Nearly two months ago as we turned off the highway onto the dirt road leading to Restoration Gateway (RG), I couldn't help but wonder what I had gotten myself into. Mobile money kiosks, chapati stands and small shops disappeared behind a wall of elephant grass. After warning me of snakes and helping me unload my pack, Caesar left me to begin my life in the bush. As I look back on my first few nights, I recall how overwhelming the darkness of the night sky seemed, how powerful the rush of the Nile sounded and how mesmerized by the abundance of nocturnal creatures I was.
It's funny how at home you can begin to feel in such a foreign place. Over the course of my time at RG, I have been welcomed with open arms into an amazing community. The tension of being in a new place has dissipated. The faces I pass on my way to class or to the garden now match with the myriad of names floating around in my head (most of the time). I remember to respond to "Auntie" instead of looking around for the grownup in the room. Small talk has shifted to meaningful conversations. My students and I are getting to know one another. I just got a haircut from a girl in P7 who had never cut muzungu (the widely used term for "white person") hair before. The interns dressed in red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. I have attempted to learn to make chapati. I have found and eaten a lot of Nutella.
The interns celebrated American Independence Day in style. (Yes, there is a cat wearing an American flag bandana on my shorts).
I am happy to report that I no longer need a flashlight to walk in the dark, my night vision is much better now, and I am guided by the incredible display of stars that appears each night. I don't miss the creature comforts of Kampala nearly as much as I love the fellowship and community found at RG. Inconvenience humbles you and makes you grow (and find humor in things you never thought were funny before). Cold showers are followed by warm conversations. Beans, rice and posho are paired with laughter and silliness.
With rain falling on the soccer field, some of the RG boys made their way into the gym to stay dry.
On these last few nights at RG, I am no longer overwhelmed by the darkness or sounds of the night. Instead, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my time here. It will be exceedingly difficult to leave this place, a place that feels so familiar to me now. But I am joyful for the lifelong friends I have made, the family I have gained, and for all I have learned. As I prepare for my journey to Kampala, I know that I always have a home in the bush.
I was serious about the haircut.
Gabriella Bragoli is a 2016 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Bragoli is from Chico, California, and has one semester left in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on food security and development.