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Ali and I were both emotional and not quite prepared to be leaving Fort Portal (FP), Uganda, a place that had quickly became our second home. On our hike, we discussed why exactly we were sad to leave and how to incorporate our daily life in FP into our life back home. I quickly realized that in addition to being sad to leave FP, I was scared. I really loved the person I had become in FP, and I was scared to “backslide” into my old ways when I came home. “Fort Portal Quinn” (aka FPQ) was confident, easy-going, and vulnerable.

*this is where I go into my odd third-person observations, but if you know me, you know I refer to myself in the third-person when I am reflecting*

FPQ didn’t need to wear makeup or tight fitting jeans to feel beautiful. She could be bare-faced, wearing a t-shirt and hiking pants, and don hair that hadn’t been shampoo’ed in four days, and feel adorable!

FPQ didn’t feel panicked when she was 15 minutes late to an interview with her coworker. She didn’t care that she told the hotel clerk that she would be checking in at 1pm and show up at 1:30pm. She didn’t care that she told her coworkers to come to the goat party at 5pm, when at 5:30pm she was still wrapping up an interview. FPQ learned to let go of false-beliefs that people would be disappointed or think less of her because she was a few minutes late.

FPQ opened up to her research partner about events in her life that she has still yet to reveal to some of her closest friends at university. FPQ became life-long friends with Kenneth in the short span of eight weeks. She learned to be okay with taking the risk of making others a bit uncomfortable by asking beyond-surface-level questions. FPQ was okay “getting deep” with people she didn’t know very well.

Bringing FPQ back to the states

On a hike around Lake Kyaninga, Ali and I brainstormed ways to take aspects of FPQ and FPA (Fort Portal Ali) back to the states with us.

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With the exception of a little mascara during days where I had to look business casual, I haven’t been wearing makeup since being back in the states. I hope to bring this into the school year, and reserve makeup for special events. During the year last year, I felt “naked” and “a mess” if I didn’t have time to put on makeup before classes. I don’t want to feel that way anymore.

I also want to let go of the internal pressure I put on myself to always be 5 minutes early to everything. It was easy to be more relaxed with timing in Uganda because many people run on “Africa-time” which basically means having a more relaxed attitude towards time. Not that I want to become perpetually late to everything; I still value punctuality. But if I can’t control the fact that I am going to be late, I want to be able to not freak out about what may happen if I am late (that the person I am meeting will think less of me). I’ve realized that the pressure of being on time provides me with much more stress than I’m sure others experience. But I’ve already noticed me adopting an “Africa-time” mentality here in the States. On one of the first days being back in Santa Clara, a few fellows and I decided to see The Lion King in theaters. Although we showed up 30 minutes after it was supposed to start, I wasn’t anxious at all about whether or not they would let us buy a ticket, or whether we would miss a significant portion of the movie. I couldn’t control the fact that we were late, so I didn’t stress about it! Baby steps.

I’ve tried to be vulnerable since being home. Writing this blog during my time abroad was a good lesson on being vulnerable! Nothing’s more vulnerable than putting your inner thoughts on the internet for the whole world to see! I’ve also tried to open myself up to others back home about the not-so-wonderful parts of the trip. I’m still working on it.

On the same thread as being vulnerable, I’ve stopped being overly-courteous and overly-cautious since being home. Not to say I’ve stopped having manners and being nice. I’ve attempted to be less obsessed with thinking about what people think about me.

During the last week or so of our daily boda rides to work, Ali and I started serenading our boda driver, Tom. We would sing him a new song everyday. Initially, I was practically whispering the songs, hoping not to bother anyone walking or driving down the street. I have always been overly sensitive to “bothering people” by making too much noise. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in the same house as my dad, who is hard of hearing and sensitive to too much noise. Spending 8 weeks with Ali, who is wonderfully vocal and enthusiastic, taught me that people don’t care about noise as much as I think they do. Since being back, I’ve been less over-courteous to making noise.

“Come home safe”

When I woke up on the morning of July 29th, I heard about the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Just two days before, Ali and I had been talking to some other fellows about how we were sad we were going to miss it this year. All day, I checked on the news, praying that I wouldn’t recognize any of the victims’ names. Days later, we heard about the shooting in El Paso. And then we heard about Dayton. I started feeling the urge to text my family the same well-wishing messages they had been sending me all summer. I hoped my sister would “come home safe” after a trip to the mall. I wished my brother would “come home safe” after going to the movie theater with his girlfriend. I would have never expected to feel safer in Uganda than in my own hometown. Yes, I had a higher likelihood of contracting malaria or marburg’s disease in Uganda, but I was much less likely to die from gun violence. Just this week, a 19 year old woman who I had gone to middle school with was killed in her apartment in SE Portland, miles away from my house.

Imposter syndrome

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Coming into this fellowship, I felt like an imposter. I felt like I had faked my way into being awarded this fellowship. Who was I to make recommendations for a social enterprise like KadAfrica? I had no experience in a developing country, no experience within the world of business, and for God’s sake, I had never even tasted passion fruit! I felt like I didn't deserve to work with a company like KadAfrica; until I was sent a sign about seven weeks into my time in Fort Portal.

For over ten years, my family has been spending spring break on the beautiful Oregon coast. In one of the little coastal towns, Manzanita, there is a fantastic bookstore that my parents, being big book worms, love to go to. I love going as well, but for a different reason. Over the entrance to this bookstore are the most wacky, colorful, and beautiful flowers I have ever seen. They are so fantastical; they look like someone drew a flower to be used in some sort of magical potion. This had always been my favorite flower, but I never knew the name, and never saw it anywhere else besides at this bookstore. Every year, I would go back to Manzanita and gaze at this purple flower.

During one of my last weeks with KadAfrica, I visited one of the farms. This was the time of the year when the passion fruit plants were just fruiting. As I was looking through the vines for unripe passion fruit, I came across an oh-too-familiar flower. I quickly grabbed the site manager, Bob, and asked him about the flower. He explained that this fantastical purple flower was, indeed, a passion fruit flower. I was in shock. Besides in Manzanita, Oregon, this was the only other place I had ever seen this purple flower. I’m not a big believer in fate, but this felt like a sign. I did deserved to be here.


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Quinn Gonzales is a Santa Clara University senior majoring in Public Health Science and minoring in Biology, and Urban Education. She’s passionate about breaking down barriers to affordable education, housing, and healthcare for all.