5 Ways Uganda Taught me to Simplify

October 2, 2012 § 69 Comments

I moved to Brooklyn October first. With a lease on a new (old) apartment, less work hours and more freedom to pursue my entrepreneurial endeavors, I discovered once again that New York is nothing if not a series of choices – most of them small: like a thousand raindrops for your life storm.

I took the wrong bus up Madison today, and ended up in Queens. $15 later, I thanked my cabbie and made it to a meeting on Upper West just in time.

That was a 5 second, 30 foot long, $15 mistake, starting at the right stop on 54th and Madison Ave, and ending at escaping the rain, and catching the wrong transit out of the city instead of my familiar territory on 79th to catch the crosstown. And, that’s how New York works – a bajillion baby decisions you make without paying attention that can throw off your whole afternoon (day? week?) and drain your entrepreneurial bank account, if you don’t watch it. And yes, my entrepreneurial bank account is that small.

I settled in Bushwick because I love the diversity here. The bodegas and the graffiti, the hip hop on the street on my way to Manhattan and the colorful home hair dye jobs waiting for the M train.

Somewhere along the way I got used to rubbing shoulders with people different from me. And, I missed that before I landed here. I wanted that back.

On a budget, in a new place, with a full plate, I’m reminded of all the things that have grounded me before when I was in this predicament. And, oddly enough, it’s the lessons I learned in Uganda that have been most relevant for me, in Bushwick – starting with leaving my comfort zone.

1. Move out of your comfort zone, and make a home there.

The first few weeks (months?) in any new city, country, place, you find yourself walking around wondering what the hell you just did. But it was in a village off the Kampala to Gulu highway that I first discovered that moving outside your comfort zone is the place where you begin learning about yourself. Once you get past feeling strange that everybody doesn’t look and feel like you,  your own weirdness gets a whole lot clearer, and you’re free to let your freak flag fly.

2. Enjoy what you have.

Agnes wears mostly the same three outfits when I stay with her in Uganda, but she’s got a few crazy little numbers tucked away that she pulls out for special occasions. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she first walked out and showed me her red, floor length dress. Re-living an old favorite, in front of a new audience, is just the best.

Moral of the story being, budgets suck. And, I’m pretty sick of mine already. But it’s just when I’m tempted to die over looks 1 straight through 42 in Prada’s F2012RTW, I remember I really love my Frye boots, and my Jeffreys, and the Gap vintage patched jean jacket that I was dying to wear all summer. By the way? Happy fall, Manhattan.

3. Refry, reheat and repurpose.

I learned in Uganda that the way you eat is relative, and the perception that you can’t eat the same thing for a week is, in fact, a little silly. I’ve seen a single chicken re-heated and remade seven different ways – and enjoyed it 7 (okay, five), different times.

Lesson learned. I wanted to make brunch for friends this weekend, after a late show in Williamsburg. So, I bought groceries to feed five. Huzzah! I have been able to re-create brunch for every single meal this week, and haven’t gone grocery shopping since.

PS – thanks for all the left over beer, Kyle.

4. Can you make that at home?

I loved the way that food brought us together, when I lived in Kakooge and Wobulenzi. We laughed a lot more. We sat a lot more. We conversed longer.

There was this whole pounding in my chest panic attack thing the first day I realized how many things I was missing from my routine  that I thought I “needed,” but about week four? I found a lot of things weren’t so necessary anymore. I’m finding it here too: with things like like going to Starbucks, when I could brew in my french press at home, or drinking a beer on my back porch in the crisp fall evening air, instead of buying gin and tonic out on the town. That whole happy simplicity part of me is waking back up, and I’m finding that I notice the little things more than I did when I was running through the line for my double breve Americano, and grabbing lunch to go every day. Not to mention, I’m finding that I enjoy my home – and the people in it.

5. Get some perspective.

Paring down, eliminating, going without are all things I think we get used to looking at negatively, but I’ve begun to realize that simplifying your life can actually be much more grounding, and help you keep your priorities in line. I’m looking forward to talking to people more. I’m noticing nature. I’m noticing ideas. I’m feeling creative. Isn’t that why we chose to be entrepreneurs? We wanted to put ideas and passions first, and stick it to the man, every now and then? I budgeted out shampoo and body  wash, and I’m enjoying Castille soap again. It’s good for your hair. It’s good for your body. It’s good for your small shower. Not to mention, I love me some almond vanilla goodness. After that, I switched to straight coffee, on my Starbucks run through. And, boy oh boy do those .50 refills make me a happy camper on Monday (and Tuesday, and Wednesday and…shit. Let’s not talk about it).

Get yourselves some Oktoberfest six packs. Open your windows. Go without a few lattes, and buy a potted plant.

Happy simplifying, Brooklyn. I’m off to shower with some Vanilla Castille goodness, and fall asleep under the M train.

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§ 69 Responses to 5 Ways Uganda Taught me to Simplify

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