Jambo! Hello from Uganda!
I apologize that this blog hasn’t reached you sooner. For the first few days, we are staying in a hotel, and the internet doesn’t work here. FSD let us borrow their wifi yesterday, so I was able to e-mail my family and spoke to a few people on facebook, but it was difficult because the internet was very slow and everyone was trying to use it at the same time. I actually tried to upload the entry I wrote about Dubai, but the internet crashed halfway through so I lost all the progress I’d made with the pictures I included and didn’t have time to start again before I had to leave for dinner. For the next few days, my blog entries might appear later than I’ve intended for them to, but once I am settled in my host family and can regularly use internet cafes or a plug-in, they should be more up-to-date and more frequent.
Here’s some important information about keeping in touch with me before I start talking about my experiences. The time difference between the U.S. and Uganda is seven hours. I’ll be seven hours ahead of you (so 10am your time = 5pm my time), so the best times to catch me online or on the phone will probably be during the late morning and afternoon hours, U.S. time, when it will be evening for me. You might be surprised that I said you could call me. If you use skype or google chat to call my phone number (send me an e-mail if you’d like it: RachelLTamarin@gmail.com), it’s not terribly expensive, as long as we don’t talk for too long (I believe it’s 60 cents/minute or something like that, and any calls I receive in Uganda are free for me (as opposed to me calling you, which would be more expensive for both of us). Another thing that is important to keep in mind is that the internet and electricity are not very reliable in Uganda. There are frequent power outages, so I might not be able to be online when I’d like to be. For this reason, we cannot plan exact times to speak to each other, but if you e-mail me about when you tend to be free, we can work out a general time. Please don’t be angry if I’m not able to reach you when we planned.
So. My arrival in Uganda. First of all, the view from the plane, especially as we landed was absolutely gorgeous. I was truly moved by the lush green hills and valleys, the deep blue water, the clusters of large trees, with their wide, flat leaves, and the multitude of tiny homes and villages smattered about the landscape. It felt like the land of Uganda itself was welcoming me.
Once we had made our way through customs and collected our luggage (everything went smoothly), we were greeted at the airport by Professor Grace (our teacher from school for the program) and the FSD site team: Margaret, Jonan, and Caroline, and their interns Dan and David. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. In that moment, I immediately felt comfortable, even in a completely foreign atmosphere. We also got to meet several other girls who are also doing summer programs with FSD and are doing the training with us. They’re all really nice! The team drove us through Kampala, Uganda’s main city, where the airport is, to Jinja. Essentially, for me—and most of the other students, this became a game of “take as many pictures as you can and hopefully you’ll end up with some good ones.”
Some of my pictures turned out great!
Some did not…
On the way, we stopped at a convenience store for snacks, and I got my first taste (see what I did there?) of Ugandan food.
These are actually pancakes. They’re smaller and denser than American pancakes, and sold in a little package, just like snack cakes. They’re also more savory, and less sweet. They’re very filling! I couldn’t finish mine.
When we arrived in Jinja, we checked into our hotel. Here is my room.
As you can see, it’s very different than the hotel room in Dubai.
Each of us got a bunch of water bottles, to use for drinking and brushing our teeth, since it’s not safe to drink the water. I actually used some when I took a shower, too, since at first I had trouble figuring out how to work the shower. It’s a glamorous life, I know.
That evening, we all had dinner at the hotel, and I got a chance to speak more with people who have been living in Uganda for awhile, both Americans and Ugandans. The things they had to say made me even more excited for the upcoming weeks! Sleeping here has been tough the past few nights, because of the jetlag, so I’ve gotten a lot of reading done, but the room itself hasn’t been bad. The bed is comfy, and I’ve been fortunate not to have had any insect visitors so far! Hopefully I’ll have similar experiences with my host family!
The next day, we started our training, which was very exciting. I love Margaret, our program director! She’s a very sweet and funny woman, and she’s incredibly smart. I’ve already learned so much from her, and I can’t wait to learn more! Caroline, Jonan, and the two interns have also been really helpful and nice! I’m glad to have such great resources! For lunch, we went to a place that served Ugandan food, just like the types of things we’ll be eating with our host families. It seems I’ll be having a very starchy diet. I ate matoke (mashed plantains) and posho (made from cornmeal) for the first time, and I also had rice and potatoes with beans on top, some greens, and cabbage salad (which apparently is huge here). It was all pretty good, but a sauce or protein on top is essential, or it’s it’s very bland. After lunch, we had a Luganda lesson. We had another one today. I know how to greet people and how to introduce myself and others! Pretty cool stuff. Although I found out today that in Kakira, where I’ll be living, most people actually speak Swahili, not Luganda. I guess I’ll have to learn both! 🙂
Today was probably the coolest day so far. First of all, we got to ride boda bodas into Jinja town. Boda bodas are motorcycle taxis. I’d never been on a motorcycle, and I was a little nervous, but it was so much fun! The driver was really nice, too! He even let me take a picture of him so that I could remember my first boda boda ride!
Later in the afternoon, I got to meet with some of the people who work at St. Eliza, where I’ll be doing my internship! I met Joseph, the founder and supervisor, and two young women—Esther, a teacher at the nursing school there and Gift (such a cool name!, a representative from the community who works for Kakira’s sugar factory (the main source of employment and income for the town). They were all really nice, and genuinely seemed interested in our lives and excited to work with us! Plus, I learned a lot more specifically about what St. Eliza does, and it’s even cooler than I’d originally thought. We’re going to have a considerable amount of freedom when deciding what type of program we want to create, too, which I’m definitely happy about!
And, the absolute best part was this evening, when we took a tour of the Nile River! We had to pass through a poor neighborhood to get to the boats. The people lived in shacks, made of planks of wood loosely nailed together. There was still a whole community though. They had shops, like a video store and salon. Children were running and playing, and most of them were really excited to see us and say hi to us. Many of them wanted their pictures taken.
To get on the boats, we had to wear these big, obnoxious, bright orange and blue life jackets that made us stick out like sore thumbs, even more than we already had. Definitely a “muzungu moment.”
It was absolutely worth it, though. Riding on the Nile was one of the most breathtaking and serene experiences of my entire life, and I doubt I’ll have many in the future that will ever compare to it. It felt so surreal. I’m still having trouble believing that I’m really in Africa, and riding in a boat on the Nile seemed like something out of a dream. But it was REAL! And that’s pretty amazing. Unfortunately, my camera died just when we got on the boat, so I wasn’t able to take any pictures, but everyone else did, so they’ll probably be up on facebook soon, and if I can get a hold of some, I’ll post them in a later entry.
Stay tuned for my next blog entry, when I’ll talk about meeting my host family!