Listen: Your life will be different than you thought.
There will be one night where you will wake up, outside, in the middle of the night, peeing into your underwear, underneath a gazebo in the middle of a dark compound in the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda; a compound where crushed glass sits on the top of the walls, where monkeys roam at will in small, cutthroat families; where large, stork-like birds perch on top of fortified buildings and glare; and where a pack of attack dogs emerge from somewhere at nightfall to patrol, to protect us all‒ this you ponder mid-pee, mid-night, though you don’t remember why you are here, outside, peeing into the humid ground, but you remember the dogs — you had seen them before, with other volunteers, standing on the balcony of the dorms, marvelling at their size— whose job it is to attack at night, to attack intruders, strange humans wandering around, and anyone who is outside a building at night is strange. It’s not a dream: you feel urine slide down your thigh, all the pulsing night noises of frogs and cricket, thickened by midnight, and you are truly in Uganda, it’s 2011 and election season; you and 40 other young Americans are quarantined from the social unrest that’s sure to come from the rigged voting process, you are truly living in Uganda for the next two years as a teacher who has never taught: it’s all your real life. You stop peeing and straighten from your animal-like crouch. You see black night around you and the lights of the dorm where you sleep, maybe a few hundred feet away — the place you have been told never to leave at night, where your roommate lies sleeping underneath mosquito-netting, and you think about the attack dogs who are surely watching you, have been watching you dream-urinate and waiting. You think about the running required of your limbs, that walking calmly is not an option, that you will not trick anyone, let alone yourself; you sense that the gazebo is safe, but only momentarily, perhaps for another 60 seconds, that the dogs will only wait so long. And you are naked besides your soaked underwear—since when do you sleep naked, even in this hot land?—your flesh touches the night, is opened by the night. You are in your body, so horribly in your body, so awakened from any mefloquine-spiked sleep that led you to dream-walk outside of your mosquito-netted cocoon into the night, and this is all new, so new; you stand like a newborn under this gazebo, which during the day time becomes a pleasant place for breaks between workshops, for flirting with other volunteers, for making kissing sounds at nearby monkeys, and is now some urine-soaked prophylaxis-birthed purgatory: yes, this is nothing you could have planned for. This is your life right now, you repeat, and then you run, you run out from the shelter of the gazebo into the night like some plummeting winged thing, your soft feet crashing against the wet crust of ground, too slow too slow, and yes, the dogs are there, behind you, on both sides, all of them, there must be 6 or 7, they run and nip at you, these animals that you love, have always loved, have grown up hugging and playing with, these sensitive, warm mammals, they push into you with their bulky shoulders as they bark and snarl, perhaps they are new to this too, perhaps this is is the first intruder into their beloved home, their compound, where they roam for the 12 hours of black, following the putrid scents of monkeys, sniffing at bird shit, listening with their nose to all the danger; we run together through the black— an ancient tableau of girl and dogs—is she being attacked? She is blinded, eyes closed to the black and to the dogs and to herself, she is a monument to death, to our unknown futures; the dorm approaches in front; she trips on a root, nearly falling, her young body stumbling, and then she has reached the door, throwing all of herself inside on the cement floor, the door heaves shut behind her and she stares at it, she stares and stares, not daring look down at her body, knowing things are different.
Ilse Griffin received her BA in English literature and creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her MA in TESOL/linguistics from Hamline University. She teaches English at home and abroad, and has been published in Where is the River, Funny Looking Dog Quarterly, and Pif Magazine. She loves in St. Paul, Minnesota.