Friday, December 4, 2009

Red Dust

One of the things that I hate and love about Uganda is the dust. Ugandan earth is a dark red-brown, and so rust-colored dust lays over the villages in like a thin, almost-invisible cloak, billows up behind motorcycles and mini-buses on long dirt roads that run through the countryside like red rivers, sticks to your face and your arms and your clothes, gets in your food and your nose and your bed-sheets and your hair. It’s incessant, softly permanent, like the heat or the poverty of the place, patiently waiting for you to accept it, to resign yourself to it, and eventually to love it.

And you do – you learn to enjoy washing your hands and watching the water run off red, clear as you become clean. You learn to wear dark colors when your ride motorcycles, and to laugh at yourself and your clothes when you forget and come back dyed dark reddy-brown. You learn to sweep the floors during phone conversation, when you’re frustrated or thinking, while your water is boiling for tea, and to enjoy the satisfaction of that smooth, clean, tidy look that will last for approximately 3 hours before the next layer of dust rolls in. You learn to shower only at the very end of the day, when it's grown cool outside and you’re done with all your outdoor activities for the day, when you can sit afterwards inside your home feeling deliciously smooth and cool and clean all over.

You learn to live with the dust in Uganda, and you learn to love it, to understand it like a language or a lifestyle or a people. And when you return home to the United States, or to England, or to Canada, you’ll find that you miss the dust, and through that you’ll miss the country and the lifestyle and the language and the people. You’ll remember Uganda, and when you do, you’ll envision a long red road, twisting across a scrubby green landscape of bushes and trees and occasional thatch-roofed huts of red-brown mud, and the blue sky above like an expansive bubble, and the dust rising from little dirt paths and the long red road, rising like a breath, hovering, waiting, rising from the earth like a spirit, like the future, like the stained-red soul of the country, Uganda.

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