Saturday, March 14, 2020

A love letter to Uganda

 Dear Uganda, 

Ten years ago, Tim and I touched down for the very first time here in The Pearl of Africa. We were wide-eyed, excited, naïve, ready to learn and keen to experience all your beautiful country had to offer. After an initial 5 month volunteer stint we headed back to New Zealand promising to each other that we’d come back to live in 3 years’ time. We moved here indefinitely in January 2014 and have been here ever since. In a couple of days, we’ll be leaving to move back to New Zealand. I want, and, quite frankly, need, to process some of those feelings with you.

If I’m honest, I’d tell you that before I moved to Uganda I thought I would be “giving up a lot”. Missionary/aid worker style. “Sacrificing” a lot. And in some ways I was. But in most ways I wasn’t.

I thought I was giving up my lovely house in New Zealand. Instead, you and God gave us the best house we could ever have wished for complete with a huge yard – perfect for our growing brood of children. Speaking of children, I thought I was giving up my chance to have children. And yet literally weeks after arriving in country our paths intersected with the most precious little girl who went on to become our daughter. Later on a son followed.  I thought I was giving up my dream job and yet somehow the jobs we both have right now are the best thing ever. We thought we were giving up a wonderful group of friends that deeply cared about us and had known us decades. Instead, we found  those relationships continued to grow albeit across the oceans! And an equally special group of friends came into our lives and walked side by side with us through our toughest seasons yet.  

We thought we were giving up our families. And that one, we were. For the last six years our families have patiently and graciously waited on the sidelines watching through Facebook and Facetime and once yearly visits to see their grandchildren and us in the same room. 

I thought I was giving up shopping. And I was. But, instead I found ways to “manage”. Working with local artisans to create beautiful goods, getting down on my hands and knees to rummage through second hand piles at the downtown markets, going to Dubai once a year to get my “fix” and being a regular at expat garage sales. Best yet though was realising that simplicity and minimalism are my new MO (modus operandi) and I don’t need that stuff to make me happy.  In saying that, I’m really looking forward to hitting up Kmart when I’m back in NZ. Hey, I’m being honest, right?

Of course there’s been challenging times too. The rat in my bed wrapped around Eva’s head drinking milk that had fallen onto the foam mattress. The countless snakes. The police that pull us over looking for bribes. Getting pneumonia and malaria. The power company we have on speed dial because EVERY. SINGLE. DANG. WEEK there’s an issue. The water company that constantly likes to turn off water when we have large numbers of people over for a party. The burglars that stole from us. The people that scammed us. The lies we’ve been told. Immigration dramas, roads that put your neck out they’re so bumpy and pollution levels so high its dangerous to go outside.  You’ve legit driven me crazy sometimes. Often times.

But all of that is NOTHING in comparison to what you’ve given  me.  My babies. My incredible friends. The grandmother to my children, (Jane, our househelper), Opportunities to serve people in big and small ways.  The best Indian (ironic, I know) food in the world. A community of people we absolutely adore.

Uganda, (and I’m crying now), thank you. Thank you for giving me some of the best years of my life to date. You are the reason I became a Mother. There is nothing I can do to repay you for that. All three of my children have danced on your soil and grown up under your sun and leant to walk and talk on the mis-matched tiled floors of this beautiful home. 
In just a few short days the time will come to put a full stop on our time here. Our son, Maz needs to have a significant heart operation and we know just the place to help – New Zealand. It’ll be the tenth time I’ve moved internationally and the 11th time Tim has. We’re ready to put down some roots for a while.

But we’ll be back to visit I promise.  Tim’s here for a work visit twice next year and I’ll be touching down again around May.  We hope to bring the kids back in a few years too. Because there’s nowhere quite like Uganda. Nowhere.

With all our love and affection,
Tim, Helen, Hope, Eva and Maz


  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story and feelings. It has inspired me in so many ways.

  2. This is beautiful, Helen! Best in your new endeavour! Silas

    1. Thanks dear friend! How quickly our world is changing. Thinking of you - stay safe!

  3. Love this Helen! Beautifully written, and such a cool perspective on a country so many don't know/understand (including me, despite having visited!). What I 100% do know though - that Indian is truly the BEST :)!

  4. didnt know you loved our country that much