each other better, sometimes I would see Victor in Kampala. This ka guy has a lot of pride and would rarely talk of his own problems, even as I driveled on and on about mine. He had taken a job as a primary school teacher in the village. The salary was low and the payments stopped completely after just a few months. He didnt mention it at the time, but sometimes for lack of transport, he would walk several miles across town to meet. Stupidly, I never offered a single shilling for transport. We somehow lost touch until Victor rang me a couple weeks ago to tell me that he was contemplating suicide. As we talked, he asked if he could stay with me in Mbarara. Im no philanthropist. Hell! Im not even all that nice, but I did send him the transport and he showed up at my apartment that night. A week later I sent him back to Kampala with four hundred dollars to start a nail business. He seems determined and, after a hellish year, he has the resources to make a new start. Somehow, though, a onetime gift does not make up for the all the times when I could not see the sacrifices he made to simply be in my life.
Yahiya is brilliant. He is manic, thoughtful, and somewhat precocious. Im not sure when we first met weve been close since we had a ridiculously stupid argument in October. Yet, I do remember the first time I saw him on stage. This guy has unbelievable flow. His lyrics are thoughtful and poignant. I love hearing him spit out a new rap as we are jazzing on my porch. He mimics my speech and my dance. He is a lot of fun. That day I watched him perform for the first time I was sitting in the crowd with another local musician. Two days later, I was calling Yahiya so that this singer could offer him a verse on the remix of a new song. The next time we talked Yahiya was expressively grateful for this somewhat small opportunity. He only asked if I could possibly set him up with another connection. A month later, I was texting Yahiya to let him know that one of the hottest producers in Uganda wants to meet him. No, Im not starting a career in artist management. Im simply learning to be a friend.
I’m also beginning to tear down the walls that I hastily erected two and a half years ago to protect me from people I did not know. I’ve decided that being a friend is more than spending time or sharing experiences but it is also needs to be about meeting the spoken or unspoken needs of the ones I care about most.
I am no longer a Peace Corps volunteer. I suppose that this is the point at which I am supposed to vent but I have no energy for that. I am happy to have served for two years. Now, I am moving on to a new adventure. Yes, moving on .. but not far. Next week I start work with Relief International in Mbarara, Uganda. I’ll be commercializing the BOB rainwater bag. From what I understand the national product launch is in August. We start assembling the product here in Uganda at the end of July. I’ll fill you in all the details after I get a bit more debriefed myself.
Anyway, I’ve had a few weeks between jobs for some R&R in the states. I started in Maine to visit with my sister and family. Took a quick trip to Boston. Stayed in NYC for only four nights. Now I am in Tennessee with my parents hours before my plane leaves to take me back to the UG. The whole trip has been topsy turvey. It’s been great to reconnect with both family and friends after two years outside the country. My time in New York was way too short. Saw a show every day and then partied until 3 or 4 in the morning. Sunday was karaoke in Chelsea; beer pong on Bleecker Street and a rooftop cocktail on Monday; Tuesday I revisited a bit of all that after an indie rock show in Brooklyn. Folks were out for their morning jog by the time I was making my way to bed. The town never sleeps indeed. I loved it and am putting it on my list of places I might want to live when I return to the states. Next time I just need to follow my heart …..
I promise to update later with more details about this transition. I just couldn;t let it pass without noting something for you here. To the right —> photos of America.
As I write this column I can hear kids splashing in the pool below. The scene is somewhat incongruous to what I saw and heard last night.
Yesterday, bush tired and weary from a long bus ride, I crashed into my hotel room. Out of my window I could see a lone guy at the pool playing his bass guitar. He was in the zone, riffing off the music playing in his headphones. I changed into my board shorts and made my way down to the pool to vibe. I sat in a plastic chair and watched a fat man swim laps, while I sipped a cold Club. That afternoon, the only words this 20-year-old musician exchanged with me were a quick “What’s up?” as he passed. He was busy calling friends to join him at the pool.
Hours later, I was relaxing in my third floor room when, all of a sudden, screams of terror came up through my open window from below. It took me a minute or two to realize that no one was responding to their call to pull their friend out of the pool. He was lying at the bottom. I could see it all from my window. A small, dark spot in the water as his friends frantically yelled from the side of the pool. By the time I scampered down the stairs, another man had jumped in but I could hear him saying that the man, this dark shadow, was too heavy to lift out. Now I was in the water. I dove and found myself clutching to his head and pulling him to the surface. He was limp. With one arm around his chest, I used the other to swim toward the side of the pool. His friends helped to pull him out and started CPR. He vomited. Then blood ran from his nose. Yet he failed to take a breath.
Finally someone from the hotel staff showed up and I directed her to find a doctor. Before one came, others helped to carry him out to the road to find a car. I wandered away, not knowing what remained appropriate to do as a foreign resident and stranger. Minutes later as the adrenaline drained I began to freak out in my hotel room; I stripped off all my clothes; pulled on something dry; and called my mother.
Later I learned that he and his friends made it into a car to the hospital but he never regained consciousness.
I wash my own clothes, clean my own house, and tend my own gardens. Yet, twice a week I make my way past the screaming kids at the adjoining primary school to reach a barber shop in town. It’s a cheap luxury. A shave costs about 22 cents and gives me ten minutes where I can close my eyes and tune out the world.
My current barber, Davis is an affable guy. Yet, he is so short that I have to slouch down so that my ass reaches the edge of the chair and the apron barely makes it to just above my knees. Lying back like this I also tend to fall asleep. Somehow this works. Davis, a former primary school teacher who switched professions for a more steady income, now makes about two dollars a day at the shop (when there is electricity), while his wife continues to receive a salary at a local primary school to contribute to the income necessary to raise their children. I look forward to our short chats and the loud music that drowns out the rest of the conversation and insults.
Last Thursday, Davis left his shop in the evening to visit his wife at the school where she lives with their children. Later, when he returned to his shop, he found his padlock broken and all of his tools and equipment either missing or damaged. The same night, thieves stole a bunch of bananas from a shop across the street. The crimes were brash and cruel. While the perpetrators grabbed little that they can trade for cash, it will take weeks, if not months, for the businesses to recover. Davis’ shop remains shuttered.
While I can and do easily float between the different stratas of Ugandan society, I am today reminded of those that struggle to afford a simple plate of posho and beans, and how easily one can slip from everyday simple poverty into that of desperate poverty.
This week, I’m at a boys camp organized by Peace Corps volunteers. It’s been quite fun. I’m blogging over at campbuilduganda.blogspot.com. Click through to read some fascinating stories.