It’s taken me longer to write this than I anticipated, for a number of reasons. I’ve been busy, there have been several power cuts, and although internet access is readily available I have found it difficult to sit in front of my computer for a sustained period without something going wrong. Thanks for bearing with me, and welcome to my blog. This is aimed at friends and family who want to follow what I’m up to, but if you’ve stumbled across it for some other reason then I hope you find it interesting.
I arrived in Uganda on 6 April and am currently living in Wakiso and working for an NGO in Nansana, not far from Kampala. While I am here, I hope to learn about Uganda as a place, about social work in Africa, and also to get an insight into international development and community activism. This isn’t a travel blog, it’s a place where I will note down my thoughts on what I experience while I live and work here. In this first post, though, I will just briefly give my first impressions of Uganda as a first-time visitor to Africa.
The main thing I want to express is just how un-European it is. Kampala is fairly cosmopolitan and I haven’t explored it enough to form an opinion as yet, but suburban Uganda is quite different from anywhere I’ve seen before. The main roads are bumpy tarmac, maybe wider than a single carriageway but with no lanes or markings. The main road breaks away roughly along each side into a sort of shoulder of mud – dusty in the heat and boggy in the rain. In each settlement, there is generally a row of wood or brick huts that consist of tiny shops, kiosks, workshops, cafes and barbers’ salons. Occasionally there is a larger building – a bank, guest house, builder’s merchant’s, or small supermarket. This mud shoulder is generally heaving with people all day and quite late into the evening, and the road is similarly full of traffic – private cars, public mini-buses and motorbike taxis that all weave around each other in an almost hypnotic form of chaos. Further back from the road, there are many narrow mud tracks that wind away, also lined with a mixture of dwellings and small shops (the two are often attached).
To take a snapshot of any of these streets would not look unfamiliar – after all, I’ve seen Africa on the television any number of times. It’s the scale that took me by surprise. On the one hand, this is quite a rural area to European eyes, but on the other hand it is strikingly busy with the hussle and bussle of a market town. Throw in the traffic and the dust and the heat, and it almost feels like you’re doing your shopping in rush hour on a London Underground platform.
Adapting to life without running water has so far been easier than I initially feared, but that doesn’t stop me longing for a hot tap every time I wash, clean my teeth, or use a latrine. I am also getting through a huge amount of bottled drinking water, and was grateful to find a shop last week that stocks 5 litre kegs. I had been worried about getting enough to eat, but thankfully there is an abundance of food and the portions are generous. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that water, not food, is rationed.
In future, I’ll try to write on a specific topic and stick to the point. That way, you’ll be able to decide whether you’re interested and only read what you want.