A Real African Man Knows Everything

Uganda and Rwanda are interesting countries to compare. We have gotten in the habit of calling Rwanda “Europe” or “Fake Africa” and considered our trip to Uganda a trip to the “Real Africa.” Our director reprimanded us for this. He admitted that he was one of the first in the group to say these things but pointed out that in saying these things we were applying negative and hugely generalized stereotypes to Africa. We were basically saying that to really be Africa a place must be dirty, crowded, smelly, undeveloped and disorganized. This is not what we intended for our statements to mean. Uganda simply fit many more of our stereotypes of Africa that we came to the continent with. While this plays out poorly for Uganda (and I guess all of Africa other than Rwanda) it shows that Rwanda disproved many of these stereotypes. Going to Uganda also showed us that we chose a very well maintained and organized country to spend our time in.

This probably makes it seem like Uganda was a terrible, dirty place. It was not. Uganda was beautiful and I loved being there. It was just very different. Yes, it was dirtier than Rwanda but for a couple of reasons. In Rwanda, people sweep the dust off of the roads and gather the garbage left on sidewalks and roadsides by hand. Rwanda also prohibits plastic bags, which more or less eliminates that particular contribution to waste in the country. Additionally, Rwanda’s population density far exceeds that of Uganda and therefore Uganda’s countryside tends to feature much more uncultivated and seemingly barren land. From what we learned and saw, Uganda’s corruption rates top those of Rwanda and driving through the country, one can see the extreme poverty much more easily in Uganda. Uganda’s infrastructure is not as developed and things simply seem less organized everywhere you go.

Nevertheless, going to Kampala was awesome. It actually felt like we were in a big city and now I understand why so many people call Kigali a small city. After visiting Kampala, the best way to describe Kigali is to say it resembles a bunch of small neighborhoods rather than a big city. Different neighborhoods do form the whole of Kigali but each of them seems so much like its own little town that they don’t quite go together. While we did not travel around Kampala as much as we have in Kigali it seemed much more like one big city. There were many more high-rise buildings in Kampala. Street vendors are much less organized and informal. The informal sector in general is more prominent, contributing to the development and regulation issues.

When you actually find a sidewalk more than two feet wide and with less than 3 potholes per 10 seconds they are taken up by salesmen. Most of them try to sell you second-hand clothing or shoes, fruit or g-nuts and my personal favorite, the insanely cheap burned DVDs in little plastic fold over bags with paper print outs of the case inside. Each DVD only cost 2,000 UGX so less than a dollar. That is a price you cannot really argue with. Unfortunately we have all become very stingy, and I can fairly say that the selection was not the best, although plentiful, so we only got a couple between the six of us.

The night and lack of street lighting does not hinder these entrepreneurs work. They simply light a candle, or a chunk of cardboard, and shove it in the top of a bottle in the middle of their display. The only thing that could make this more of a nervous situation is the fact that Kampala’s sidewalks are more or less taken over by boda-bodas and especially so at night.

Motos or boda bodas (the guys – I’ve never seen a woman at least – that drive motorcycle taxis and are considerably cheaper than an actual taxi) drive way more recklessly, do not require licensing and do not have to wear helmets whereas in Kigali they are organized by area and must wear helmets and provide helmets for the individuals they transport. A perfect example that we saw frequently: a boda boda driving on the already crowded sidewalk with three passengers (four people total) and zero helmets. It was not abnormal to come close to being run over by these. The cars also do not give any indication of willingness to stop let alone slow down for pedestrians to cross the road. Our director in Kampala told us that when she came to America once, crossing the street gave her such culture shock that she could never get comfortable enough to not run across the road, even at an actual cross walk with the cars completely stopped and waiting for her. Kampala had real traffic too. At certain times in the day the traffic jams were so long and backed up that drivers frequently turned off their vehicles to wait for them to move.

Classes in Kampala were wonderful for the most part. Unfortunately we have discovered the huge flaw in having a different lecturer for just about every class. They have little to no idea about what we have already covered and therefore repeat material frequently. I think they also are not familiar enough with the intensity of American universities (at least liberal arts universities) to provide us with classes at a level that we are used to. Many of our classes end up seeming like introductory ones that deviate from one another minimally. I wouldn’t expect the first year of any program to be perfect though. The classes in Kampala varied a little more than the usual and were a fresh topic in a new country so we welcomed and appreciated them greatly.

One of Kampala’s other tremendously appreciated treasures was the Rolex. A Rolex is an absolutely delicious street food, an omelet (usually made from two eggs and meager amounts of onion, tomato and cabbage) rolled up inside of a chapatti. Our director actually told us about them during our debriefing on Uganda and we happened upon them during our second night while searching for a place to eat dinner. We decided to go ahead and get one each and then stopped by a grocery store for some other snacks in order to feel like we had an actual meal. The choice was such a good one. We ended up eating Rolex for dinner every night that we stayed in Kampala. The walk from our hotel to the Rolex stand was about fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes back and was worth every minute of walking in the dark, avoiding potholes and uneven sidewalks, basically playing frogger trying to cross the road and dodging boda bodas driving down the sidewalks around us. Did I mention that they only cost 1,300 UGX, which converts to about $0.57 USD? We all wish they were a thing in Kigali.

One of our last days in Kampala we tried going back to the huge market we had visited before in Old Kampala. Right when we got there it began to rain so our (absolutely amazing) driver told us we should just go back to the hotel because things were going to get crazy. One would think that in a country with as much rainfall as Uganda, people would not freak out when it rained. But oh how they freaked. People scurried out of the street and under the tiny awnings of stores. They scrambled to pull tarp over their products out in the open air and the traffic was absurd. Driving down a small section of the road took long enough that our driver finally agreed to let us go shopping and more or less told us how to walk back to our hotel when we were done. The rain started to let up by this point as well but a few sprinkles still persisted. This shopping experience could have been amazing and I could have found incredible deals, however I felt awful and the insane amount of clothing for sale simply overwhelmed me. I desperately tried to find dresses that I liked but every time I tried to start looking at an item, the 40 others around it flew into my view and then a salesperson would pop out of nowhere to try and convince me that the dress was perfect for me. None of which was conducive to me spending money. I ended up getting a $6 USD (if I remember correctly) cardigan so the day was not a complete loss. I went back early with two of my classmates and rested until I felt well enough to eat a Rolex for dinner.

We eventually said goodbye to the lovely city of Kampala to head out West to Kasese. This was a long a bumpy drive, and not what you probably think of when you read bumpy. No, the roads did not feature a plethora of holes and unpaved sections. Just lots and lots of speed bumps. I am not exaggerating in the least. One stretch of road had 21 large speed bumps in a row with about six seconds of driving between each of them. When the speed bumps were not featured in such a way they were instead in groups of five small speed bumps, all right after one another. The drive was frustrating to say the least.

Categories: From Uganda | Leave a comment

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