30 Day Travel Series: Arriving at the Edge of My Rope

I knew there was a lot of good and love too, but I couldn't seem to get out of the darkness that week. So I just kept telling myself to put one foot in front of the other and keep doing my work.

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We were covered in red dust. It was 90 degrees. My fingernails were caked with dirt. We had our sleeping bags and a pillow. We were ready to set up on a floor in a mud hut for the next three nights. We had two days of workshops planned with vanilla farmers in Western Uganda. I was exhausted. My eyes were puffy. It was the same day I had broken down crying on the bus about the impossibleness of the issues facing Uganda and the man who was reading the burned book.

I was in overdrive. I felt like if I took a deep breath and acknowledged how I really felt I would have wanted to go home. Everything was just starting to feel too hard. It took forever to get anywhere on the unpaved, pot holed roads. Everything started hours and hours after the scheduled time. Buses broke down. People didn’t have enough money to send their kids to school and put food on the table. People kept talking about rape like it was common.

I was sad. I knew there was a lot of good and love too, but I couldn’t seem to get out of the darkness that week. So I kept telling myself to put one foot in front of the other and keep doing my work.

Julian was the one who scheduled the workshops with the vanilla farmers. Our friend who works in fair trade certifying had introduced us by email to a woman named Lulu who invited us to do workshops at a lodge her family owned. She mentioned that we could stay there and all meals would be included. We weren’t sure what she meant by a lodge; we knew it could mean someone’s modest hut, so we prepared ourselves to be in the roughest conditions for the next three nights. We gave each other pep talks, stalked up on drinking water, put some candy bars and toilet paper in our bags before we set out. We thought we were ready for anything.

But when the cab pulled up to the lodge, our jaws dropped, we had not prepared for this. We slowly got out of the car. A man in a suit came up to our car and greeted us, “Good day, welcome to the Ndali Lodge.” I said hello and shot a questioning look over to Julian. Julian was digging in his pocket for a piece of paper where he had scribbled down the address. He showed the man the address and asked him if this was the right place. The man said, “Yes Julian, this is the right place, we are expecting you and Heather. We will have a cottage ready for you soon. Lulu let us know you will be spending the day here today and meeting her here for dinner this evening.”

The man grabbed my grubby backpack and led us onto the grounds. A crystal blue pool overlooking the valley sparkled. Smoke billowed out of the chimney of the wood fired sauna. He pointed to the towels and robes that were set out for us. He walked us through the dining room where our meals would be served and showed us our glamorous eco cottage. He said we could enjoy the pool until the room was ready. He thanked us profusely for coming and let us know that some of the lodge staff would be joining the workshop. He said everyone was very excited to work on their stories.

He waited patiently while we rummaged through our bags looking for our bathing suits. He then set our bags aside for us. I threw my bathing suit on in an instant and walked quickly over to the pool. I looked at Julian who was standing by the edge of the pool in his neon swimming trunks, he looked like he’d seen a ghost. I said calmly, “I know, let’s just at least go for a dip before we realize there has been a mistake.” We slipped into the pool, splashing a lot in attempt to disperse the red rings of dirt that came up around us.

Julian swam over to me and asked, “Is this real life?”

“I have no idea; should I take a picture?” We both broke down into hysterics. “No, I shouldn’t take a picture,” I couldn’t stop laughing. “Can you imagine what people would think of us if they knew this is what we were doing? Oh yeah, we are going to Uganda to build global relationships, help people share their stories AND stay in five star hotels!”

As we sat by the pool contemplating how in the world this had happened to us, the man in the suit politely interrupted us, “Can I bring you a glass of wine?” he asked.

Julian looked at me and with such intense seriousness said, “I think we should say yes.”

“Yes please sir, two glasses of white.” I said.

As I sipped the wine, I noticed Julian was looking at me like he’d never seen me before. He jumped up from his seat, “I have to get the camera. This is unreal.”

Yes it was. Unreal was the only word to describe it. I felt so refreshed laying there by the pool with the sun beating down on me. I was just so freaking happy. But every time I would open my eyes and look out, I would feel a big pang of guilt. My martyr tendencies told me that I shouldn’t be staying there, that I should be in a mud hut fetching my own water. But my more true self interrupted the martyr and told me to just be in the moment, enjoy it and be thankful. The two sides continued to argue back and forth while I just laid there taking deep breaths and trying to store some of the strength I was getting from the fresh air for next week when I went back in the crazy hostel in smoggy Kampala.
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This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.

Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX

Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.

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