The time had come. I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. To meet 18 other strangers and women who had been selected from across Australia to travel to Africa to assist with the work of The Hunger Project Australia. After each spending months on end raising $10,000 each as a way of committing to the trip we were all ready. Yet, here I was, on my own about to board my flight from Melbourne to Entebbe, Uganda.
Full to the brim with anticipation, excitement in overdrive and nervous tension, I bid farewell to my darling husband and walked through those familiar double doors to the international departure area. One cheeky wave back and a spring in my step I walked through customs feeling liberated, fiercely independent and young again. That sense of embarking on a new adventure and travelling solo is always such a buzz and reminds me of my younger days when I was heading on a backpacking adventure to the UK and Scotland…young, free and high spirited! Not much has changed except perhaps I’ve aged significantly since then but i still felt that same youthful energy and excitement.
Boarding the plane I felt strangely torn. Torn between feeling adventurous and excited…to feeling somewhat guilty about leaving my beautiful 2.5 year old girl behind for a whole month; leaving my husband with an insane amount of work to sort through for our business… and all the creature comforts of life in Australia…the lucky country, as I was flying to a third world country.
I knew that this trip would change me somewhat and that I was about to be confronted by a series of scenes and moments in which I would no doubt find confronting, challenging and downright sad. Hunger and poverty has no filter. There’s no soft
way to disguise the sadness and fear these people face every day. Where I was headed was all about being raw, real and honest. This adventure had found me. I had decided it was my duty, my calling, my obligation to go and meet these people, exchange stories, laughs and moments together and dance in the dirt, feel, love and embrace the spirit of living: regardless of the circumstances and conditions they live in. At the end of the day you strip back all that peripheral surface level ‘stuff’ and we are all the same. We all have the same need and capacity to love and to be loved.
Soon I had landed in Uganda and within minutes I was dripping in sweat and nervously waiting in line to get tested for yellow fever and eboli with ladies wearing masks. Severely sleep deprived but still eagerly anticipating my big adventure, I noticed a girl in the line looking similarly exhausted and lost. We started chatting and I discovered she was off on a similar adventure to teach music at a local village. We decided to stick together until we had passed through customs and bathe and then exchanged numbers to ensure each of us were safe and well.
Finally we were ushered outside to a large group of Africans standing in line each holding up signs with names on it. It was loud, busy and hot and I frantically searched for a sign saying THE HUNGER PROJECT but to no avail. After brushing off several men trying to lure me into their cabs ‘ladeee, me take you into town, allo laddeee’…I ended up seeing the name of our hotel on a sign and quickly ran over to the man to see if he was who I was supposed to meet with. Minutes later I was ushered into a car and driving along a road watching the surreal landscape of uganda pass me by. It was like the wind slapped me in the face that day. I had no idea what to expect and arrived on this journey with an open mind and an open heart, but what I saw on that hour long journey is still imprinted on my heart. Cows that were so skinny their bones were protruding, young boys running along the road in bare feet looking extremely malnourished but very happy, industrial matter scattered at every turn and what resembled junk yards and rundown houses, abandoned storefronts that were in fact old unfinished shacks with locals manning their product looking decidedly disengaged, disinterested and tired. As the road continued the landscape changed as I headed for an hour to Kampala, passing Lake Victoria and the town of Kajjansi at about the half way point. The rich red dirt was a stark contrast to the green palms growing crops of jack fruit and guava. Village people were walking by carrying large loads of bananas on their heads which looked hot and uncomfortable yet they did it with such ease and such grace.
Every 10 metres or so you would see random items being sold on the street corners including coloured bed frames and metal doors and pretty colourful scarves and dresses.
Peeled stucco on old tired buildings, ladies in faded blue smocks donned the street, heat was rising from the Tarmac of the road, teracotta shingles were missing on rooftops reminiscent of regional Italy but a lot less pretty. Old rundown cars rusted away quietly piled on top of each other in empty streets.
Bats in the palms were already chattering away and the giant grey crowned cranes for which the area is famous (and as featured on the country’s flag) were flying in and and nesting atop one of the big pines on the site.
It really was an awakening.