I normally jump at any chance to go out and create an international volunteer project or to discuss volunteerism, global aid or how to help those living in poverty, but recently things have been a bit different. Also, I prefer to write about the people we're trying to help and the issues they're dealing with, but when faced with recounting my journey back to Uganda, I see an uncomfortable road of self-doubt and self-pity, and I struggle putting it into words.
Life had become incredibly fulfilling—running a small volunteer organization, living an itinerant existence while trekking around the globe, introducing individuals and communities in need to my friends and supporters who wanted to help. It was the epitome of self-reliance and independence, and I had created a feeling of strength after each successful project. With the exuberance and determination of a fading youth, I'd defy authority, naysayers and even restrictions from some governments, believing it was time to just make a difference in the world and not letting anything get in my way. It was the first time I felt invincible and in control of my own destiny...only to have it erased one evening in Africa.
I just left India and arrived in Uganda to work with the Batwa pygmies, a small group of people in a desperate situation along the borders of Congo and Rwanda, and I was incredibly happy. I had become quite close to them in the three short weeks I was there and, with the resources I had at my disposal, knew I could make a tangible difference by addressing some challenges they'd faced for decades.
I got on my motorcycle one evening to start the two-hour ride home (Friday the 13th no less) and was just motoring along, thinking about the mud hut we'd built for an old man named Kilembe. Planning the next day and lost in thought, I came around a blind corner where I was hit head-on by a speeding Land Rover driving on the wrong side of the road.
I was completely shattered—a destroyed left leg, broken arms, dislocated and broken shoulder, a cracked skull and covered in blood—in the middle of nowhere in Africa wondering what each passing minute would bring. Unfortunately, I was coherent and awake through the entire experience, just laying in the dirt on the side of the road with my leg perpendicular to my body, wondering if someone would stop and help and, if they did, where would they take me and whether they could even save me when I got there. I pleaded to remain alive so my mother wouldn't have to come to Africa to collect my body. My prayer was to at least let me survive long enough to get home. An hour earlier, I was at the height of happiness and confidence, but now here I was, more helpless than I could ever imagine and experiencing the darkest moment of my life.
The following weeks in Africa are a story in and of themselves—a few hours later I was dragged into the back of a little Corolla for a drive down the bumpy dirt road to an outpost clinic in Kisoro, bones grinding against each other as we went. From there, it was on to Kampala for initial surgeries, and then the long journey back to the United States with my brother and my mother, a 70-year-old woman who had flown across the globe to bring her "invincible" and now broken son home. We spent the next few months at a hospital at New York University where they performed surgery after surgery, followed by seven more months in rehab and follow-up surgeries.Barton begins accepting his accident.