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Uganda - The Pearl of Africa

>> Tuesday, March 24, 2009

As I sit here to write my first real post-Uganda blog, I really don't even know where to start. I think it's going to be a long time before I'm even able to start to really wrap my brain around my Uganda experience. There were so many amazing, so many hard, and so many heart-wrenching moments during our ten days in the field that's it's weird to think that we were only gone for two weeks in total. Forgive me if my thoughts seem to ramble in this post and the posts that follow, but I have a lot of memories and thoughts floating around in my head right now.

I guess for now I'll start at the beginning:

After a whole day of nerves and excitement, we all finally made it to the airport on the evening of Sunday March 8th. After getting all three of our family groups together, and finally making it through the check-in desk, it was time for final goodbyes to all the moms, dads, brothers and sisters who came to the airport to see their family member off. There were a few tears, but mostly big smiles and waves as we crossed over to the first security check-point. As we waited to board our plane, there was a shared feeling of "isn't it surreal that it's finally here?" After waiting and counting down for so long, most of us couldn't believe that the day had finally arrived. As we started to get closer and closer to Uganda (first at our stop-over in London, and then at our stop-over in Nairobi, Kenya) it slowly became more clear to us that it was really happening and that we were all about to have an experience that would leave none of us unchanged in some way.

When we finally landed in Entebbe, Uganda on Tuesday March 10th (after many, many, many hours of travel), we gathered our baggage and were pleasantly surprised to find that none of our luggage was missing. Considering we had a ton of baggage (as we brought a lot of donated items with us), to have nothing missing at all is kind of unheard of. We took it as a sign of good things to come, waited as Ryan got our Visas, and then boarded the bus that would be our main source of transportation during our time in Uganda. We drove about an hour to Kampala (the capital city) for lunch and to change our money into Ugandan shillings. Kampala was, in a word - chaotic. There are pretty much no road rules in Uganda (other than drive on the left-hand side of the road) and there are only about 3 stop-lights in the entire city - and only one of them actually works! There were people, cars, taxi buses, and boda-bodas (a two-seater motorcycle that is used as a sort of mini-taxi) everywhere. I honestly don't know how Farouq (our bus driver) didn't hit anything or anyone, but I very quickly learnt that Farouq is pretty much the master of all drivers - he can drive through anything at anytime and never hit a thing.

When we parked the bus to walk down the street for lunch, there were three thoughts running through my mind:
1. It is sooooo hot!!! (Seriously, I have never, ever even come close to experiencing the kind of heat they have in Uganda - it ranges from about 25-35 degrees Celsius I think depending on where you are, but the humidity is pretty much always at 100% so it always feels like it's at least 50% Celsius).
2. The birds in Uganda are huge!! The official bird in Uganda is the Crested crane, and they are everywhere in Kampala - in trees, sitting on roof-tops, flying through the allys. They kind of look like something from the dinosaur age, they're that big.
3. There are no tourists in Kampala - I very quickly noticed that there are very few non-African people there (I only saw one other caucasian person while we were in Kampala). I asked Ryan about Tourism in Uganda and he said it's pretty much non-existent. Ever since Idi Amin took over rule of Uganda in the early 70's, tourism in the country dropped completely. Even though there is now only conflict in some of the Northern regions, Uganda still seems to be one of those countries that people don't really know about or don't consider as a tourist destination. It's a shame as one of the things that became very obvious to every member of our team is the unbelievable generousity and hospitality of the Ugandan people.

When we reached our lunch destination, one of the waitresses at the cafe loved our Uganda Team t-shirts so much that Tori (one of the other leaders) gave her one, which the waitress quickly put on and was so grateful that she thanked and hugged each and every member of our team. We even got her to pose for some pictures with us so we wouldn't forget her. We then went to an Internet cafe so that the kids could email their parents to let them know we arrived safely, and then boarded the bus and started our 2 hour drive to the town of Jinja, which would act as our "hub" of activity during our stay. Ryan kept telling everyone to stay awake as the drive was extremely scenic and there were many sights to see, but sadly the majority of our team was jet-lagged and fell asleep pretty much as soon as they sat down.

I personally was not doing too well at that point. To make a long story short, it turns out I was allergic to Malarone (the anti-malaria pills) and was suffering from an allergic reaction. The back of my neck had swollen up and I had really painful lumps and bumps all over my head and the back of my ear. The heat didn't really help and made my whole head feel like it was on fire. I stopped taking the Malarone and ended up taking the Naturopathic anti-malaria pills that Ryan takes and sure enough, a couple of days later I was back to normal. But that initial bus-ride was hard for me as at that point, we didn't know what I was suffering from, and I was trying to be upbeat and take everything in, while feeling really sick and in a lot of pain.

We finally reached our first guesthouse (a beautiful place called Mto Moyoni) and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting settled in and resting. Mto Moyoni is located just outside of Jinja and is right on the River Nile (not the Nile River as Ryan or any Ugandan will tell you - you're always supposed to say River first). The "rooms" in the guesthouse are all actually these amazing seperate round huts. Chris and I had a beautiful room with a great balcony and great view of the Nile. There were a ton of monkeys everywhere, and some even tried to come into our room a couple of times during our 4-night stay there! We also had several resident geckos that were extremely cute (and we were grateful for their presence in our room as they eat insects and mosquitos). The guesthouse only had electricity for about 3 hours a night, but I never really noticed it much. It was kind of interesting using the bathroom in the middle of the night with no lights, but I kept thinking of all the other people in Uganda who never have any electricity at all, and that helped keep things in perspective. The food at Mto Moyoni was amazing - always fresh passionfruit juice and pineapple (which I never liked but became a fan of while we were there), hardboiled eggs and toast for breakfast, and great dinners - lots of rice, soup, chicken, and matooke (which is cooked plantains and kind of tastes like mashed potatoes but better).

We all hit the sack early as we had to be up bright and early the next day for our first day in the field. Although I wasn't feeling the greatest, it was definitely amazing to spend that first night falling asleep with the sounds of the River Nile in the background. I was in Africa!!

Stay tuned for my next update when I'll talk about the first few days on the ground in Uganda!


Sara March 25, 2009 at 3:26 PM  

Ahhhhhhhh! Keep writing keep writing!!!!! I didnt want it to end!

Susan March 25, 2009 at 10:09 PM  

Oh dont stop writing suzanne! Tomorrow there had better be a blog posting missy. p.s I tried calling you a few times but think you may be a work. Hope all is well and We miss ya!

Kim March 26, 2009 at 10:49 AM  

I'm so excited to start reading about your adventures...keep them coming!

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