webare (way-bah-ray) munonga (moo-no-nga): thank you very much
I haven’t learned very much Runyankore in my 8 weeks here. It’s a difficult language (or at least that’s the excuse I’m giving myself) and it’s been easy to rely on Joram and Alex to translate and explain what is going on when we work in the field. I know just enough of the language to greet someone in the morning or afternoon and say thank you for whatever kind words or gifts I am receiving. It’s been enough, and people seem impressed even with these basic phrases when a muzungu says them.
I’ve been trying this last week to say my goodbyes and show my gratitude to the people who have made my stay in Uganda so memorable and such a positive experience. There isn’t enough time, though, to express to each person what he/she have given me in even the briefest encounters.
Thank you to the travellers who helped us navigate the bus parks and bus rides on weekend trips, especially the man who offered me a jerry can to sit on in the aisle of the bus when all the seats were full and a number of people were forced to stand for the two hour ride. And the drivers and guides who have picked us up and carted us around, even the ones who made awkward comments about how great it is when Americans tip their drivers.
Thank you to the staff of Little Woods Inn, my summer home, who taught me Runyankore words which I promptly forgot and gave me African tea without charging me because I looked cold. Thank you for treating me like a friend and not just a customer and for teaching me card games and playing spoons with toothpicks. You seem to be at work 12 hours a day, but never complain and always have a smile and say “Kurikayo/Welcome Back” when I walk in the door. Narugayo/It’s always good to be back!
Thank you to the people of Kashongi and Kitura who answered my questions and showed me your world during focus groups, interviews, and time spent together beneath mango trees. The stories of your experiences broke so many of my un-acknowledged stereotypes. Public health involves so many individuals’ personal stories, stories of work and family and roads and food and politics and land. Thank you for inviting me into your homes and your gardens and even your delivery room where I watched a baby boy take his first breath and carried him, five minutes old, to his mother’s bed. I will never be the same.
Thank you to Progressive Health Partnership, the staff that is really a family and has told me from day one that I am a part of them. You were patient when I didn’t understand and when I needed to stop the car mid-journey for a bathroom break. You offered me feedback and praise for the work that I can only hope will contribute to the PHP mission: “Dedicated to decreasing the burden of disease on the global poor, we listen closely to the poor, we learn from them, and we join together with them in common cause to build real solutions to the problems they face.” Thank you for inviting me to have lunch with your families and for helping me navigate Mbarara and for making sure I didn’t get ripped off when I went shopping and didn’t know what the prices should be. I learned more from conversations with co-workers than I could in years of lectures, not only about global health but about compassion and kindness.
The whole experience of this summer internship will take time to unpack and digest, but I am so grateful for every moment of it- even the hours spent pressed against a hot window with no breeze on a bumpy bus. Thank you to SPH, and to the Office of Global Public Health, for putting so much value on these practical experiences and so much emphasis on experiential learning. I’ll be back to my family and friends in Michigan soon (and couldn’t be more excited to see them), but this summer will stay with me and I hope to find myself back in Uganda soon enough. Maybe next time I’ll learn a little more Runyankore.