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I cannot stop listening to Toto.

May 19, 2011

The eve before first day of school I didn’t sleep. The night before my first trip to Disney world I tossed and turned. Hours prior to my Bar Mitzvah, I stared at the fake stars on my ceiling. As I grew older, my sense of excitement was overpowered by my amazing ability to pass out and sleep until rudely awoken by an alarm or flying object. It is nice to have this feeling again. Eves of feeling strange exigency and uncertainty seem to be the indicators of pivotal points in my life. Doctors might call it restless legs syndrome. I’m just super pumped.

Alright, so I’m going to Uganda with the Heston Summer Internship Program 2011. I am beyond stoked to be part of such an amazing group of individuals. These are big main comments/questions/concerns I have been receiving: Where is Uganda? Why would you go to Africa? Don’t get AIDS! Are there roads there? Isn’t there a movie about Africa? Some of these inquiries are silly and may seem immature. But honestly, I realize that they are just my friends and family being concerned for me. To me, this trip has been a whole semester of preparing and learning. To them, this trip is pretty sudden and unfamiliar. I understand, and I give the award for most courage to my mother. She really does deserve a round of applause. Ten years ago, letting me bike over to a friend’s house was a challenge. Africa? Well let us just say this pushes the comfort zone. But, it is a good thing! I am not the only one growing though this experience. 

How to prepare? The past three days after moving out of Gettysburg were spent unpacking and repacking.  I cannot tell if my stomach has been churning due to the food I ate during finals or excitement (probably a combination of both). My feelings have been slowly amplifying ever since I finished by last final project on Sunday, moved out, and said goodbye to some graduating friends. This is the first time in my life that I am indefinitely saying goodbye to friends, which is new to me. My anxiety is curbed by the device I am typing on currently. It helps to know that I will have contact with home. I do think that this is an opportunity to be more independent of social media to connect with others. I think that it is refreshing and I will most likely change that word to frustrating in due time. But hey bring on the frustration! If I don’t have it, there’s nothing to complain about. And who loves complaining more than a New Yorker? (Maybe the Tea Party?)

I went through lists, recommendations, stores and my favorite: I think I have everything. Literally, I might have acquired all there is to acquire. At least my bag seems that way. I am proud to say that I have fit all of my belongings into a big bag and a backpack. Not too shabby! My favorite finds that I currently have packed are at set of 3 moustaches (never know when you need a disguise), some protein packed Cliff Bars (so I stay super buff), and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. If one hasn’t noticed already I am pretty obsessed with food. It is the main object through which I can relate my life. Expect it to be a common theme.

This is a very interesting time to be traveling right now, especially to Africa. In the midst of global movements for social justice, Ugandans are currently facing many issues. The global burden of communicable diseases, poverty, hunger, corrupt government, and failing infrastructure are all issues that are prevalent in the country currently. In addition, protests are occurring in the capital of Kampala due to the raises costs of gasoline and food. Yoweri Musevini, the president of Uganda, has just been controversially elected for a fourth term. After serving the country for 25 years, this leader does not seem like he is going to leave any time soon (at least quietly). Arrests and political unrest is common in this region. In addition, a recent anti-homosexuality bill has increased penalties for being LBTQI in Uganda. As I am very disturbed by this social injustice, I am very curious to observe the current state of this country. I do plan to be cautious, respectful and aware of my surroundings (Don’t worry everybody). I believe that I will see interesting first accounts and hopefully get to see the true thoughts of Ugandans and look through the skewed exclamations thrown around by the media.

So, what do I expect? As of right now, I would be lying to say that I am going in with a clean plate. But everyone always snacks before the main meal when they are hungry. And I have definitely been snacking. I’ve been watching videos, going over case studies from this semester, talking to professors and even trying to learn some simple Lugandan. As a result, I feel only an inch more confident and I still feel like I know nothing. I am perfectly fine with this. My only expectations at this point are to make great connections with the folks in my program, my new host family and in the community. While I am Masaka, I really hope that my project will be insightful and help address at least the needs of one in the community. If I can produce one smile, that will make me feel grand. When we get to Uganda, I have the wonderful opportunity to work with The AIDS Support Organization. They were founded in 1998, same year as Google, and work to improve the lives of HIV infected individuals including prevention efforts, counseling, working on stigmatization and providing treatments. I hope to learn a great deal about community development and working with community members to see their perspective on AIDS and how we can help those affected.

Now, I have officially rambled my face off. I’m meeting Kate and Margot at JFK in 5 hours! And how did I not mention them! I could not have chosen two more awesome people to go abroad with. This next 24 hrs is going to be an adventure. Well, it is supposed to be sunny tomorrow but I can’t wait to start blessing the rains down in Africa. Oh yeah, I am that corny. Next time we talk I will be in the future. Sweet.


Mike Altman


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