The Spaces That I Used To Go

Moving is a fraught process no matter what. You decide which things to keep, give away, sell, or trash. You slowly deconstruct the pieces of routines which have served you. You begin the process of turning your home back into a house, just a place where things are stored instead of a space where memories live.

I have less than a month left in Uganda.

It feels anticlimactic and strange to watch my house transform into what it was when I came. When I take things off the walls, the light reflects differently and confuses me for a moment. When I wonder where something has gone, I remember I’ve packed it away or given it to someone.

I will not be taking most of my belongings with me. In true American fashion, I’ve managed to acquire an impressive amount of things in two years, things I thought I needed or wanted that now just take up space. Most of them will be sold/given to other Volunteers or my neighbors.
I continue to use a lot of things in my house for daily life but it feels like I’m performing a play, using props that belong to the theatre instead of me. Life’s a stage, after all.

None of these possessions will be in my life next month. Even as I’ve tried to get over loving material things (my first journal eaten by termites, a raincoat lost in a taxi), I still love them. The particular red of a coffee cup, the bucket I wash my clothes in, my blue teaching sandals. I have immaterial loves as well, and it’s those I suspect I’ll remember more. The feel of my bare feet on the cement floor I just mopped, laughing with my neighbors, the way I can think a million thoughts in a one hour taxi ride so by the end I’m convinced I’ve solved the universe.

It used to confound me to see Ugandan people traveling long distances without much luggage. Now I know it confounds them how I need so many things to stay well. I’m not knocking the simple life or the life filled with things. Just trying to say that possessions can be important to us, and like other important things, they can leave our lives and still have been important. It’s not necessary to hang on to something for it to mean something to you.

No doubt some new tutors will move into my house when I leave, or perhaps someone higher up in the pecking order will be shifted here and the tutors will get the other person’s house. No doubt they will own fewer things than me, decorate the place differently, and definitely clean it better than I have. But for two years it was my space, the first house I ever lived in by myself, and it mattered. 

Sometimes I have difficulty explaining to Ugandans why I love my house so much, why I spend a lot of my free time in it and why I buy a lot of things to fill it. Americans tend to have a sense of pride about their homes, whether they’re houses or apartments or condos or trailers. We see the home as an extension of self, an outward display of all the things you care about, dream for, and work towards. We see it as a place to relax and not put on a performance for anyone, as a place where you can choose to go and get away from people and it is completely your space. We see space as a premium, that even if you don’t have a lot of things, it’s nice to have a lot of space.

I will miss it because it mattered.