Two New Yorks

I returned from Africa 13 days ago and realized New York didn’t wait for me—my life here kept moving on without me, and my New York life snubbed me. I returned to a cautious and less than present love, an apartment that looked like Beirut, overdue bills, a needy parent, and a world of opportunity for future employment that paralyzed me because I realized I might actually get what I want out of life. I had an argument with a friend of 30 years, overbooked myself to the point of sheer exhaustion, and worked like a dog for 5 days in an un-air conditioned apartment, cleaning up the debris caused by the collapse of an entire wall unit. I missed Uganda. I missed writing. I missed being free from the responsibility of my NYC life and the heartache of this incredible city. New York didn’t care that I was gone or was it that I didn’t care that I was away from New York?

The transition back has been far more difficult than the transition of having to adjust to peeing in a pit latrine, or being “ripped off” on a daily basis, or seeing snakes being clubbed to death before a 9 a.m. class in Namirembe. It’s been more difficult than hearing of a fellow traveler who felt a worm in his back and had to have 2 adults lacerate the area in which it burrowed beneath his skin, finding a home in one of his veins or tendons (they were able to lure the worm out of this young man’s back using sugar granules. Apparently, worms like sugar). It’s been as difficult as getting past the Custom Officers in Rwanda to re-enter Uganda, but not as difficult as seeing a young girl locked in a pit latrine on a rainy day to prevent her from eating the mud created from the rainstorm. It’s not been as difficult as saying goodbye to Sarah and Charles, my two friends who showed me love and care, who will never be forgotten. It is not as difficult as waving goodbye to any one my students, whose precious little faces remain imprinted in my brain; their smiles radiating through their glistening tears.

But I returned to another New York where a friend of mine (the friend of 30 years who I argued with) took me out for a delicious meal on the fly and then provided the labor I so desperately needed to get my apartment back in order; a friend who made a trip into NYC and walked with me through Soho on a hot summer day, just to accompany me while I ran errands; a pregnant friend who invited me to lunch just because she wanted to hear about my trip and to stroll together through Loehman’s for an afternoon; a friend who came to my un-air conditioned apartment, asked what I needed as I reacclimated to the life in the city, took my To Do list and completed a couple of tasks for me, providing me ease for the rest of that day; a friend who rode with me in a cab to JFK airport to pick my Dad up just so I’d have some company; the friend who while on vacation took the time to write an outline of a curriculum I needed in order to enhance a meeting I was scheduled to attend the next day; and the “friend” who will forever thrill me, who reciprocates a level of love and care that I’ve never experienced in all my days on this earth, and who I wish to know till the day I take my last breathe, spent hours strategizing about various issues and challenges I need to find solutions to. This New York cared that I returned safe and sound. This New York made me feel it mattered that I was “home.”

I suppose all this activity and chaos and noise makes me feel as if I never even left New York, that Africa never happened. Yet I was 8,000 miles away for 6 weeks, on a continent that always beckons me to stay, pulls at me every time like a desperate lover, and leaves me with some visions and memories I struggle to write about. Here I sit in my newly arranged and very clean apartment in Chelsea, New York, hesitating to write about the sensitive and important issues that need to be written about and discussed. I sit with my fingers on my computer keyboard feeling great trepidation and fear that the words I want to type aboutpoverty, education, religion, crime, sexuality and third world politic will hurt, be too strong, or will not be clearly understood. Who am I to begin a dialogue about such issues when some of the greatest minds, scholars, and journalists have reported on much of what I have been recently exposed to and know so little about? So, I have written nothing.

I wonder if my reflections about my trip to Rwanda and my last days in Uganda will still be relevant, of interest, will resonate in the same way, now that I am back in the United States.  I suppose I will risk the embarrassment to not being well received because I do believe these short stories and documented accounts of what I experienced are worth putting down on paper.

I am scheduled to make a presentation about my journey to Africa on October 8th from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. in New York City, organized by a friend of mine, who believes my writing, my photos, my ideas, and my convictions about the aforementioned issues must be discussed. She believes they need to be brought to light from my perspective, in my voice. I thank her for believing in me, for listening to me, for trusting that I will speak from a place of deep passion, but with great care about the human condition. I’ll let you know how it goes.