After years of making plans, designs, collaborations, a Covid-19 pandemic, this morning at 5:00 AM I landed in Entebbe, Uganda. The journey here has been a long one, 30 hours to be precise, but well worth it. Like they say, good things happen to those who wait. One of my close friends from high school, Billy Conte and I are traveling to Uganda to finally implement a classroom building and micro flush toilets.
When we got to the airport in Entebbe, there was no one outside waiting for us with a sign. Weird because the Airbnb person was supposed to pick us up. Stella who sat next to me on the plane passed me from the airport exit door where Bill and I stood still. She asked if we had a ride to the hotel. During our flight, Stella shared to me that she is acquiring her PhD in Philadelphia and was returning back home to Uganda. She had one year left for her degree and so we joked about calling her “pre-doc” while after graduation she will be a “doc.” As we got closer, she talked about her birthplace in Northern Uganda called Karamoja. Apparently, this region is one of the most remote and rural areas in Uganda and there is an ongoing saying in Uganda that no one can develop this region even after developing Uganda. Students in these regions who are in Grade 5 or 6 are not able read. She wants to build a library in the community to improve the reading abilities of the students. I told her that I will be in Uganda for the next 5 weeks or so, and would love to visit this region on one of the weekends if she is willing to take us. She looked excited and said yes! I gave her my number and she said she will text. Anyways, it was super nice for her to check in with us before heading out of the airport. I am kind of a superstitious person, and such an encounter gave me loads of positive vibes. I didn’t want to burden Stella with my ride situation so I told her we were all set and she bid us farewell. I called the hotel and they sent someone for us to get picked up. Luckily, our hotel was only 10 minutes away from the airport.
Our flight to Uganda was actually booked for last week on February 28, 2023. However, we didn’t make that flight. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Uganda and many other African countries no longer allow VISA on arrival for US Citizens. Just as we were thinking, we finally had everything figured out! I traveled to Uganda two times prior, we had our yellow fever shots, and Covid-19 vaccine CDC issued cards ready to go. I even packed one of my bags with that airport plastic spinning thingy to extra protect my checked in luggage. It all came crashing down when we got to the counter and gave our passport to the person when they asked, “Do you guys have VISA paperwork?” The flight was about to take off in 2.5 hours. I immediately peeled away from the counter while Bill was still talking with the attendant. I researched how to get VISAs and found out it takes an average of 7 days to get the applications approved. When I got back to the counter, the person gave us the option to change our flight to the following week. In order to make this change, we needed to start the process at another counter. We proceeded to the new counter and the attendant told us to call the travel agency we booked the ticket with before this flight takes off. They would have to charge additional costs for the flight change but pricing was doable. There were other customers in line too, so it seemed like this attendant was trying to accommodate not only us, but other people behind us in a tough situation. I called the travel agency and they asked for my credit card number. I started to look for my wallet, only to figure out I left it with the first attendant at the previous counter. I quickly ran there, but too late – that attendant had sent my wallet to the gate of the flight we were not even taking anymore. As you can imagine, this was a lot to handle all at once. It was a massive mess and the sadness was written all over my face. They sent someone to get my wallet back to me and the second counter attendant asked me “Bhai timi Nepali ho?” which translates to “Brother, are you Nepali?” Those few words gave me such a BIG relief. I said “Yes, I am.” He said “Don’t worry, I will take care of it. He went ahead and changed our flight to March 8, 2023.” As I look back now, when Lanna had dropped us off, there was literally rain and hail, which was rare where we lived. Was this a that we were not going to make that flight?
Afterwards I called Lanna and she came back to pick us up from the same spot she dropped us off. For the next week, we refined the school design, finalized the MoU’s, sent funds to Uganda to continue the construction work, and went skiing at Lake Tahoe.
One week later, when I got to the airport again with Bill, I met the Nepali Basnet Dai again. Showed my gratitude and took off to Uganda.
It all worked out. As I am writing this post sitting down at the porch of an Airbnb listening to John Mayer’s song titled “Waiting for the World to Change” I would like to believe everything happens for a reason and it was all meant to be.
Tomorrow morning, David, the school principal, is coming to pick us up. Let’s build this school!! VAMOS!!!
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You and your team are doing an amazing work Saroj. We are very proud of you bhaii.