Wow, it’s been an eventful couple of days! So many big changes, so many sad goodbyes, but so many wonderful and exciting things to look forward to, as well! It’s so hard for me to wrap my head around all of it!
As you know (unless you haven’t read my last blog…in which case, go read it!), Tuesday was my last day of work at St. Elizabeth. Wednesday, we had to go to the FSD office for our exit interviews. Basically, we sat at a table and Caroline asked us a bunch of questions about our experiences here. Pretty standard stuff. Then we had to fill out one of those online surveys, which basically asked us the same questions. We had to do one in the middle of the program, too, before Sipi Falls. They’re useful, but still pretty annoying to fill out—it reminded me a lot of the SOFIs at school. After the interviews, the site team took us to a really nice hotel, called The Nile Resort for lunch and swimming!
Here are some photos of the grounds:
The lunch was a buffet style, and it was really exciting because everything was fancy looking and there were so many options. There were some really lovely salads (still mostly cabbage, though…cabbage goes on the list of things that you should not offer me upon my return, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCE), and some good bread, but overall, it wasn’t really anything special, so I was disappointed. One particularly disappointing aspect of the meal was the huge selection of desserts that looked misleadingly delicious. I’ve missed dessert a lot, as you know. But of course, they were still Ugandan desserts, so they were all bland and dry. My heart broke a little, but not too much, because it was still a really nice day.
After lunch, a few of us went walking and discovered that the hotel had a playground! Naturally, we were very excited, as playgrounds have a tendency to bring out one’s inner child. Our inner children really like swings.
After that, it was time to go swimming. I know I’ve gained weight here because that super sexy one-piece bathing suit that I bought just before I left (the ONLY ONE Julia and I could find that even somewhat fit me) that was slightly too big on me ended up fitting pretty perfectly. I’m not too happy about the weight I’ve gained here, but there really hasn’t been much I could do about it, since I’m often so sedentary and don’t have much control over my diet. Hopefully I’ll get it off pretty quickly when I get home since I’ll be eating a lot less starch and exercising more (who wants to be my swim/running/workout buddy?), but for now, I’m feeling a bit frustrated. Another source of self-consciousness for all of us in our swimsuits was that because we’re all so covered up most of the time, we’re all very pale in most places, but have REALLY WEIRD TAN LINES! One of the other girls actually has a knee tan, from rafting. Meaning that her knees are much tanner than the rest of her legs, especially her thighs (since none of our thighs ever get to see the light of day. Lots of farmers’ tans, too. The good news is that everyone in our group is really nice. We’re all accepting of each other, and nobody is going to judge anyone for how they look in a bathing suit—especially since we’re all experiencing the same kind of insecurities! It was overcast at first, and the water in the pool was a bit chilly, but we got used to it pretty quickly, and still had a lot of fun! Eventually, the sun did come out, too, which was nice. We had a lot of fun splashing around and playing games like Marco Polo and whatever that one is called where one person stands on the edge of the pool and names items in a category and then if you’ve been thinking of something that’s named, you have to race them to the other end of the pool.
Almost everyone went in, but Margaret, Jonan, and Dan didn’t. I’m pretty sure that Jonan knows how to swim, but I don’t think Margaret or Dan do. As I’ve mentioned, Ugandans don’t really love water or water-activities. I think they still had fun watching us from the side, though.
The coolest part, in my opinion, was that there was one of those poolside bars. The ones where you get to sit on a barstool that’s in the water while you drink your beverage. I’ve always wanted to use one, and now I finally have! Esme introduced us all to Pimm’s and Lemonade—a typical British cocktail. Normally I don’t really go for the fruity stuff, but it was really good! Plus I felt like I needed to get a fruity cocktail at a poolside bar.
Just as we were finishing our drinks, this huge flock of children showed up at the pool. I don’t know if it was some kind of field trip or retreat for school or something, but it certainly seemed like it was. As you might imagine, swimming became somewhat less fun at that point, because they were all rowdy and we didn’t care to get caught in the crossfire. Instead, we relaxed on some lounge chairs, and tried to even out our tans. As we sat there talking, and spending time with a few people who I realized that I would be seeing for the last time, at least for awhile, I became so aware of how close I’d grown to everyone here, and how much I would truly miss all of them. We’ve all vowed to keep in touch (the internet is a wonderful thing), and are hoping to make plans to visit one another at some point soon, so that’s good, but of course it won’t be the same as seeing them every day. Even with the other students from my school, it’s going to be different, because we’ll no longer be with each other as often as we have been, and we’ve all grown so close and bonded so much with one another. I’m so grateful that we’ve all got this experience to tie us together, and that we can reminisce about for the rest of our lives.
After we all arrived back in town, we parted ways and I said my final goodbyes to Esme and Kelen. I also did a bit more last minute shopping before heading back to Kakira. I bought a really pretty purse, which I’ve been using here in Kampala, as well as a gorgeous traditional African dress. Later that evening, I found out that Mama Fina had actually gone to the market and ordered two to be made to give to Emma and me as presents. Unfortunately, they weren’t ready on time, so she is going to mail them to us, instead. Still, it was an amazingly sweet gesture, which I really appreciated, and I look forward to receiving the present in the mail when I’m home! I also stopped by Eva’s store one last time to say goodbye to her, and she let me take a picture of her and the store to show you guys!
My last night in Kakira was bittersweet. I had a lovely dinner (accompanied by another beer) and some wonderful conversations with my host family. I made sure to get everyone’s contact information and gave all of them mine, too. We’ve certainly had our ups and downs as a family—I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t constantly frustrated by some of the things members of the family did and said. However, I have grown very close to them and I’ve loved being able to get to know them and learn from them over the past two months. It’s probably going to be difficult to keep in touch with everyone—technology here in Uganda is much more limited and less accessible than it is in the U.S. and, as you know, it takes a very long time for mail to travel between the two countries. I’ll certainly do my best, though. I’d really hate to fall out of touch with everyone.
And then, of course, I had to pack. I absolutely hate packing. It stresses me out and I always feel an acute sense of dread whenever I anticipate having to do it. I think part of this is because it means that I’m going to be leaving wherever I am and going through changes, which is something I struggle a lot with. As a result, I tend to put it off until basically the last minute. So I was folding clothes and smushing things into my suitcase from about 10pm-12:30am last night. To be fair, I was also uploading photos to my blog and talking to a few people online, so that held up the process quite a bit. Admittedly, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit everything in my suitcase, since I’ve bought so many souvenirs, but I did it! The next time you’re packing for a big trip, I highly recommend getting yourself some Space Bags. They’re those ziplock bags that you pack and then squeeze the air out of them, so that they’re vacuum-sealed and everything takes up way less space. I put all of my clothes in them, and I think I’m going to use them for a lot of medications and pharmaceuticals on the way back, too. I realized that I’m going to have to re-pack my suitcase and my carry on when I’m in Entebbe, because I had to pack certain things for Kampala and the safari that I won’t need on the airplane in my backpack, and certain things I WILL need on the airplane that didn’t make sense to try and fit in my backpack for the next few days in my larger suitcase. I’m not really looking forward to that part, but I’m sure that once I just sit down and do it, it won’t be so bad. It certainly wasn’t when I did it on Wednesday night.
Thursday morning was pretty crazy. I was caught in a whirlwind of activity—finishing up last minute packing, running to St. Eliza with a form that Joseph had forgotten to sign (he was ON TIME for once! It was unbelievable!), eating breakfast (we finally made pancakes from the mix that Emma had brought as a present for the family…they turned out pretty well, despite the initial problems. I guess following recipes isn’t something many Ugandans are used to doing), and of course, saying our final goodbyes. It all sort of happened in a blur, and then all of a sudden, the coaster arrived and we were loading our suitcases into the back and driving away to pick up the next set of students at their host family. The ride to Kampala was pretty nice. I took a nap and chatted with the others. Jonan and Margaret accompanied us as far as Jinja and then said goodbye to us. We all bid Caroline farewell when we arrived at the hostel, called Red Chilli. We tried to get her to stay with us, but she wanted to get back (now I can see why…Jinja is a way nicer city than Kampala is, in my opinion). I think those have been the most difficult goodbyes so far. The site team has been such an immense part of our experience, and such a source of support and guidance. I’m so grateful to them for all they’ve taught me and done to help me, and I’m going to miss them immensely. We also had to say goodbye to Sandra! She’s not coming on the safari with us, because she booked an earlier flight. She has family friends in Kampala, so she’s going to stay with them until she flies home. I’ve been having a lot of trouble really processing the fact that my time in Uganda is rapidly coming to an end, but saying goodbye to all of these people is certainly making it all feel much more real.
The hostel is pretty nice, for what it is. It’s very similar to Backpackers. They seem to be very popular. Last night I slept in one of the bigger dormitories. It was really crowded. I think there were about 40 beds, total, and my mattress wasn’t very comfortable, but I still slept well because I took a Benadryl and knocked myself out. Tonight, I’m staying in a cabin, which is a little bit nicer. There’s a lot more space, and the beds seem more comfortable, too. I’m going to try and get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow we have to leave at 6:30am for the safari! It’s early, but I’m sure it will be worth it in the end. Hopefully the nicer accommodations will help with that, too!
As it turns out, Kampala isn’t the easiest city to explore. It’s not very pedestrian-friendly, and it’s very expensive to hire private transportation (which you do, because boda bodas aren’t safe at all here). We had wanted to walk around it and explore it today, but once we did the price calculations and some research about what was around, we decided that it wasn’t really worth it, so instead we’ve been hanging out at the hostel most of the day. They have grills here, so we might do our own barbeque tonight. If not, they’ve got some good group meal rates, so we’ll probably order a few pizzas or something like that. Last night, though, we went out to dinner in the city, which was fun. We went to a Turkish restaurant called Efendy’s. It was nice, but I still prefer Turkish food back home.
The restaurant also had a hookah lounge so we all hung out there for a bit and shared hookahs, too. It was really nice. There was a huge projector screen right where we were sitting, which was playing a lot of top 40 music videos—American and Ugandan. Most Ugandan music videos, by the way, are just as misogynistic and offensive as American ones, just with smaller budgets and lots of green screens. I did, however, really appreciate the opportunity I got to see the music video for LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” I’d never seen it and I’d always misjudged the song, thinking it was really obnoxious, but now that I’ve seen the video, I understand that it’s not intended to be serious and appreciate it—and the band a lot more. And, if you’ve seen the video, I’m sure you understand how much funnier it was to watch it on a very large screen.
A big chunk of tomorrow’s safari will be spent in transit to Murchison Falls. Once we get there, though, we get to check out the waterfall (probably not as amazing as Sipi, but It’ll still be cool) and go on a boat tour, where I’m told we’ll get the chance to see baboons, hippos, and crocodiles! The next day is when we get to drive around and see the other big animals—lions, elephants, giraffes…but no zebras. I am so excited, I can’t even properly articulate it! It’s like a dream to me! Going on safari is something you read about people doing in books. I never in my life thought I’d actually be going on one! I’d even joke about it, initially, when talking to friends about my study abroad trip, but now it’s really happening. And the thought of seeing all of those amazing animals in their natural habitats rather than in an enclosed area at the zoo is pretty mind blowing! I promise to take lots of pictures and write a new entry as soon as I can…though it might not be until I’m on the plane!