In April I was lucky enough to be selected onto the Challenges Worldwide ICS volunteer programme to help small and medium businesses continue to develop sustainably and benefit their community in Kampala, Uganda.
Thank you to everyone who donated and supported me in order for me to get here. This blog is dedicated to you guys and I thank you for taking the time to continue to support me by reading this. I apologise in advance for any grammatical errors or rambling sentences but English has never been my strong point. Bear with me lads I’m new to this blogging thing.
On Sunday the 26th of June I began my journey to Kampala, a destination that is to be my home for the next 3 months. I’ll keep the details about the plane ride short and sweet, essentially I ate plane food and watched a couple of movies (would recommend Eddie the Eagle). Just a heads up Dubai airport McDonalds does offer a free banana with your meal to anyone needing a dose of vitamins with their fried goods.
Skip ahead to early afternoon of Monday and we (my fellow Challenges volunteers and I) arrived at Entebbe airport and if anyone thinks that passport control in Africa is going to be a short affair, and lets be real when is it ever?, it most certainly is not. After picking the slowest queue to stand in we were passed by several people that landed after we did and got to watch a guy make numerous trips to a cash point in order to draw enough money out to pay his way into the country.
To reach our hostel the 10 of us, the two team leaders, the driver and his conductor all piled in to a rusty old Toyota van that had been decked out to fit 14 people with what looked like material from your great aunt’s curtains with a bit of rust thrown in. As it turned out the interior design of the old rust bucket would be the least of my worries.
THERE ARE LITERALLY NO RULES FOR DRIVING IN UGANDA
Taxi drivers take weaving and lane changing with the odd section of off roading into the pedestrian area to a whole new level. Men on motorbikes called Boda bodas also just appear out of nowhere and cut through the traffic like kamikazes. To keep what should have been a 40 minute journey entertaining we got to experience one of Kampala famous traffic jams, or just jams to the locals, that ended up taking over 4 hours. It did mean that we got to experience the scenery and get a glimpse of the Kampalan lifestyle.
Later that evening after a much need leg stretch we got to meet our Ugandan counterparts who greeted us with traditional dance, which I sucked at of course, and words of acceptance and happiness. We were then treated to the first of many rice and plain curry dishes that was to be lunch and dinner for the next 6 days. Much to the amusement to those from the UK the Ugandans found the food too spicy.
The following day after multiple expressions of anxiety of the impending Brexit we had our first training session. Later in our free time we would discover that they had not been wrong in our pre-departure training when they told us that Ugandan customer service and getting things done was a lot slower. Signing up for a sim card took almost as long as waiting to get into the country.
Skipping forward some and day four began with the news that Boris Johnson was no longer in the running for Prime Minister of the UK. The day got even better after lunch when we embarked on a scavenger hunt around the city doing carrying out tasks like discovering the price of a stamp, the exchange rate at Logogo mall, finding the local surgery which we have all been assured that we will need at some point and discovering the local rugby ground where one of our team Jane managed to convince one of the owners to loan us a ball in order for us to win the most creative picture contest.
From this experience I learnt that I am not the only one who turns into a bit of a demon when my competitive nature is awakened, that Ugandan pavements are not fit for running, that when you cross a road in Kampala you should first pray for your life even if you are not religiously inclined and finally that even if you come second time wise in a scavenger hunt if your pictures are hilarious enough it might be enough to claim victory. Anyone like to take a guess on what was for dinner..? Following this we discovered our working counter parts and businesses. Although embarrassingly I had to ask where Rhodesia was in order to discover mine, turns out it was the former name of Zimbabwe. I am working at a company called Awamu biofuel energy that produces sustainable gas pumps with a lovely lady called Santa Racheal.
Friday saw another day of business training and a few more power points accompanied by rice and ‘spicy’ curry. Earlier in the week we discovered that from our hostel roof you get the most glorious view of the sunset and so what better way to wind down than to attempt some yoga whilst watching it?
Entertainment in the evening came from the UK volunteers and let me ask you have you ever had to try and teach 10 Ugandan’s who love to dance the Cha Cha Slide with a speaker that barely works? I thought that I got my lefts and rights mixed up a lot. Another point to note is that Ugandan knowledge of UK geography stops at London, much like my Ugandan geography ends with Kampala, however I do know that is country spans both hemispheres and contains some of the best booty wiggle dancing I have ever seen.
The Quote of the night went to one of our Ugandan friends Shilah who summed up the UK nicely with the term ‘oh I know your sorry culture.’ Meaning of course that as a nation we apologise to inanimate objects and in situations that could not be further from our fault.
Saturday we said goodbye as a group as we made our way to out host homes in the Afternoon. Mine is with three other volunteers (two Ugandans and one UK) and our lovely host Mum Josephine and her family. I had no idea what to expect for the house but I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that Josephine’s home was like a palace, with plenty of space and two beautiful young children to keep us on our toes. Upon exploring the area of a little more we got to try the famous street food called Rolex. This delicious concoction is made of fried egg with onion and pepper rolled up in an African Chapatti. Something which I am sure I will be adding to my already carb overloaded diet throughout this experience.
The final day of this week and concluding day of this post included an experience of Church in Uganda. We attended Watoto Church in the centre of Kampala, this was a strange experience for me as not being religious myself I was moved by the overwhelming faith and dedication that the congregation had for their God and for me it was very strange to want to be a part of something you didn’t believe in. I came away though with a huge admiration for the unbreakable and unwavering belief in God and his answers that the people of Kampala had. It did help that they had the most entertaining and energetic choir to accompany the enthusiastic service. The message of the service though was clear and one that can be applied to any aspect of life, that faith be it in God, love or human kindness, can move mountains.
Aaand moving on from the sappy part of the post the afternoon saw an exploration of a Ugandan craft market where I got to try out more of my haggling skills, which sometimes I think were a little insulting to the seller, we can but try eh? The amount of colour and goods for sale at these markets was incredible and had I not had a limited amount of money with me I fear I would have bought all of it.
Getting back to our host home took a lot longer than expected as we were caught in another jam, if anyone has ever seen the Top Gear episode on Uganda they do not exaggerate about the traffic. It did give us time to acclimatise to the stares you constantly receive for being Mzungu (White person).
And now as I watch France destroy Iceland 4-0 at half time in the semi-finals of the Euros I’ll sign off.