You’re going to Africa? Doesn’t everyone there have AIDS? Are you going to learn to speak African? Don’t they walk around topless there? Are you going to walk around topless? Will you get a pet elephant, or giraffe or something? Don’t kids walk around with guns there? Isn’t it dangerous there? Are you going to have enough food to eat?

How does Sarah feel about it? 
How does Gabriel feel about it? 

The last two questions we’ve received are the most ridiculous of the bunch, for so many reasons. The main reason is not that Gabriel and I are always completely aligned in everything we do. The main reason is simply because the two of us are so dang stubborn that if we were not OK with something, you would already know exactly “how we feel about it.” 

Where you go I will go, where you stay I will stay...

They were more than wedding vows we made to each other in 2013. The vows were a card we could pull whenever one of us wanted to uproot and move somewhere else (you promised to follow, so follow through with that promise!). 

Our wedding rings – including Gabriel's copper band that he crafted himself.  Photography courtesy PattyLynn Photography, LLC

Our wedding rings – including Gabriel's copper band that he crafted himself. 
Photography courtesy PattyLynn Photography, LLC

I’m completely, 100% kidding. Although they were more than vows. 

They were a promise: to stand beside one another, no matter what we faced, and support each other  physically, emotionally and spiritually  in sickness and in health, in frantic states of mind and in sanity, in hangry swings and happiness… 

Poor Gabriel. On June 29, 2013, he couldn’t see what was coming when he made that promise. He couldn’t see that our future held uncomfortable accommodations with minimal amenities, isolation in the middle of no where, poor quality food, risks of high fevers and unknown sickness… 

I’m not talking about our new home in Uganda. I’m talking about our training for Uganda (in the States). 

The two weeks of classes were to equip us with skills to better communicate with another culture, to understand a Third-Culture Kid (TCK), and to learn more about our own personality and communication preferences  how those things affect our interactions with others.

It was a 10.5 hour road trip from NC to upstate NY, where the training took place. With Gabriel behind the wheel, my Sour Patch Kids stash overflowing and our eclectic iPod on shuffle with 4,945 songs, I rather enjoyed the trek north. 

Gabriel, who drove the entire way, might have another perspective of the trip.

As we neared the destination and our GPS told us we only had 4 miles to go, we panicked and thought we entered the wrong address and were lost. Surrounding us on all sides was Amish country  horse and buggies, beautiful old farmhouses, fields overflowing with produce ready for the harvest…

The classes were to take place at Houghton College  where was the “college town” that surely sprouted up around the campus? Where did people buy groceries? And life’s necessities? Where did they buy clothes?  

One mile from campus, we passed a produce stand selling Carolina peaches. No one was running the stand, save an unlocked cash box (full of bills) for people to pay/receive change from. 

And then a quarter of a mile from campus, we hit “town”  a pizzeria, post office and Subway restaurant making a triangle of civilization against the rural landscape. 

houghton-new-york

We pulled into Houghton College (a beautifully manicured campus) before registering and receiving keys to our accommodations. A few minutes later (after driving back across the bustling town), we unlocked the door to our new college apartment, one that featured twin dorm beds and matching “closets” (two cut outs in the wall without doors to hang our clothes up in). There was a commons area with a functioning kitchen, one couch and four barstools. And across the commons area, our roommates’ sleeping quarters (a near replica of our own). 

More to come on the awesome roommates and our other new friends in an upcoming post!

More to come on the awesome roommates and our other new friends in an upcoming post!

After unpacking two+ weeks’ worth of clothes in the wall, I took a moment to lie down on the bed. I stretched out on my back and reached my arms behind my head to fluff the pillow. Then I shifted on my right side. Then I shifted on my left. Then I flipped over on my stomach.

I was halfway to flipping once more on my back when Gabriel piped up. 

“What are you doing flopping around over there?” 
“I can’t get comfortable!”
“Well, that’s probably because it’s a dorm bed.” 
“I don’t remember them being this uncomfortable, seven years ago.” 

Gabriel glanced up and I could see a witty remark about my ripe age, dancing on the tip of his tongue, ready to leap from his mouth. Fortunately for him, our roommates popped their heads in the door to see if we were ready for dinner. 

I can’t remember what we had for dinner that first night, most likely because I tried to block out memories of all of our meals. The fourth and last dining option in town (next to the Subway, Pizzeria and a Chinese restaurant called China Star  an establishment that also happened to be located in a barn and one we did not visit) was the school cafeteria. And the cafeteria was a… cafeteria. It wasn’t like the dining hall I was used to at Appalachian State University  I never realized how good I had it there. 

This food was mass produced for a thousand people. And while the staff did the best they could, the quality of food is only so great when feeding so many. 

After eating poor quality (and sometimes unidentifiable) food for a week, being surrounded with people from every continent (most who had graciously picked up airport germs before arriving at Houghton), and getting little sleep (I kept falling through the canyon between the two twin mattresses, after we pushed them together to create a “queen” bed), my immune system was vulnerable. 

The meanest, nastiest germ on campus decided to kick my butt.

I spent the second week of classes in a horizontal position on our dorm bed, which became even more uncomfortable with each passing hour. As my body ached with a raging fever of 102.1 for four days straight, Gabriel stayed by my side. 

…in sickness and in health…

Every 30 minutes, he switched out cold compresses on my forehand and neck. He made daily runs (three towns over) to the Dollar General, as we attempted to find a medicine that would successfully bring my fever down. Despite not having air conditioning in the apartment, I woke up every night freezing and shaking violently. Each time, Gabriel moved closer to me, offering his body heat as he held me tightly and tried to stop my shivering. 

He brought me gatorade, crackers and fruit. He coaxed me into sitting up to watch episodes of Fraiser on his iPad. As I transitioned to a vertical position once more, he drove me across campus to a class (only here and there), knowing the mile walk would wipe my recovering body out. 

…for richer, for poorer…

The training cost nearly USD 4,000 for the two weeks of classes + room and board. As my achy, feverish body shifted on the uncomfortable dorm bed, I tried to not be angry about the situation. I tried to not focus on the fact I was spending thousands of dollars to be away from my own comfortable bed (the only thing I ever crave, when I’m sick). I tried to forget I was using all of my vacation time to be at training I wanted a refund on those days, to cash them back in as sick days. I tried to forget about the classes I was missing. I tried to not feel left out that our other teammates from Uganda were hanging out without me. 

But then I tried to remind myself that my (arguably overpriced) sans-AC dorm accommodations were still more comfortable than what our Ugandan girls have. And many of them face terminal or incurable illnesses with no one to take care of them. Having a mattress and a roof over my head made me rich. So I kept my mouth shut and endured the discomfort. 

…for better, for worse…

Sorry, that’s a lie. I definitely did not keep my mouth shut about how uncomfortable the beds were and how terrible the food was. And you know why? Because I’m a human from America. And even though I know in my head that our Ugandan girls come from very little, I won’t be able to fully understand until I see it. 

I hope to better myself and learn to complain less about trivial matters (or learn to redefine what is “trivial”). Ideally, this transformation would take place before we move to a developing country. Realistically, I know it won’t. Until we are faced with true disease and poverty and starvation, I’ll continue to complain.

And until then…

How does Sarah feel about it? 
How does Gabriel feel about it? 

Just in case you’re still wondering how we really feel about “it” (being sell everything to move to Uganda)… Many days, we feel safer working with gunless kids in a country that is stricken with widespread AIDS than we do in our own passport country. I don’t think I’ll walk around topless with the "natives," or learn to speak the fictional language of “African” (although I’d enjoy making it up). I would love a pet elephant, but seeing as they are not omnipresent across the entire continent of Africa (as most would like to think), I might stick with a chameleon. I became quite close to one in Kenya, and I hear he has a cousin just over the border in Uganda. 

chameleon-pet

***

 

Happy 3 years to my best friend. Gabe, thanks for always being by my side, through the highs and lows. Life would be so utterly boring with you. 

 

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