A Photo Essay from IHP SEN in Kampala, UGANDA…
KAMPALA: The City
The primary method of transportation in Uganda is the taxi or matatu. Originally designed as a parcel van, the taxi seats 14 passengers and follows a route throughout Kampala town. This is a picture of the old taxi park – literally a sea of taxis in the middle of Kampala that are going to countless different places. At night, the taxi park doubles as an informal market with women sitting on the ground selling vegetables and men walking around sticking their hands in the taxis as you wait for them to fill up, hoping that you’ll buy water bottles or crickets to munch on. In the very far corner of the park are the taxis that go to Kisaasi, my home. It’s about 2000 shillings, or 65 cents, for the 45 minute ride. We’ve all become quite the experts at navigating the taxi system.
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In every country we have visited, there has been one food of choice in which we all find solace. For Brazil, that was acai. For India, that was chai. For Uganda, that was most certainly “rolex.” It is the cheapest and most convenient option and ultimately serves as a staple for most people’s diets. Finding this sense of consistent comfort is a must for us all. During a trip that presents us with so much uncertainty and unfamiliarity, it provides a sense of normality. I, especially, found this valuable towards the end of the trip. More so now, it has become apparent to me just how emotionally invigorating yet challenging the entire trip has been and as such, when I find a source of comfort even in something simple like food, I can embrace the other uncertain moments.
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Used clothing shops are the norm here, even among upper class people. Walking past the roadside shops is fascinating. Every single thing imaginable is being sold, from food to clothing to shoes. The shopkeepers shout “Muzungu” to try to get our attention. (The clothing is usually not brand new, and rumor has it they are brought from Americans.) I appreciate that women here value a more sustainable and smart way to go about their shopping needs, and rhetoric clothing is beautiful!!
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I live with my wonderful host mother, Lydia, the house help, Shamim and Joshua, and my little host sister, Aaliyah. Aaliyah is three years old, and normally she’s a quiet kid, but she also loves playing around. She’ll come up next to me, then growl at me. I growl back, and she squeals and runs away, and then we do it all again.
Living in my homestay in Kampala has been a great experience. Lydia is so kind and caring, and I’ve learned loads about life in Uganda from her. We talk about relationships, politics in Uganda and the United States, and our day to day goings-on. This Thanksgiving, I’m so grateful to have been welcomed to a new home in Uganda.
Many roads in Uganda are unpaved, so they become muddy when it rains. The path to our home was so beautiful though, we didn’t mind! The earthy feel is so refreshing. There’s nothing like being surrounded by nature in a city.
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My favorite experience in Uganda has been the time I spent with my homestay family. I truly enjoyed getting to know Mummy, Papa, and their girls, as well as their in-home help. Every morning, we would wake up, have breakfast with the family, and drive with them to drop off the girls at school, Mummy at work, and us at the office, before Papa went to work himself. During the evenings, as we would watch Mummy’s hip-hop workout videos and attempt to do the dances, the girls would join in and teach us how to dance to songs like Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” or Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancing”. Mummy introduced us to the addicting and scandalous Lifetime TV show, “Devious Maids” that we would watch every night once finishing our homework. Even just running errands on Saturdays with my homestay family, getting ice cream at Café Javas, grocery shopping at Capital Supermarket, or delivering basmati rice to some of Mummy and Papa’s clients brought me great happiness. I felt that during these activities, I was able to feel part of the family, creating my own family routines, jokes, and traditions, which I will definitely carry with me back home.
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BEYOND THE CITY
Today we went to a Uganda-Congo soccer game. It was pretty phenomenal and these are some of the highlights. When our taxi arrived we were still in the car when we got swarmed by vendors trying to paint our faces and sell us candy and jerseys. I really mean swarmed – Ansley didn’t even want to get her arms painted but the amount of people surrounding us made it so she ended up with fun arm stripes. It was pretty hectic but the busyness of it was what made it fun. On the way walking to the stadium, I got pointed out as Mexican, Brazilian and South African which was new for me. In the stadium, we became photo divas/celebs as random strangers asked to take photos with some of us. I saw someone selling ice cream, and I wanted to try it, but there was no way to try it. So, he plopped it into my hand and I tried it and then Julia and Bradley both licked it off of my hand. I have to say we have reached new levels of closeness. It was blazing hot with the sun beating down, but the Uganda cranes beat Congo 1-0. The goal was really incredible – everyone in the stadium went nuts and gave everyone else hugs. There were a million vuvuzelas and so many Ugandan flags swirling around the stadium. It was beautiful to see so much national pride.
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This past Sunday, I took a trip to Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary in Lake Victoria. As I waited for the boat ride, the lake was still, blue, and beautiful in the morning light. The island is a rather long, bumpy, 45-minute speed boat ride from Entebbe but it provides a stunning panorama of Africa’s largest lake. The chimp reserve owns an entire island in the lake, and 95% of it is designated area where the chimps can roam free. All chimps on the island were rescued from human-conflict in Central Africa. It was my first time seeing chimps in real life; they are big, intelligent, and incredibly similar to humans. The trip was a much-needed escape from busy Kampala.
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Our group excursion in Uganda brought us to rural areas and a growing city called Mbarara in the west of the country. We drove several hours through lush, landscapes filled with hills covered in plantain trees to reach our destination: the Millennium Village Project. It is a comprehensive development initiative that includes many kinds of projects in agriculture, health, education, and financial inclusion. We had the chance to visit a school and speak to the teacher, who spoke of how the school infrastructure has been improved by the project. This is a picture of a community pea farm that is maintained by primary schoolers. Each grade level has a little plot of land. The edge of the farm slopes down the top of a hill with an deep view of the horizon. It was one of the most beautiful natural settings I have ever experienced.
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Although our academic sessions have come to a close, we are now heading to a Retreat on Lake Bunyonyi in western Uganda. We are looking forward to this final week together to reflect on all we have experienced and learned in a peaceful place next to the most beautiful lake in Uganda. There is a great deal to process… and this is only the beginning.