This post comes to you from the Heathrow airport. I left Uganda this morning and am killing time during my layover. I should be flying to JFK in several hours, provided my flight does not get canceled or delayed due to volcano ash floating in from Iceland. Please keep your fingers crossed for me…
In the meantime, here is a quick update on my adventure beyond Uganda’s borders:
We ended up not actually leaving on Monday (as planned) because the bus was, surprisingly, sold out. Apparently for international buses they do indeed sell tickets in advance, unlike other buses in Uganda. So we bought tickets for Tuesday and hung out in Kampala for an extra day on Monday. I was glad we did, though, because as I was walking downtown doing some errands, I ran into one of my friends from Gulu! He was there on business, but we had no plans to meet; it was a total coincidence and it made my day. I love when random things like that happen.
Anyway, we left on Tuesday at noon, on a direct bus from Kampala to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The plan was to go to Tanzania first, spend two nights there, then head back to Kampala but stop for a day in Nairobi. It took us 32 hours to get to Dar es Salaam from Kampala! That is about how long it took me to get to Uganda from home (but in that case I had layovers, etc). On the bus ride, we stopped occasionally for bathroom breaks, to go through customs at the borders, and for one meal, but other than that we drove straight through. We also stopped in Nairobi at 3AM to have tea. Yes, that’s right, tea. It really struck me as quite absurd, but also very African. They love their tea here, and people drink it all the time. I actually really enjoy African tea (that’s actually what they call it), because they make it with hot milk instead of water and a lot of sugar…it’s delicious. We were very glad for the tea break, despite its odd timing, because we had been counting on the bus stopping at one of those places I told you about, where the vendors run up to the bus and sell food, for us to get dinner but it never did (which is strange, because all the other buses I have taken have stopped at many of them). As we were driving down the highway, feeling rather hungry, I just thought to myself “that just goes to show you, nothing is ever guaranteed, especially in Uganda.” Anyway, we took tea in a bus station that made every Greyhound station I have ever been in look luxurious. It was more than a little sketchy, but I didn’t actually feel unsafe. We got one cup of tea and a piece of bread, served on metal dishes that were reminiscent of a homeless shelter or prison. It was bizarre. But at least it was food.
Anyway, after that we got back on the bus and headed for the Tanzanian border. It was interesting because I was thinking about our trip to Rwanda and how stark the contrast was between Uganda and Rwanda; as soon as we crossed the border, I could see a difference in my surroundings. For this trip, that was not the case. Uganda blended into Kenya which blended into Tanzania. I didn’t really see any huge differences between them, especially in the rural areas. Kenya seemed perhaps a bit more “developed” (I hate that word), in the sense that there were fewer sheet metal shacks along the road, and Tanzania definitely felt a bit more organized than Uganda, but overall the rural areas were very similar.The strange thing about the Tanzanian countryside was that I didn’t see many people. We passed through so many small towns, which in Uganda are always swarming with people, but as we were passing those in Tanzania, I just kept thinking, “where are all the people?”
When we entered Dar es Salaam, my first thought was “oh, that’s where they are!” It was *packed* with people, congregating around street vendors and storefronts, or just kind of hanging out and having a beer. We spent that night and the next day exploring the city, which seemed pretty nice. It was somewhat more calm than Kampala, with a much more Arab feel to it. It also reminded me a bit of pictures I’ve seen of Mediterranean cities in Europe, perhaps because it is also a coastal city. There was much less “mzungu” yelling in Dar than there is in Kampala, which was a nice break. We didn’t have a ton of time, or much money, so we mostly had some of Bridget’s Tanzanian friends walk us around the city. We did eat some traditional Tanzanian food, which was not that different from some Ugandan food (their staple is maize posho, which they also eat in Uganda, but it’s called Ugali in Tanzania–it’s just maize flour mixed with boiling water and stirred until it becomes somewhat firm and spongy. It is eaten with a sauce such as beans, meat, or peas), but in Tanzania it is meant to be eaten with your hands instead of silverware. I think it might be a skill that takes some practice. I made a noble effort though, and it was pretty good. We also experimented with the public transportation in Dar, which is a system of busses called Dala Dalas. They are actually extremely similar to the Ugandan taxi system, except they make a good deal more sense because they are buses instead of vans, so people can get on and off much more easily. Sometimes the buses don’t even stop all the way, but slow down enough for people to jump on and off. They can also be packed more full than the Ugandan taxis though, and our rides were very crowded. I was very glad we experienced it, though, because I think one really needs to use the public transportation in a city to truly get a feel for how life works there. It was one of those experiences that made me chuckle to myself and think about how absurd life is sometimes.
Unfortunately, we discovered that the bus schedule between Dar and Nairobi did not line up with our plans. We would have needed to take a bus that left Dar in the evening to be able to spend a day in Nairobi, but we found out that buses only depart for Nairobi in the morning, so we had to cut Nairobi out of our plan. I’ll have to come back and visit that one another time. So from Dar es Salaam we got on another bus and journeyed back to Kampala, which took another 30 hours. Perhaps it was a little ridiculous to spend that much time on a bus for that little time in Dar, but I think it was worth it. Traveling through Africa by bus is an experience in itself, because you get to see so many things on the way. Of course, I would have liked to have more time, but our schedule was tight.
We arrived back to Kampala on Saturday afternoon, and my host mom picked us up from the bus station, then took us along on a seemingly endless string of errands, which culminated in visiting my host brother in the hospital. He had been admitted the previous night with a severe case of malaria and was in the process of receiving a string of IV drips for treatment. When I asked if anybody had stayed with him in the hospital, my host sister just said “he’s a man!” (he just turned 18, he’s a senior in high school). I followed up with “but he’s still young,” and she basically said that I was wrong. I just found that very interesting…I think most 18 year olds in the US would be accompanied to the hospital by their parents if they were admitted like that, but they seemed to think that idea was absurd. This speaks to two concepts I’ve come across in Uganda. The first is that children are forced to grow up very quickly there. I mean, I wouldn’t classify most 18-year-olds as children, but I think the concept is applicable. The second is that boys are pressured by society to be much more independent than girls. That has been a recurring theme in my discussions with many Ugandans on the subject of raising children. According to one father, “boys are raised to face any situation,” but girls do not need to face these situations themselves. I just found that to be an interesting occurrence. Don’t worry though, he was discharged from the hospital later that day (and escorted himself home on a taxi), and is feeling a lot better now.
Anyway, my internet time is almost up, and that’s about all I have to write at this point anyway. I spent Sunday hanging out with my family and doing some last-minute errands. My sister braided my hair in cornrows, which was fun (I’ve never had that done before), and we had a last meal together (the last matooke I’ll have in awhile, though I’ve been told there are a few Ugandan restaurants in Boston, so if I “miss it,” I’ll be able to find it…I think it will take awhile for me to miss it).
I am excited to come home, but also sad to leave. It was difficult to say goodbye to my host family, because they truly have become another family to me in the past four months. On the plane ride here, I wrote in my journal a long list of the things I will miss and won’t miss about Uganda, and things I am looking forward to and not looking forward to in the States. It was a fairly balanced list; there are things in all those categories. I might share bits of it later, but for now I am signing off. With any luck, the next time you hear from me, I will be back in the U.S.. Can’t wait to see all of you! Peace and love:)