It’s been close to 3 weeks since I returned from Uganda. Coming back was a numbing experience. The day after I returned I remember slowly walking up and down the aisles of Harris Teeter in awe at the sheer abundance of it all. It was truly amazing; apples, fruit, canned goods & fresh meat as far as the eye could see. It was a virtual cathedral of consumerism, such a variety of food, all prepackaged & prepared and ready for consumption. It might strike you as odd to describe a supermarket in this way but, it’s such an impressive display of our wealth.
It was difficult leaving. It’s how you would feel if you were pulled out of a movie right in the middle of the action scene. You can feel that the activity is intensifying in but back in North Carolina you only get bits and pieces of it. It’s totally unsatisfying and in many ways it makes me wish I had never left. Part of the dissatisfaction lies in what my life has become here. It’s not as if I’m not having a good time, or that my work is unfulfilling because it is, and I’m happy to be here. It’s just that Uganda feels so distant to me now. What’s distant is the taste, the feel of the place. It’s the rush you get when you realize how truly fortunate you are. It indebts you with this urge to act and a deep understanding there is no sense in wasting time. It’s the same feeling cancer survivors have and it’s what’s left after everything you once valued is stripped away and laid bare. It’s the feeling that your life can have purpose. It’s the visceral, tactile sense that you’re doing something good for the world.
What’s replaced that feeling for me is a pervasive banality. What does it matter if I go to work or not or if I go golfing or go out or if i lay in my bed all day and stare at the ceiling. What’s lost in seven thousand miles between here and Uganda is the intensity of purpose in your everyday life. Every day I go out running to try to get that back but even on my highs I can barely scrape it.
It was the intensity level that was the most distinct aspect of the trip. Every morning we were up at 7. Every day was filled with hardcore marketing, relationship building, and investigative research. And every night we analyzed the happenings of the day and laid out detailed plans for the next. We were overclocking it, running on all cylinders in a desperate effort to make this investment pay off.
There is no question that the trip was a monumental success. Against all odds Jock and the rest of the shop crew were able to get a functioning production facility set up in Iganga. Hayssam found a man in Kampala who could make fiberglass molds for casting the concrete thus solving our only bottleneck for expansion. The big question of who will buy the machines was answered as well. Lead by Roey & Jeff, we ended up making some amazing contacts in Uganda. NAADS in Iganga has bought 21 machines for the Nakigo, Bulange, and Ikumbia subcounties. Three shellers are in use at a Millennium Village in Sari, two made it up to war torn Sudan and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) purchased 10 shellers with an open ended commitment for more. Henry is now in charge of running the facility which is owned & operated by native Ugandans and by all accounts we won’t be able to keep up with demand.
After looking at these successes you have to scratch your head as to why we aren’t all patting ourselves on the back. After all, it was students who played a huge role in accomplishing all of this. Students raised the money and managed the project at every level. It’s an impressive feat indeed but one that doesn’t lend itself well to satisfaction. The whole point of setting up the facility wasn’t to make shellers for just a summer or even just a year. The concept, if it was to succeed, was to start an industry of multiple facilities competing with one another in a full fledged market. Criteria like these aren’t fulfilled in a summer. It will take years for us to really know how our efforts have paid off. Until then self congratulations feel inappropriate. It sells our mission short & and betrays the very notion of sustainability. In a way we are like the founding fathers after the revolution; ever worried for the survival of the union. The glaring difference is that we can’t presume to be great men. There’s really no reassurance that we have done anything of value at all. And since the world doesn’t care one bit about our good intentions we have to succeed for it to actually matter. Everything hinges on what happens in Africa after we have left and that certainly makes me feel helpless and cut off.