Uganda diary: The remaining days and final thoughts

3 11 2010

Bye bye.

I’ve decided to bring my Uganda diary blog posts to a close. The events I discuss are getting further and further away in my memory, and my ability to write about the sun and warmth is hindered by living in Preston, where it rains most days, and is normally a bit chilly and depressing.

Therefore, I’ve decided to write very briefly about my remaining time in Uganda. So I’ll limit each of my remaining days to two sentences (max) and a picture.

Monday 23 August

Waterfall in Bwindi Rainforest


I became quietly angry when an obese American lady on the table next to us told her guide all about how she had almost forgotten her razor (“so I wouldn’t be able to shave my legs!”), how she used alcohol-based hand sanitizer in Uganda (it didn’t matter to her that she was talking about her guide’s home country), that she “read the signs” of her guide suggesting he was ready to leave. Later that day, Emma and I went on a guided walk into the rainforest to see a beautiful waterfall, but it rained on our way back, and our clothes – including footwear – got soaked.

Tuesday 24 August

Didn't get any bus journey pictures. So here's a shot from the Rest Camp the night before. Good atmosphere.

Got up at THREE IN THE MORNING to catch the bus. I slept, drank enough water to keep myself hydrated, listened to music, had a mild argument with someone outside a toilet (it cost 200 shillings to go for a pee, so I gave him 1,000 expecting 800 change. He gave me 500. I stood my ground and got my change – it didn’t dawn on me that I stood out like a sore thumb, that I was the only white bloke in the area, that I was stood BEHIND the market and so not many people around to help if things went pear-shaped, and that the bus would be leaving soon), arrived in Kampala, was nearly killed quite a few times by buses, taxis and boda bodas, but most importantly… I didn’t vomit.

Wednesday 25 August

To be satisfied with a product isn't enough, only delight will do.

Didn’t do much. Relaxed.

Thursday 26 August

Biogas digester. There should be far more of these.

Just like Asda. But in Uganda.

Went to see a biogas digester (a brilliant idea), went to a supermarket (it was like a ‘normal’ supermarket… which was a bit odd), went to an Indian restaurant. The restaurant itself and the food it served were fantastic.

That's a waterfall (sort of) INSIDE the restaurant, but still outside.

Indian restaurant ambience (15sec shutter speed, so it was darker than this).

Friday 27 August

Bancafe. Miles better than Costa, Caffe Nero, Starbucks et al.

Went to Bancafe and bought a kilo and a half of freshly ground coffee, went to a meeting with Emma in which I contributed sod all (but one bloke had the deepest voice I’ve ever heard), went to the Banana Boat craft shop and then to the craft market. I learnt that the public toilets in the shopping centre did not provide toilet roll, but I had some tissues in my bag, so it wasn’t an issue – could’ve been though.

Saturday 28 August

Just chillin' in the Ugandan sun.

Ate barbecued goat and drank beer.

Sunday 29 August

My first viewing of Avatar was on this. (The grumpy woman was on my right.)

Got on a plane to the UK and sat next to a large old lady on the plane who was very unsociable, so I watched Avatar, which I assume is better in 3D. Arrived back home in Lancashire.

Final thoughts

Without wanting to regurgitate the generic post-Africa trip drivel, I’m afraid I’ve got to be honest (cue post-Africa ponderings). It was an incredible two weeks filled with memorable experiences, ranging for the amusing to the devastating.

I was utterly charmed by the place. I am not generalising or exaggerating when I say that every conversation started with: “Hello, how are you” – followed by a genuine smile. Sometimes, the conversations would even start with: “Hello, I am fine” which sort of rendered my reply useless: “Hello, how are you? Oh yeah you just said.”

Riding in a blue and white taxi (known as a matata – a Swahili word) was a continual near-death experience. As was crossing the road, and walking beside the road, and generally being anywhere near a road.

Does that matter? No.

I can’t realistically compare Uganda to the ‘west’. Geography dictates that Africa and the western world will always be different, and that’s a good thing – just accept each place for its own merits and its faults.

One thing I did wonder about, though, is that Uganda seems to be a politically and socially stable country – but could that change?

For the generation that lived under Idi Amin’s dictatorship, post-Amin life was a relief. They no longer had to live in fear of a volatile leader (although, fighting, killing and kidnapping still occurs more often than it should in the north of the country) – their ‘normal’ lives left them feeling content. Akin to leaving the dentist after having had a filling, ‘normality’ can feel like the best the thing in the world. Without an underlying widespread relative contentment, acting as a societal safety barrier, could future generations inadvertently let the country once again fall into the hands of someone with misguided and immoral political reasoning? Could people start desiring, more and more, what western adverts tell them they want, becoming prone and vulnerable to advertising and marketing campaigns?

I haven’t got a clue. And the above questions could apply to many countries. However, I think it would be a great and irreversible shame if cultures lost sight of what makes their culture theirs, if they lose the identity and individuality.

Clearly, I’ve digressed. So, would I recommend Uganda to you? Without doubt, yes.

Here’s a model of a retarded cow.

A retarded-looking cow (I'm sure the unfortunate appearance was unintentional, though). I miss this cow, which is in Emma's kitchen.

Without wanting to regurgitate the generic post-Africa trip drivel, I’m afraid I’ve got to be honest (cue post-Africa ponderings). It was an incredible two weeks filled with memorable experiences, ranging for the amusing to the devastating. 

I was utterly charmed by the place. I am not generalising or exaggerating when I say that every conversation started with: “Hello, how are you” – followed by a genuine smile. Sometimes, the conversations would even start with: “Hello, I am fine” which sort of rendered my reply useless: “Hello, how are you? Oh yeah you just said.”

Riding in a blue and white taxi (known as a matata – a Swahili word) was a continual near-death experience. As was crossing the road, and walking beside the road, and generally being anywhere near a road.

Does that matter? No.

I can’t realistically compare Uganda and the ‘west’. Geography dictates that Africa and the western world will always be different, and that’s a good thing – just accept each place for its own merits and its faults.

One thing I did wonder about, though, is that Uganda seems to be a politically and socially stable country – but could that change?

For the generation that lived under Idi Amin’s dictatorship, post-Amin life was a relief. They no longer had to live in fear of a volatile leader (although, fighting, killing and kidnapping still occurs more often than it should in the north of the country) – their ‘normal’ lives left them feeling content. Akin to leaving the dentist after having had a filling, ‘normality’ can feel like the best the thing in the world. Without an underlying widespread relative contentment, acting as a societal safety barrier, could future generations inadvertently let the country once again fall into the hands of someone with misguided and immoral political reasoning? Could people start desiring, more and more, what western adverts tell them they want, becoming prone and vulnerable to advertising and marketing campaigns?

I haven’t got a clue. And the above questions could apply to many countries. However, I think it would be a great and irreversible shame if cultures lost sight of what makes their culture theirs, if they lose the identity and individuality.

Clearly, I’ve digressed. So, would I recommend Uganda to you? Without doubt, yes.

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Uganda diary: Airplanes, Africa, and Parmesan legs

5 09 2010

Heathrow Terminal 5

My journey to Uganda started, rather ideally in terms of constructing an idealistic narrative, on a rather pleasant English evening on Sunday 15 August. It had been raining for weeks before, so I was fairly annoyed that it happened to be lovely weather just as I was going away for two weeks.

As mentioned in a previous blog, I left my seating on the plane to chance. I didn’t check in online. For one flight this was fine, for the other, it led to me breathing in someone else’s dead skin.

The first of my two flights took me from Manchester to Heathrow. I sat down at the end of a row of three. Not ideal, but at least I wasn’t stuck in the middle.

But then my luck changed. We were on an emergency door row, and there was nobody sat in the seats next to us. Then a stewardess asked: “Would you like to sit over there by the emergency door? We need to have a passenger to sit there. Don’t worry, you probably won’t need to do anything!”

I said yes, and I sat myself down before reading and memorising the emergency procedure, equipping myself with the knowledge of how, if the time came, I would open the emergency door and save myself and my fellow passengers.
Thankfully that disaster never happened. Unfortunately, another – albeit minor – one did.

Parmesan legs

I was sat next to the emergency door – I had my window seat, and I had a vast amount of legroom. This was excellent. Then another passenger asked the stewardess if he, too, could sit on the same row. She said yes. That was fine with me – there was still a seat between me and my new emergency exit-row comrade, so I had plenty of space.

We were halfway into the flight when I noticed the sunlight catching a plume of dust. This was the first time I’d noticed dust on the flight. It seemed to be coming from down and left of where I was looking.

My eyes followed the stream of dust before landing at the legs of my fellow passenger. It wasn’t dust I was breathing in. It was his dead skin.

I looked down with sufficient horror to subconsciously scrunch up my face in disgust, but it didn’t matter, my fellow passenger was too busy concentrating on ferociously scratching his flaking leg.

The amount of flakes of dead skin dropping onto his sock, shoe and floor (I’m not criticising him for having a skin condition, but the toilet on the plane was vacant) led me I instantly clutch my fist, and shove my hand against my mouth and nose. I hoped this would help limit the amount of dead skin I inhaled.

If you’re wondering what the dead skin looked like, it was as though someone had got about one and half heaped tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, and sprinkled it on the floor. Remember that next time you have spag bol.

Eight hour flight – no parmesan legs to see. Or inhale

I got off the flight from Manchester feeling slightly ill, and considerably anxious about whom I’d sit next to on the flight. I did manage to take a look at Parmesan Legs’ ticket on the previous flight, and it didn’t say Entebbe, so I knew I wouldn’t be sat next to him.

But this didn’t mean I could relax – there was still the possibility I could sit next to someone with constantly flaking skin, or someone who smelt of BO, or who had a foul personality, or who kept needing the toilet every 15 minutes (I was on the end of the row of three, so this is why it would’ve been an issue).

Turns out I needn’t have worried. I ended up sitting next to the very lovely Amy who was travelling with about a dozen Northern Irish folk who were off to Uganda with the charity Abaana. Amy didn’t have flaky legs like my previous neighbour, so instead we talked for most of the flight. Oh, and she even gave me the leftovers from her Chicken Tikka Masala (after establishing that everyone around me had chosen Chicken Tikka Masala, I too chose this dish. This meant that if I burped, nobody would know it was me). So, the Manchester-Heathrow flight was awful, the Heathrow-Entebbe flight was excellent (if Dottie, one of the members of the Abaana group, is reading this, hello. I’m sure you’re delighted I’ve just mentioned Amy).

Hello Africa

After about seven hours of trying and failing to sleep, filling in questionnaires on the screen in front of me (four questionnaires to choose from, all the same), and talking, the sun started to find its way into the plane, bringing along some new scenery for all us British folk to look at.

Amy and I realised at this point that we were now in Africa. Neither of us had been to Africa before, so a mutual awareness that we were indeed in a completely different continent led to a few minutes’ awe, silence and thought.

Entebbe airport

After landing, we were transported by bus to the terminal (could’ve walked). Here, I spent a good 25 minutes standing in the wrong queues, wandering around and generally doing well to show myself off as a lost British tourist.

Fifty US dollars later, visa in hand, I waltzed through border control and retrieved my bag before meeting up with my cousin, Emma.

Entebbe to Kampala

The taxi journey from Entebbe to Kampala made me realise something. It was during this journey that I realised that any preconceptions, no matter how small, I had about Uganda – its society, geography and lifestyle – were to be completely shattered.

Journey from Entebbe to Kampala

An hour or so later we arrived at Emma’s house; a lovely little place.

That day we went, using a boda boda (the motorbikes which can be found even in the remotest areas which are basically taxis. No helmets, no safety gear, and, for most of my time in Uganda, riding three up. Scary at first, but fun), to a Belgian cafe, and generally chilled out.

The next two weeks would be filled with culture shocks (from the amusing to the horrific), cultural experiences, seeing some of the most majestic views and some of the grimmest, and acquiring a new understanding of the importance of drinking water on long bus journeys.

My hotel