While Uganda is different than Garden City in many ways, in some ways Amy Longa’s “two homes” are quite similar.
“Oftentimes, when people ask, ‘Amy where are you from?’ I faithfully, honestly say, ‘I’m from Garden City,’ and I really mean it,” Longa said. “Garden City is my home. I just happened to move from Uganda to be in Garden City.”
Longa and fellow Garden Citian and Uganda native Steven Tendo spoke Thursday morning to guests of Garden City’s annual Diversity Breakfast, held at the Clarion Inn, 1911 E. Kansas Ave., and organized by the city’s Cultural Relations Board.
Longa, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Garden City, said it was difficult for her to leave Uganda, and she initially stayed there even after her husband, George Longa, moved to the United States.
“But after giving birth to our first child, I realized if this precious institution called marriage is to work, we have to be together,” Longa said.
In 2010, after living in Minnesota for a few years, the Longas made their way southwest to Garden City after George was offered a job at Walgreens.
Longa humorously described the couple’s thoughts about Garden City before they experienced it for themselves.
“We said, ‘We are going to this place called Garden City. It says ‘Garden,’ so it must be an awesome place. It must be beautiful,’” Longa said, evoking laughter from the crowd. “As we were coming, I turned to George and said, ‘This feels like driving to the promised land. It’s right there beyond that field.’ From field to field, you’re just like, ‘Ok I know there’s going to be a town after this.’”
After spending the past five years in Garden City, Longa said she has come to think of it as home and has found several similarities to her native Uganda, which is known for being lush, green and tropical.
“You see all these herds of cattle in Kansas, you see the same in Uganda,” Longa said, adding that her family farmed for their own sustenance. “So when I look at the wheat fields in Kansas, the corn fields in Kansas, it still connects me back to Uganda where I grew up.”
She said living in Garden City has not been without its challenges, though, much of which she attributed to culture shock and essentially losing everything she ever knew.
“Talk about self-esteem, talk about character, talk about relations, talk about personality, talk about that (which) defines a person — I felt like I lost all of it when I came to the States,” Longa said.
But Longa has since regained some of her footing, earning a master’s degree in international diplomacy, which helped her realize she could be whatever she wanted.
“That is what is beautiful about this country. If you take that initiative, if you don’t give up, if you look at the strength that comes from the inside, anything is possible,” she said.
Tendo, a direct care provider at ResCare Homecare and former Telegram reporter, came to America with his wife, Beatrice Mirembe, and two small children in 2014 without any of their belongings.
“When many people are traveling from Africa, or Uganda for that matter, when they come over, I mean you can’t carry stuff with you. You can’t carry your property, so we had nothing,” Tendo said.
But Tendo said the experience was filled with blessing after blessing.
“We were like the old prophet who saw a burning bush and instead of running away, he just went over and did exactly what the voice in the bush told him to do. By faith,” Tendo said. “We didn’t have anything, but He just said, ‘Let’s go. This is where we need to go.’”
During a slideshow, Tendo included a humorous photo of himself looking bewildered at the snow and cold weather after arriving in the U.S., which evoked laughter from the crowd.
“Snow. That’s snow,” he said. “You read about it, you think ‘Oh it’s awesome,’ and then you come and experience it.”