Uganda: The Pearl of Africa

Hey Guys!
So in my last blog post My First Study Abroad: Why I Chose Uganda, I mentioned that it was impossible for me to talk about my whole Uganda experience in one post, so here I am with another! Just a heads up this post might be a bit long, but it will be worth reading. Here goes…

The Journey To Uganda

You know that saying, “get to the airport 2 hours before your flight?” Well, I’ve been one to not really follow the rules. This trip, however, I tried to make sure to get to Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta at least 3 hours before my scheduled flight because I was flying international, I was super excited, and I did not want any mishaps on this trip. Despite my good intentions, I almost did not make it to Uganda. The traffic driving into the airport was out of control! The line for the check in was so long and was moving slower than turtles. I finally checked my luggage and headed towards TSA; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line that long (remind me to sign up for TSA precheck). Now, my flight was departing at 12:17 pm, and at 11:45, I was still in the line waiting to go through security. I was so stressed out I had to call my parents just to calm my nerves and hear them tell me that I would not miss my flight (I needed the reassurance).
Once I got through security, I ran as fast or maybe faster than Usain Bolt to my gate where the agent knew I was the only person left to board. I told her yes and kept apologizing for my delay. By the grace of God, I boarded my plane at 12:09 pm. After the chaos in Atlanta, I was on my way to Uganda, stopping first in Montreal, Canada. While in Montreal, I was told that my flight to Amsterdam was full and that I needed to check my carry-on luggage. Now, this made me very upset because I was not sure if all my bags would reach on time, I mean, you know crazy things happen when traveling that far and making multiple stops. After going back and forth with the agents, I had no choice but to check my carry-on, and of course, that I forgot that I packed all of my medications in that bag! Amsterdam, my next stop, was where I met up with my other classmates and professor who had a direct flight to Amsterdam from Atlanta. Amsterdam was where the good times began, and from there, we stopped in Rwanda before finally making it to our final destination, Entebbe, Uganda. It took approximately 28 hours to get there and let me tell you, I’m already planning my next trip back even though the flight is long!

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Once we arrived at the airport in Entebbe, we had to go through immigration. There were a few rules that we had to follow, and having your yellow fever vaccination documentation was a requirement to enter the country. After showing our yellow fever vaccination cards, we went through immigration with no hassle. After we got our luggage some 20 plus pieces, the immigration officer decided that he was a mind reader and assumed that one of my classmates was carrying a drone. Even after expressing to them that he did not, they were not convinced so we had to unload all the bags and put them through a scanner. How inconvenient! After all of that, we met our program consultant, Charles, who was accompanied by some family and friends. They welcomed us to their country and gave us a hand with our luggage.

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Uganda: The Pearl of Africa

Although it was a dream of mine to visit the continent of Africa, I never thought it would actually happen. My first day in Uganda, I quickly realized that there’s beauty all around.
Uganda is a country of rolling hills and no matter where you are, you will have a beautiful view of lush green slopes covered with bright clay houses and so many other beautiful structures. The dirt roads are lined with lush vegetation, flowers, and trees that are indeed a sight to see. There’s no surprise that I ended up with over 1,000 pictures in my phone and camera. Being here gave me a deeper appreciation for photography.

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Beyond its natural beauty and the kind spirited people, many Ugandans live in poor conditions. The area where people below the poverty line live is referred to as the slums. Part of my time was spent in the slums around the city of Kampala observing the alcohol ads and the use of alcohol (more on this later). When you think about the slums based on the books you’ve read or from what you’ve seen on TV, it is known to have buildings that are broken down or made from various materials to provide some sort of shelter. I got the chance to speak with some of the locals, and they don’t classify their neighborhood as “the slum.” One local told my classmates and I that he doesn’t like the word “slum” because of its negative connotation, despite the government defining his neighborhood as such.
Although the areas are not in the best conditions, there’s still so much beauty, the beauty especially comes from within. There’s beauty in seeing how the locals sell to make a living and how they look out for each other, there’s just a sense of contentment.
As we walked through the slums, we had children following us and were talking to us. You could see their excitement to see us walking through the place they called home. It was amazing to see that even with so little, these people were still working hard to survive and were happy. Despite the poverty that Ugandan’s often experience, it is a country that has beautiful souls, the people are so rich in love and appreciation.

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Walking through a slum in Kampala- Namuwongo

Side note: Did you know there are 43 different languages spoken in Uganda? Luganda is the most widely spoken local language.

The Culture

During our first day in Uganda, my professor mentioned that Uganda is known as the most entrepreneurial country in the world. If I’m honest, at the time, I didn’t put much thought into what she said. However, it wasn’t long before I noticed that everyone on the street was selling something, from samosas, water, rolex, and a variety of other things.. I’m sure you’re probably thinking rolex, were they all selling watches?! Lol no that’s not the case. Rolex is a popular street food in Uganda. Some key ingredients of the rolex are chapati, which is made from wheat flour, it is similar to naan. The other unique ingredients are eggs which are cooked with cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and peppers, which is then wrapped/rolled in the chapati.
Uganda passes through the equator, so the weather is consistently warm with a little bit of humidity, so it’s only right that you’ll see people selling bottled water and other refreshments on the streets. If you happen to be stuck in traffic, there’s someone who’s there selling bottled waters to help cool you down. The traffic in Kampala is just as bad as the traffic here in Atlanta, so it is convenient to have someone selling water and who’s able to bring it right to your window. My favorite thing to see whenever we would be on the bus driving is the many rolex stations, if you’re feeling peckish or low on funds or want to be adventurous, the Uganda rolex will satisfy your craving.

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rolex

Let me say, one of the most lucrative businesses in Uganda, well from what I observed is the Boda-Boda guys. A Boda is a motorcycle taxi which is very common in Uganda. You can catch a Boda-Boda anywhere in the city. I’ve seen Boda-Boda drivers carrying men, women, children. I’ve even seen them deliver food, Mattresses and some large items that I didn’t even know would be possible. It’s a site to see! Boda-Bodas seems to be one of the primary methods of transportation in Uganda.

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A group of Boda-Boda guys at the traffic light

Another thing I observed is that there is a culture of international aid. Although this might sound good, I have wondered, “if all these people are actually “helping,” why can’t we see any “real” change?” Donations are much appreciated, I’ve seen it first hand when we brought donations to the NGO’s we visited. However, in addition to an appreciation for our contributions, there were always women and children on the streets begging for money and food.

One thing that made me happy in a heartbreaking situation was we would always pack up our leftovers from restaurants to give to those women and children we would see asking for food. They would approach our bus windows with sad eyes, asking for money or food. This broke my heart, but they were so grateful for what we gave them.

Strange enough, while we were there, a law was passed banning people from giving money or food to children who are living on the streets. This was an effort to avoid the sexual exploitation of children.

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These 2 beautiful girls selling bananas

Religion

Religion is significant in Uganda. While there, we visited the Gaddafi National Mosque, which is the biggest Mosque in Uganda. The dress code to enter the Mosque must be respectful. If you were wearing pants, a sarong was used wrapped around you. We got a brief history of the Mosque and then later climbed to the top of the minaret where we had a breathtaking view of the city of Kampala.

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We also visited the Baha’i House of Worship. The Baha’i Faith is a combination of multiple religions, but they all believe in one God. The message of the Baha’ I faith is oneness with mankind, the coming together of all people no matter their race, class, and religion.
The Baha’ I temple in Uganda is currently the only one in all of Africa. Walking on the property gave me a sense of peace. When entering the temple, we were instructed to take our shoes off and to be silent as that was customary. Religion can be a touchy topic for most, but I found it interesting to know that there was a faith that embraced all other beliefs.

Baha’I Temple

Ndere Cultural Center

We had the pleasure of visiting the Ndere Cultural Center, where the Ndere Troupe take visitors on an artistic journey through music and dance while incorporating the history from all regions across Uganda.
“The word ENDERE means FLUTE, NDERE TROUPE, therefore means FLUTE TROUPE.”
The flute was chosen as a symbol of beauty and universal unity. The Ndere Troupe is known as Africa’s dancing encyclopedia. This is because, in Africa, written words didn’t exist; therefore, the culture of Africa was passed on through the performing arts, music, dance. The performances were engaging and allowed us to learn more about Ugandan history through dance.

Ndere performers

The local language in Central Uganda: Luganda

Luganda
What’s up= ogamba kyi ( pronounced o- gam-ba- chi)
I’m fine = ndi bulungi
Thank you = weebale pronounced way-ba- lee
How are you doing = oli otya (formal)
Sir=ssebo pronounced See-boo
Ma’am=nnyabo pronounced nee-yah-boo
How are you doing = gyebale (jaybaley)
Goodnight = Sula bulungi
Slow down = empola empola

Jinja

We were staying in the city of Kampala, which is the capital of Uganda and the largest city. Once we left Kampala, I witnessed the true beauty of Uganda when we took a trip to a small but well-known town called Jinja, just two-hours outside of Kampala.

The journey to Jinja was just breathtaking with the many scenic views. Jinja is a popular tourist attraction that is nestled next to Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world and is also the source of the river Nile. After seeing the never-ending rolling green hills, the Nile, and the other-worldly wildlife, there’s no doubt in my mind why Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa.

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view of the Nile

The Explorers River camp was our home for the 2 days that we spent in Jinja. And by camp I mean CAMP- we slept in tents and it brought me back to my Girl Guides days when we would travel to different countries for camping. Girl Guides is similar to Girl Scouts here in the U.S.


Inside our tents, there were mattresses that were on short bed frames. They were so comfortable I slept like a baby lol. Having the monkeys and other wildlife walking amongst us at this camp was indeed an experience and sleeping on the Nile with a view that I can tell was genuinely created by God was a life-changing experience.

Good Eatin’

As I prepared for my trip, I wondered what the food in Uganda would be like. I have a friend who’s from Ghana, and I know ground provisions, as we call it in Antigua, was a staple in her house. By ground provisions, I mean the likes of cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, to name a few. I was familiar with these types of foods, but I was curious. My professor did give us a little insight about what to expect, but still you just never know lol. I’d have to say that I never thought I’d see the day where I would ever utter the words “I’m tired of food right now, let’s have a late dinner” lol.

I must say the food was fresher and more natural, what I ate was food that was mostly locally grown. I ate to my heart’s content, and the food was GOOD! I must say, what was most shocking to me, and I don’t know why it was surprising to me, was the variety of restaurants we ate at that offered food from different regions of the world. We ate food cooked with a Caribbean twist, there was Indian, Asian, and a mixture of cultures from other African countries. As many of you my readers know, I’ve been trying to gain 10lbs since forever but being in Uganda brought me so much joy that my appetite that seemed to be nonexistent found its way back. I even stepped out of my comfort zone and tried various meats that I would never in a million years think to try.

When dining at a local restaurant, you will most likely find some of the following foods:
Matooke- this is cooked green bananas
Sweet potatoes
Cassava
rice – I don’t think I know of a culture that ‘didn’t have rice as a staple lol
Chapati- which is something close to Naan

African Spice Tea- it’s so good that I had it with EVERY meal!

African Spice Tea

We visited several restaurants but some I loved more than the others.
Some of the other restaurants I visited were:
Cafe Javas
Kampala forest
Il Paradiso (Ethiopian)
Mythos Greek restaurant
The lawns- this was where we tried Crocodile meat, antelope, etc.
Khazana on the Verandah
Fuego

All in all, Uganda is Rich in culture. The people live a simple life, they are resilient, grateful, and they most definitely find joy in simple things.

Here are some highlights in photographs.

Views from the top of The Mosque

Nile Camp River Explorer

The Motos

What I Ate

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Stay tuned for more blog posts about my study abroad experience!

Xoxo, Tanya

4 thoughts on “Uganda: The Pearl of Africa

  1. Nice! Happy you enjoyed your trip and thanks for sharing this with us. Definitely learnt some things from this post. It was nice to see that no matter where you are there’s always a wide variety of cultures represented in the food. I wasn’t expecting that lol

    Liked by 1 person

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