some problems capturing experience in words.

Usually when I make the time to sit down and write something about this experience, I fail to come anywhere close to capturing the realness of it.

I am often incredibly overwhelmed by the feeling that I have to write about everything, because pretty much everything is different from what is familiar. How do I successfully communicate the heat and texture of sun that beats down in the middle of the Ugandan afternoon? How can I begin to describe the attitudes towards women here and how they make me feel without my comments being incomplete at best and inaccurate at worst? How do I fully express the pure joy it brings me when I can successfully negotiate the price of a set of forks using the local language? How will I ever write what it was like traveling for four hours across Uganda on a bus with 50 AIDS orphans? Sometimes it feels as if scratching the surface does a disservice to the depth of things. I have a notebook full of incomplete passages that I can’t seem to get quite right.

Yet even as I feel that the differences are just too huge to capture in words, I am getting the sense that all this is somehow becoming my new “normal.” To describe certain aspects of daily life begins to feel like stating the obvious. Something that might be a good story for a week or a month at home (having your taxi t-bone a cow, for example, or getting a prank call from a priest) becomes just another event in the Ugandan day. You find two live chickens in your sitting room. A random man proposes marriage, insisting that he can give your father the requisite number of cows. You eat fried white ants for dessert. A baboon tries to wave down your taxi. Cockroaches happen. So does food poisoning. And torrential downpours. For the most part, none of these things make headlines anymore. They cease to be strange or newsworthy or bothersome. Except for cockroaches. And food poisoning. Those are bothersome. And gross.

The contradictions are so numerous that it becomes difficult to capture certain things in language. In the same day, it is possible to feel useless and needed, stupid and all-knowing, helpless and empowered, exhausted and energized, sad and ecstatic, hungry and full beyond capacity, guilty and innocent, lonely and a total lack of privacy, hostile and friendly, fed up and motivated, disgusted and admiring, homesick and at home, angry and peaceful, bored and busy. Luckily for me, I am usually quite happy. And even when I’m not, before long, I usually become distracted from whatever may be bothering me and get on with living, forming this new sense of normal.

I’m finding that the result of all this may be a blog that contains disproportionate anecdotal coverage involving biting ants. I’m not sure how close anything that I can write will bring you to the reality of things, but I’m going to keep trying to match words with life. Maybe with time, I will be able to finish some of those half-written pages. In the meantime, if there are things you’d like to know, ask. If you want me to describe something, tell me. I’ll do my best. Even if my words are inaccurate, I still think it’s good to try.

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4 Responses to some problems capturing experience in words.

  1. Megan says:

    I hear you. But keep trying. Pretty please!

  2. mom says:

    finding the right words – a challenge i’m sure – but wow – i love your writing – and thanks for trying!

  3. kelly gavin cupit says:

    beautiful writing…i’m glad my mom passed this blog along. will post a link to it on my myspace if it’s ok with you, i have a few friends that might find what you are doing amazing…i’ll be reading :)

  4. john hand says:

    Maybe the problem you raise is why I failed to keep a journal as a PCV. As an RPCV returning to where I served, perhaps I will try a narrow focus and not worry about what I am unable to describe.

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