My Heart has Taken Root

The Source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda

Nila Uthayakumar, KF14, Uganda

My Rough Guide to Kenya has been open face down on my desk for the past few days. My time in Uganda has been incredible. I have seen and experienced so much in such a short period. Like my life has been on fast forward. This country captured me instantly. Drew me in. And held me close. Whispering. This land is unlike any other.

But it seemed as if from the moment I set foot upon this soil, my presence so fleeting, that my footprints would disappear almost instantaneously. I knew I would be here for only two months. And my heart didn’t want to take root.

This city built on seven hills. Kampala. I’ve relished her. Hours spent on the back of motorcycles and stuffed in share-taxis. Open air markets. Shoulder to shoulder. Senses ablaze. Rainforest and a roaring river. Ubiquitous orange dust. Mud-caked and stained. Friendships. The kindness of strangers. Lives so vastly different, yet so much alike. Laughter and pain, sometimes one and the same. Like a cartographer’s quill, my mind races to fill in the blanks. I am at a loss. Restless.

I’ve lived in East Africa for more than eight months now. I wonder to myself if I am a different person from the girl who bounded aboard the flight to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last May. Heart aflutter, mind racing, ready to embark upon the next chapter of my life. I suppose I was always a romantic, an explorer. My gaze was always upward, towards the horizon. I dreamt of far away places.

The French call it Le Mal d’Afrique. An illness, a disease. This continent, she will rob you when you least expect. Everything you ever thought you needed and desired will be replaced with just one thing. You will feel and behave as though you were making your own choices, but they won’t be yours, because from the moment you’re infected every decision you make will lead you back to her.

But for me, it is that and so much more. It feels as though one has awoken from dormancy. As if emerging from a cocoon of silk, feeling sensations anew. The burn of the sun on the back of the neck; the tingle of the breeze as it grazes the lips. Like one could unfurl limitless possibilities, entire worlds with each pealing layer.

If fury and euphoria were one, and infinity stretched between my thumb and forefinger, I would pinch the threads of time. And if I thought this feeling in my chest would dissipate, those threads would transform and ensnare me. My heart has taken root.

Nila Uthayakumar is currently finishing up her Kiva fellowship in Kampala, Uganda. She had the pleasure of working with two Kiva field partners, MCDT and BRAC Uganda, and is looking forward to working with several more partners in Kenya. She is moving next week!

About the author