What do you see when you see us? What do you see when you see someone? We make a narrative. Create a life. Fill in lines to a story we write, from our perspective, from our vantage point, clothing the person, the persons in our garments, to fit our own story of how life works.
Heard too many times in Rome: “Oh, is that your daughter? That your son? Are you one of those women who couldn’t get pregnant so you adopted and then you had a miracle pregnancy?”
How can I answer? How can I erase those words now etched across my daughter’s scalp, words that say you were a second choice. You were the runner-up.
The surprise answer is NO. Actually she was a first choice, a first decision. She was our miracle. I watch people stammer and their tongues lag because my story does not fit in the hole they wanted to put me in. My narrative is not their own.
Now back in Uganda my daughter has to hear, “Oh thank you for looking after her!” She watches as her mother is martyred. Like I am a savior. What I want to say, what I want to scream is, “I am just a mother who has failed a thousand times today. I am a mother who wakes up every day and starts anew and tries and tries again, and I get tired and frustrated and fail and win, and I am just a mother and she is just my child.” But I don’t need to tell my daughter this. She knows all too well how very human I am. But I still want to erase, protect, steel her from such assumptions.
We look through our own lenses. I am guilty of this as well. I wear my Americanism over my eyes like fog, but I like to think that on this bumper car experience of life, that each new culture I enter knocks away some of it, bangs a little out of me, so that maybe by the end of it–sooner if I am lucky–I will see people a little clearer, a little cleaner, and not assume anything, but discover everything.
‘You can’t step into the same river twice,’ they say, they taunt, they warn. It may look the same; the water may feel the same, caressing skin between toes. The smell might even evoke a long ago memory that feels so refreshing you are tempted to submerge yourself fully, try to grab a current, ride it to your past to reshape, recreate, relive a better yesterday.
I knew Uganda would be different. I had no idea a river could turn into a sea so fast. I still see familiar corners, know my way around this way and that, but everything has changed, expanded, grown. It’s shiner. It’s faster.
A refrain on endless cycle from before, heard from taxi drivers, shop keepers, dreamers, “Museveni gave us peace, but now there are no jobs. We have our lives but no money to live them.”
As we flew away to Rome, the earth spilled oil.
Six years ago my husband, daughter and I drove all the way from Kampala to Nairobi. It took us three days, through bush, through tea plantations, through gorgeous emptiness, and when we landed in Nairobi it felt like landing on the moon. We felt dusty, creased, Uganda falling off us like dirt in this city of shine, of commerce, of wealth. Just one country over seemed a world away.
Six years later Kampala feels like a new Nairobi hatchling.
Oil. Gas. Investors.
The new cafés are filled with youth. The new shops with pulse. The people with hope.
How amazing to experience this change. To watch it shift. To step into something so familiar, and yet so new.
So many things, moments, snapshots I want to pack in my suitcase, burrow deep in my pockets, drill into memory, which seems to become a hazy mist the older I get, and try as I might reach for it, the present pushes me forward with such vehemence that any clinging behind only tends to sever me into pieces. Perhaps this is life with children. There is nothing but now, nothing but this minute, until the day collides hard with your pillow and you fall into something deeper than sleep until you are pulled, yanked, ripped awake again.
But I want to catch something, hook some things. That is what this blog is, has been. A place to record this crazy adventure; a different kind of album to flip through when the years turn grey.
I have learned that you must not drink espresso too slowly.
I have learned that it is never too early to inhale chocolate.
I have learned how to cook the perfect pasta and how blue cheese is sometimes all you need.
I have learned that no matter how many times I try the shops will not be open at siesta.
I have learned that life can be perfect with just enough and needing more is not essential.
I have learned that clothes on the line come with a freshness that no dryer can ever give.
I have learned that eating is an art and wine a simple brushstroke.
I have learned that potato pizza is just about the best you can get.
I have learned that you don’t need to speak a language well if you just pretend you are in a silent movie and act everything out.
But most importantly, I have learned that you only have one passion and you must take it with you, always.
I am still here. Needing to look up, look out, widen my eyes and take in a periphery.
It’s been thirteen months since the birth of my son.
It has been glorious, mesmerizing, intoxicating to be filled with nothing but the smell and taste of your children.
I feel drugged.
I feel full.
Now it is time to look up, look out, widen my eyes and take in a periphery.
I don’t have much, as I stumble out, weak and logy, but one glance at something out and up to share, to see Rome again before we leave, to remember this place that gave me a boy and helped to grow my girl.
For we are turning around. We are moving again. Back to the red dirt of Uganda.
I have a friend who perches on top of a mountain in glorious Vermont. Her yard is carpeted in clover and there have been many times I have bathed myself in green among them, rolling like a lizard in wonderland. Stooped over, I would search endlessly for that 4 leaf luck, only to come up empty handed again and again. Then one day my dear friend said, “You know, the four leaf clover is a common mutation.” I looked back down at the ground and saw not one, but two, then three. Four. I found six that day, one after the other and then actually found a five leaf clover, as if the leaves themselves were multiplying in front of me. I have them still; I look at them often. My friend laminated them for me, to remind me of the day when luck wasn’t so hard to find, when I simply shifted my perspective and instead of expecting difficulty, I said to myself over and over, “It’s a common mutation.”
I think of those clovers now as we plot our next move. I’ve been silent here, quiet while growing and birthing an amazing new addition to our family. The world seems so big now, too big, dangerous with such a small treasure in my hand. Nairobi, Kenya seems a great possibility for us. Africa is calling us back. But I feel my breath get caught in my throat now and my knees fall weak at the unknown. I still ache for the red dirt, the warm sun, the stunning smiles. So I have to shift my perspective. If I expect to find difficulty, I will. If I expect it to be hard, it will. Perhaps instead I should just trust that there are clovers hidden in all that dust and that if I just look the right way that is all I will see.