Back in December, I stepped on US soil for the first time in almost a year and a half. A sixteen-hour flight from Dubai capped off nearly 24 hours of traveling, but I was still alert to the incredible differences that welcomed me to the DFW airport that Sunday morning. All of a sudden I wasn’t the only white person walking around. All of a sudden machines, signs, toilets worked as they were intended to. Coffee was flowing like…coffee does in America. I didn’t have to get a stamp in my passport. I saw really really large people again. My fingers went numb trying to type out a text even though it couldn’t have been any colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
I’ve gone through the process of “reentry” before, when I returned from my semester abroad in Nepal. Reverse culture shock can be unexpected, depressing, boring, and many other things. For a while you miss living abroad and constantly trying new things. I know when I came back from Nepal I was underwhelmed, to put it nicely, by the order and cleanliness of Plano, TX and Davidson, NC. But then I got over it. New challenges emerged and ultimately it wasn’t hard for my brain to shift back to “USA mode.
None of what I saw in the airport truly awed me; it has all been part of my home for 23 years. In fact, this return to the US was much easier than before. Things seemed just as natural as I had left them before. Sure, roads are better and people act differently. Restaurant servers always refill your water glass and the beer tastes better. Things just work smoother. But that’s how things are designed to work. It’s supposed to feel natural.
My time in the US was very fulfilling. I saw old friends, family, ate plenty of good food and received a very warm welcome by people I love. But a few weeks later it was time get back on the plane and before I knew it I was back on a boda-boda winding through rush hour traffic in Kampala.
Coming back to Kasese, I realized that it was still my home. My mind had been in the process of turning on USA mode for the last few days, but then all of a sudden it had to throw it in reverse.
A dear friend of mine recently sent me some wise words about the difference between feeling at home and being at home. Plano, TX will always be where I am at home. I know that I have a place there no matter what else comes my way. In a way that I hadn’t seen it before, that place that is home is a place that I am allowed to take for granted. I believe that for me, at least, spaces like that are very rare. I’m not allowed to have too many of them. In fact, I only have one right now. I think we often overstate what we have “the right” to do, but I feel that I have the right to be in my home.
But where do I feel at home? I think that changes constantly. And it can be applied to many places all at once. Right now, I feel at home here in Kasese. After I flew back to Uganda, and after getting in my car and driving to Kasese, I was overwhelmed by the warm affection that came from nearly everyone I saw. I had been missed, and that was probably a good enough reason to really feel at home here.
Being away from people for more than an afternoon often warrants texts and calls to see where I’ve been. So you can imagine the energy after three weeks of traveling. All that energy coupled with jetlag was enough for me to need to get away for a few days. But more than that, my brain had to adjust back to what is really home right now- the place that gets that title at this particular moment.
I don’t want to overstate it or sound cliché, but I have been amazed at the process of realizing that a little town, “upcountry” Uganda, can be home. That I can know so many people and feel comfortable moving around and taking care of business. I have fulfilling work and challenging relationships. These little feelings make up a big feeling of home. Sure my passport says I’m a resident here, but sometimes I forget that. Kasese is where I am and where I’ve chosen to be right now. As I plot my next (and final) six months in Uganda, there’s no place I’d rather be.