When Morgan asked Jeremy and I to tag along on his salsa dancing date in Uganda, I couldn’t say no. Are you kidding me? Salsa dancing— in Africa? When in the hell am I ever going to get that opportunity again? Count me in. Me and twenty-seven other American students were staying in Kampala, transitioning from our recent homestays in Gulu to our upcoming time in Kigali, Rwanda. We were given freedom to explore, but in hindsight, I don’t think our academic directors would have encouraged our trip to an unknown location so far away, especially at sundown.
No one we asked seemed to know exactly where to find this salsa dancing spot, but all were eager to take us there. Traveling by taxi and boda boda, we circled the vicinity of the supposed location, again and again. We were just about to give up when Jeremy spotted the landmark we’d been searching for. Expecting a club scene, we were surprised at the strip-mall local and the absence of music in our eardrums. After climbing three flights in a narrow and winding stairwell, Morgan opened a plain white door, revealing a small and brightly lit dance studio. Mirrors lined the room’s walls and the three people standing inside greeted us with smiles— two instructors and Morgan’s date. Yikes! Not at all what I was expecting. Sure, you have to be pretty adventurous and somewhat outgoing to travel to Africa without knowing a soul. But one-on-one dancing with both critical strangers’ and peers’ eyes upon you, entirely sober- mind you, is a whole different story. Definitely not my cup of tea... but, there we were! Standing in the middle of this ever-so-bright room, confronted with our awkward reflections and nervous smiles, the lesson began. A male instructor and Cynthia showed us the basics before asking us to pair up. I was lucky that Jeremy is so open and go-with-the-flow because he made a great dance partner, definitely helping me feel comfortable.
So...I’m in Africa, getting salsa lessons and loving it. Jeremy is my partner and we’re working on our finish— a spin move just before the final dip. We did this a few times and seemed to have it down. Woo, that was fun! Then, the instructor asks us to do it one more time for him. I think I blacked out. All I remember is hearing the loudest pop and the next thing I knew I was screaming, collapsed in Jeremy’s arms and clutching my kneecap- which was on the complete right side of my leg. The next few moments felt frozen in time, even despite the uncontrollable shaking. My skirt lay just below the knee, so the unsightliness of the situation was somewhat hidden from myself, but shown clearly upon the faces of those surrounding me. I was in panic mode; wide-eyed and sweating. They eventually raised me to a high-top chair, where everyone took turns holding my leg in a very specific position, hovering at the perfect distance and angle above ground. A centimeter of movement caused me to cry out in labor-like screams. Meanwhile, Jeremy attempted to call our academic director to send an ambulance. The entire process took far too long due to a major lack of understanding between our directors and us— about where we were and what had happened.
Now, don’t forget my third floor placement with only a narrow and winding staircase as our option down. The ambulance arrived thirty minutes later and all I could do was beg for pain medication. Some major convincing was done on the doctor’s part before I allowed them to move me from the chair to a stretcher oh-so-far on the ground. Ah! Once lying flat, I continually told the doctor I couldn’t let him move me again because the pain was too much, begging him to pop it in right then and there. But he refused, insisting I be taken to the hospital. It’s the only time I’ve ever experienced too much pain to cry— a huge feat to anyone that knows my sensitive nature. Even writing this is making me cringe. Five people shakily carried me upon that stretcher above their heads, down the narrow and sharp turns of three floors. I was utterly terrified, even sitting up at one point, exclaiming my fear of being dropped. As they ordered me to lie back down, I realized the detriment to my panic and did just that, attempting to calm myself through breath.
I’m extremely lucky to have been with friends who took such good care of me. Morgan physically held me up and calmed me throughout the entire chaotic ambulance mess. And Jeremy? Without complaint, and even encouragement, let me squeeze and punch him as the flows of pain came and went. I couldn’t have asked for more. When we reached the hospital, I begged for more pain meds, demanding for a doctor to come inside the ambulance to pop my knee. The thought of moving again was surreal. To my shock, they eventually accepted my pleas and five minutes later a doctor appeared and did just that. One-two-three-POP... and back it was, forty-five minutes later, my tears finally able to flow. Cynthia, one of the salsa instructors, insisted on riding in the ambulance, continually telling me how strong I was. She held my hands as they slid my kneecap back into position and couldn’t believe how well I "handled it". I definitely didn’t feel like I handled it. I was moved by the genuine care and concern she had for me, a perfect stranger.
Everything happens for a reason. This once-in-a-lifetime experience in Uganda left me with both beautiful and uneasy memories, all of which I cherish fondly. As I’ve said before, adventure comes with risk... and sometimes injury and disappointment come with risk- but if life is measured in experiences... most are worth it, in the end.
Just when I thought the trip's dancing days were behind me, our academic director in Rwanda told us of a cultural presentation we needed to put on for our host siblings about the US. Fortunately, Kim knew the “Single Ladies” dance and was eager to teach anyone willing to perform. I attempted to participate but my injury ultimately made the decision for me. The fabulous ladies who danced worked it! Shoot, it was on the Kigali news! Okay, the presentation was more than just a booty-licious dance, consisting of extreme hula-hooping performances, a good ol’ “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” sing-a-long and facts about each of our states. I was proud to do my part by educating everyone about the high five state, along with my fellow Michigander, Joe. I’m sure all of Kigali was equally as appalled when Wisconsin attempted to steal that title from us. Silly, Wisconsin.