Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Validated, Trash Talk and the Long Trek Home

Well, I've been home for a little over week now, and I have barely had time to take a breath! Despite the abrupt cold weather I've been slowly adjusting to, it's been great to be back on home soil. Here's a basic recap of the last week and a bit:

The Thursday before I left Uganda, I had to fulfil my final work obligation - a validation meeting for the paper I had been working on. I'd be lying if I said this was something I had been excited about. But, it turned out to be not so bad, after all.

The meeting was attended by about 20 people - mostly youth. The meeting itself lasted about 3 hours, and consisted of a half an hour presentation of my findings, followed by a lengthy - but productive - debate and discussion on what was missing, alternative things to ponder, and just general feedback. It proved that there is still much to be done concerning youth in agriculture, and youth engagement as a whole in Uganda.

Photo credit: FRA
Following the meeting, everyone (meaning the staff, not the participants) funnelled into the office where I had been rooted for the past 6 or so months. Each of my coworkers then proceed to reveal the things they liked about me, in what was easily one of the most awkward, but lovely moments of my life. Bottom line - I'm awesome... so I guess my New Year's goal of be more awesome is being achieved!

The days that followed included packing, cleaning, and preparing to say good-bye to the country and people that have occupied my heart over the last six and a half months. I was not looking forward to departing. At. All. And, as you can probably guess, I cried... a lot. In fact, if it weren't for the overly-friendly undergrad* who was sitting next to me, I'd probably have cried the entire flight from Entebbe to Doha.

Then came the part when my streak of excellent, flawless flights came to an end**. If it weren't for my over-tired state, I probably could have been a lot more unpleasant about the next 20 or so hours, but when you're completely out of control, what else can you do by smile?!

When I arrived in Philly from Doha, I was prepared for a short 5 hour layover. Then I noticed that my flight to Toronto was a bit delayed. Around the time that this flight should have been boarding - if it were on time - the screen notified those of us sitting near the gate, that it would indeed begin boarding in 10 minutes. So, I quickly made my way to the washroom for my traditional post-flight pee. The nearest washroom was maybe a minute walk away from the gate. I was pretty quick in there, so you can imagine my surprise and confusion when I returned to the gate just as that 10 minutes to board message was switching to read flight cancelled in BIG, bold, red letters. So, I booked it to the customer service desk, where I, somehow, was the first and only person in line. This meant... you guessed it, I had first dibs on switching my flight. So, instead of flying from Philly to Toronto to Halifax, I would soon be taking off for Newark and then Halifax.

And this is where the fun really began. For those of you not in the know, a flight from Philly to Newark is a lengthy 18 minutes. And, yes, you did read that correctly. But, even a flight so simple was not without its problems. We were delayed... on the tarmac. Guys - we need to talk about our trash problem... it is interrupting flights now. You see, my 18 minute flight was delayed 30 minutes because there was "a piece of trash on the tarmac" and we had to wait for "someone to come and clear it." I have no idea what said piece of trash was, but seriously, if it's disrupting flights, I think we need to have a serious talk.

Eventually I did make it home - much later than the anticipated 9:17pm. The remainder of the journey back to Nova Scotia included testing my ability to uphold the Canadian stereotype of being polite at all times when going through (yet another) security check at Newark, and one intense but quick flight from New York to Halifax, with a bonus of ears that wouldn't pop until mid-day the following day.

When I did arrive, I was thankful that there were many customs agents awaiting us. However, it was the first time I'd ever been interrogated. Travelling near an Ebola-effected area at the height of the crisis a few years ago didn't garner this much interest. But, my favourite part of the conversation (aside from the fact that I was so tired at that point that I could not make the words to describe what I had brought back), was when the agent asked me about travels outside of Uganda. He very clearly inquired whether or not I had been to any of the neighbouring countries. After I told him I had been briefly to Kenya for work, he followed up his original question by ensuring that I had not been to Nigeria. For anyone uncertain about African geography, allow me to spell it out for you... Uganda is in EASTERN Africa. Nigeria is in WESTERN Africa. This would be like asking someone from New Brunswick if they might have travelled to Alberta for a quick weekend road trip... not overly close.

Basically neighbours...
Image credit (minus my edits): www.mapsoftheworld.com
After the confusion this caused, I was passed through and made my way to baggage claim, where I very quickly realized that my bag was missing. How you ask? Well, it's neon orange, and the only bags remaining were black. My eyes also didn't hurt when I entered the room from the extreme brightness of said bag. Thankfully though, after several phone calls, and lots of great cups of fresh ground Ugandan coffee, my bag, with all of its items was delivered to my door.

And that folks, was one eventful welcome home.

-the Orange Canadian

*Undergrads, man, they're so keen and exited... She was actually really sweet though, we chatted quite a bit about the business of "development" and what a career could look like for her. We also discussed her fears of living away from her family for an extended period of time, for which I was probably not so helpful with my whole it's nice to get away attitude! ...I love you family members.
**For all the travelling I have been fortunate to have done in the last ten or so years, this was the first time I'd had a disastrous travel experience... and since I was pleasant, patient, and kind to those who could make or break the experience, I was treated with the same kindness, making what could have been a terrible trip home, a colourful one. 

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