My definition of normal has been skewed. Everything here is so raw and real. Here, it is normal for a woman to have an average of seven children but ultimately have only two survive. Here, it is normal for children to walk all the way from their villages to town just to go to school everyday. Here, it is normal for people to spend most of their day walking to find water under the blistering African sun. In a week, I will go back to what I’ve considered normal for most of nineteen years– clean tap water, a good education, cars and a whole family.
On the way here, I picked up a Marie Claire magazine at the airport to read on the trip. The fashion industry reminds me of this change in normality. Fashion is constantly changing. One may think bright vivid eye liner colors like hot pink and bright blue are awful colors to be applied, until it shows up on some runway then in the next week, it’s the hottest trend. (In fact, it’s this summer’s trend, or so I’m told by the magazine.)
I am in Africa. What is normal here is awful. Grass huts for homes, a handful of paved roads, scarce clean water, a terrible government, and the absence of all the luxuries I have at home. In a week I’ll be surrounded by the normal, the familiar, the luxurious (i.e. laundry machines, showers…with hot water, shoes, medicine, at least a ten dollar bill in my wallet). Facebook, Netflix, work, and school will be placed at my feet and the American complacency will head my way telling me that yes, Africa is awful, but it’s too filled with unbearable problems to be overcome.
Dr. O’Keefe mentioned a phrase that has rung through my head on this trip. “Poverty tourist.” Although the main purpose of the trip is academic, we are all witness to this reality and in some way, we are all changed by this experience. I don’t think that anyone here has the heart (or lack thereof) to be a poverty tourist and witness Uganda and just walk away viewing the world the exact same way as they had before. Although we may be told that Africa doesn’t matter, I don’t think it will be the reality we hold within us.
When I return to the U.S., what is normal to me will change. But I hope, and feel free to keep me accountable, that my recognition of reality will not.
I refuse to wear hot pink eyeliner.