We’ve been home over a month and the time has flown by.  We unpacked boxes of personal items in the house, sent the kids to their first days of Grade 2 and Grade 5 at their old school and Gillian and I jumped right back to work.  It’s been a mixed bag of emotions for everyone: happy to be home, sad we left, relaxed in familiarity, lacking the edge, enjoying family, missing friends.

Toby and Bea picked up where they left off with their friends and are readjusting to school in Toronto.  Both kids are running cross-country, Bea made the Toronto Swim Club and just started hockey.  Toby is building a penny arcade game for school in my shop and starts curling shortly.  They are enjoying riding their bikes around the neighbourhood and playing in parks.

The adjustment back to North America was harder and easier than we were expecting much like life in Uganda.  The culture shock coming home was eased by traveling through progressively wealthier countries so that by the time we hit Hawaii it was pretty easy to be back in the swing of North American life.  Everything works the way it’s supposed to but there’s none of same challenges we faced and overcame together in Uganda: is there electricity today, what problem will I have with the car, will we sign the next partner at Grameen Foundation, what are we going to do with our friends tonight, Bombay Sapphire or Gibley’s?  Ok, that last one is easy.

It was a pretty weird sensation going back to work and having people ask ‘how was your sabbatical?’.  What do you say?  I’ve developed a short response that describes how it was an amazing experience, the kids loved it and we met a bunch of amazing people but you really can’t condense 174 blog posts over 13 months into an elevator ride at the office.  It was such an immense and immersive experience that its very difficult trying to pick a few meaningful highlights that convey an incredible range of personal and professional memories.  It wasn’t a vacation, it was our life for a year and we crammed everything into every minute.

I’ve figured out that you can’t really compare life in Toronto to life in Kampala, so much is so different but there are a few curious things we’ve noticed since being home.

First, we decided to hold ourselves a welcome home party in early September and Gillian sent out invitations two weeks ahead of time.  To our surprise we had far more declines than acceptances due to the fact that people here have plans more than one weekend in advance.  Our personal lives largely revolved around our friends in Kampala to the point you would almost be offended if one of your friends had plans one weekend that didn’t involve you.  By the nature of expats, everyone is from somewhere else so outside of your immediate family most people don’t have commitments that they ‘have to do’ on weekends so every weekend was just a question of what we are going to do together this weekend.

Second, it only took me about two days of driving in Canada before road rage began to seep back in.  In Toronto when someone cuts you off, or heaven forbid, doesn’t signal before changing lanes, that is worthy of a middle finger and a string of curse words.  A minor traffic infraction is as evil and reprehensible as Coca-Cola replacing Crest Tonic Water with Schweppes.  Yet in Kampala, I would be cut off 10 times a day (alright, Michael would be) and I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow because that’s how you drive.  In fact if you aren’t trying to pass that 1975 diesel truck belching raw carbon from its exhaust pipe by pulling out into the center of the road and creating the Landcruiser lane then you just aren’t driving right and people will wonder what’s wrong.  It’s the lack of driving rules that releases you from the feeling that you have to drive within the law and the stress and angst associated with someone else not following the rules simply goes away.  This also reflects the difference between doing business in Uganda vs. the West as well.

Lastly, we noticed how much we’ve learned about the world and how the things we’ve thought about as challenges in the past seem petty and fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things now.  We are excited to travel to Scandinavia next summer to see our friends again and see new places.  The world is a pretty awesome place.  It’s gotten a lot smaller in the past year and we are looking forward to another sabbatical in the future.

Thank you for coming along for the ride with us.  What started as a fun way to stay in touch with family evolved into a diary of our adventure and a wonderful record of the people we met and places we visited.  We’re glad you read the entries, made comments and stayed in touch while we were away.  Thank you to Sean and Kaidi, Mattias and Anna, Monica and Gard and all of our friends in Kampala who made this an amazing experience.  Thank you to the Evans and Smith families who kept things going for us while we were gone.  This is our last blog post and I hope it has been as much fun reading as it has been writing.

Chris, Gillian, Toby and Beatrice
October 8, 2012


About Smith Family

Chris, Gillian, Toby and Beatrice have called Toronto home but are now looking at a new adventure overseas for a year.
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7 Responses to Home

  1. marg says:

    Looking forward to reading the next blog in the Smiths In _________ series. Happy to have you all home. xoxo.

  2. Barb says:

    Oh I’m pretty certain we should stay tuned to this channel for further adventures. For the moment we are happy to have the family back in our midst but I’m betting on a sequel.

  3. Jim says:

    Twas an awesome adventure guys………..thanks for taking us along on the ride!!

  4. Leigh Tynan says:

    Where has the year gone! I am sad to see the end of your blog as I have truly enjoyed following your experiences throughout the past year! You all showed so much courage picking up and heading to Africa…..so many of us only dream of doing such a thing. Thank you for sharing, it was very special to be able to learn about life in Kampala and Africa through your eyes. We are also glad to have you back!! 🙂

  5. Cynthia says:

    I have to say, I really enjoyed your year away! The adventures, the people, the travel, what a vicarious thrill! I’m looking forward to your next sabbatical! Welcome home – for now!

  6. Sean Krepp says:

    I loved this post, the Skype call and the entire year of having your family in Kampala.

    You are absolutely right about the contrasts. As an example, we spontaneously decided to gather for a barbecue today because it is Uganda’s national independence day or 50 years since it was a British protectorate.

    We are not sure what we are celebrating because the lawlessness of the roads, as you describe, pervades all parts of life and society. In fact, being in Kampala today feels more like being part of a large military operation than July 1, Canada Day celebration on parliament hill.

    We met the World Bank last week because their chief economist wants our Community Knowledge Workers to collect data on seed, fertilizer and mechanization of small holder farmers so as to decide upon how to spend 40MUSD. He quipped to us in the planning meeting that in 1962 there were 4000 tractors and that today there are less than 1000. In agriculture, the country has fallen behind whilst in other domains it has chugged forward.

    We have just gotten in our latest farmer registration statistics and we have now interacted with over 100,000 farmers with over 1M interaction and growing. You were instrumental in bringing vital information to and from farmers to help transform this lagging sector. So as you step out of that elevator, I hope you continue to tell this story with a sense of personal satisfaction and pride.

    We look forward to seeing you all on your next adventure and were happy to help you squeeze every ounce out of life and the lemon from our lemon tree. I fondly remember how we discovered the last glorious bottle of Crest Tonic on an island in Lake Victoria. It is strange how little things like this can mean so much in places like Uganda but they do. Now, Gibleys or Bombay – this is an easy one…we raise our glasses on this ‘independence day’ to the Smiths !

    We will miss you and we will most certainly stay in touch.

  7. gran says:

    Of course we are first and foremost delighted to have you back with us ! We look forward to following with great anticipation the sequel in your life adventure.
    Love ,

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