We have landed in Uganda and the true adventuring has begun! I have no idea where the last two days disappeared to, but here I am in this country for the second time this year. It really does feel surreal (ignore the clicheness). For anyone that doesn’t know, I spent my summer interning for the NGO (nongovernmental organization) Pathways Development Initiative in Uganda through the Iacocca International Internship Program that my university offers. When we landed, I felt a sense of familiarity because I have gone through the same exact process of getting my visa, finding my luggage, and leaving the airport before. I knew that I would be coming back to Uganda before I even left for my first trip. I didn’t really know how to process being back felt and I am still trying to figure it out. I have also been trying my best not to be overly excited or annoying about being here before. Everybody in my group has been asking me tons of questions about my experience and different things about the country. I am by no means an expert, yet it is nice that everyone is so interested in hearing about my previous time.
A very important aspect to note is that over the summer I was living in a village in the Eastern side of the country. I will now be in Kampala, a city, in Central Uganda. I must say that the urban experience I am having is already drastically different than my rural experience. This has really taken me by surprise. For some reason I feel a bit guilty for thinking they were going to be more similar. I am extremely fortune that I can be back in Uganda to learn more. The experience I had over the summer has really influenced my adaptability and I could not be more grateful because it is absolutely crucial for this journey.
The first two days that we arrive in a new country are spent at a hotel. After we left the airport is took us about 2-2 ½ hours to reach our hotel. Driving on these streets again gave me a sense of nostalgia and familiarity, yet also a weird feeling that I can’t really put my finger on. It’s really interesting to be back here with a completely different group of people and in a very different context. We were met by our country coordinator, Martha, when we arrived at our hotel. Martha has been working with IHP for a long time and her energy is contagious. We had our welcome dinner at a nearby Lebanese restaurant where we received our beloved country books. I love this because the entire schedule for our time in Uganda is included. I’m a big fan of schedules and knowing when I’m doing what.
Tuesday was all about orientation. We had a session on health and safety, an introduction to Ugandan food for lunch, a cultural orientation, and a survival Luganda session. Luganda is the predominant language in Uganda, however I did not learn any of this over the summer because the village I was living in had its own local language called Ligisu. R’s sound like L’s in Luganda. For example, goodbye is Weeraba pronounced way-la-ba. English is also very widely spoken here and all of the street signs and menus that I have seen are in English. We had most of our orientation sessions in our classroom spot which is located in a big building that a bunch of other offices in it. After all of this we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant near a very popular mall here called Acacia. I guess a lot of past students spent a lot of there time in cafes in this mall (I have adopted this trend, I am currently writing this in one of the cafes). I was so exhausted during this dinner that all I remember is wanting to go back to the hotel and sleep.
We had our first guest lecture Wednesday morning! We had a session on colonialism and political development in Uganda. There is a lot of great content on this topic that I would love to include, but for the sake of length I will just say that something that stuck out to me was that Uganda was under Colonial rule for 68 years until 1962. This means that Uganda gained its independence only 56 years ago.
We had a neighborhood day for the rest of the afternoon. Students from Makerere University came to do the activity with us. Makerere University is the best school in the country and in the top 5 best schools in all of Africa. We were split up into 6 different groups and 1 university student. We were all given different tasks that we had to complete. My students name was Godwin and he is currently a law student at the university. He is interested in human rights and international relations, so it was a great match. We had to go to the taxi park and ask people about the transportation system. The taxi park is a huge lot full of taxis (15-person vans that I called Matatu’s over the summer). Boda Boda’s are a huge part of the transportation system here. Boda’s are basically motorbikes/motorcycles, however we are not allowed to ride them because they are very dangerous. This past year over 7,000 people lost their lives due to Boda accidents. The traffic is CRAZY here, so it is understandable. This is interesting for me though, because Boda’s were my main mode of transportation over the summer (those roads were much less crowded).
We had to go to a shop where we could purchase phone minutes and ask questions about how calling and texting works here. Thanks to my wonderful amazing mother for letting me switch my phone carrier to T-Mobile for this trip, my phone shockingly works really great here, and hopefully will in the other countries. I have unlimited texting and data which is really great for me because whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or homesick calling home is always my go to.
We had lunch at a place that had the local cuisine. Anyone who read my blog over the summer knows this, but the staple foods here are Matoke (basically mashed up green bananas), rice, g-nut sauce (sauce made from ground nuts), chapatti, and Irish potatoes. Surprisingly, I have had no posho yet. Posho is a dish made from maize flour, and I ate this everyday over the summer. I have also had a lot of pumpkin, which was something I never had over the summer. Of course, the fruit is amazing and so sweet. Mangoes, pineapple, passionfruit, bananas, and watermelon are incredible here. My favorite part of this neighborhood day was that we got to check out Makerere University and talk with a bunch of students there. Our guide showed us his dorm room and it was pretty similar to how the single rooms at Lehigh are set up.
Wednesday night was the first night that we spent in our homestays. A member from our homestay family came to pick us up after we received a homestay orientation by the homestay coordinator, Hetti, who is a homestay mom herself. We all are split up into pairs of 2 for the homestays and these pairs will change for every country. I will be living with Arthur (the only boy) in Uganda. This means that I’ll have my own room (yay!). Our host father, Joseph came to pick us up and we are lucky enough to be the closest to our classroom location. It is about a 20-40-minute ride depending on traffic. Some of the girls have a minimum of an hour to a maximum of a 2-hour commute.
My host mother’s name is Kelen and we have a bunch of siblings. Joseph and Kelen have 6 children, 2 of whom currently live in the house. Michael and Reenah are both in their 20’s and we have a 3-year-old sister, Asabe, who is Kelen’s brother’s daughter. They live in a small cute house that reminds me a little bit of where I was staying over the summer. After we got home, we had dinner and went to sleep shortly after.
We are responsible for navigating the transportation system to get to class every day. Our sister, Reenah, went with us on Thursday morning to make sure we knew the right direction. We will be taking the taxi’s that I talked about earlier. They are hot, and jam packed, but manageable and also very cheap. It is usually 1,000 shillings per trip. The currency here is Ugandan Shillings which translates to one dollar being about 3,500 shillings. Things are usually pretty cheap here.
We had a debriefing session on our adjustment to the first night in our homestays and another guest lecture on the structure of Uganda’s economy and its implications for Entrepreneurship Development. Agriculture is the largest structure of the economy and there are more men employed outside of the home than women. When talking about entrepreneurship I found it interesting the our lecturer told us that greediness drives entrepreneurs, but it also makes them creative. We had our first Design Thinking and Development class for Uganda
We had our first design thinking and development class for this country after our guest lecture. We talked about personas and storytelling and the difference between stereotypes and archetypes. Something interesting that my Professor said was that a stereotype is one story of a bunch of stories. We’ve talked a lot about single stories and how people base their assumptions of another country based on one story they hear. A question we thought about are if stories can create social movements and then the question of if you can create a social movement without a story came up. Interesting things to think about.
We had time to do whatever we wanted after class and some of us went to a crafts market near our classroom. I’ve already bought a bunch of stuff from Uganda, so I tried to limit myself. I bought a very nice necklace, earrings, a scarf, and a gift for a friend. As a group, we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. It was super nice and very tasty!
After, we went to this event that takes place every Thursday night called the Milege Acoustic Project. Makerere University puts on this event every week and it is basically an open mic night where anyone can do whatever type of performance they would like. This was super cool and I’m really glad we went. I highly encourage you all to go on SoundCloud and look up Wake256 and this to the piece 256. 256 is Uganda’s country code. This spoken word was amazing and powerful.
Friday morning, we had our first social entrepreneurship class for this country and learned about the journey of social entrepreneurship in East Africa. Because of the presence of different challenges, such as nutrition, lack of access to clean water, diarrheal diseases and more there is great opportunity and justification for social business. Our assignment for this class will be case studies and as I mentioned before I am going to be researching education. We planned our case studies and where we will be going after class. My group will be going to an organization called Girl Up which I will talk more about next week!
We had our first site visit in Uganda in the afternoon! We went to a place called Innovation Village which was extremely similar to Impact Hub in San Francisco. I thought it was weird how similar the places looked. Innovation Village provides a space for start-ups can work, learn from each other, and create partnerships. I liked this visit more than the one in San Francisco because it was much more interactive. We were able to hear from multiple different startups that are at different levels and then sat down with someone who related to our case study. I felt like I was actually able to ask questions and get honest feedback. The man we talked to was involved with a startup that was putting lectures online that were easily accessible to children in vulnerable areas. They have launched programs in Tanzania and Rwanda as well. We asked a ton of questions and it seem like he really had everything figured out. There were a few things I was a bit skeptical about and of course I left with a bunch more questions, but it seemed like a very great, and needed, initiative.
We spent the night hanging out with our host siblings and playing cards. Arthur brought the game Set with him which is super funny, you should try it out. Our youngest host sister, Asabe, finally warmed up to me. We spent the majority of Saturday morning playing cards and then met up with some of our friends at a country club. It was only a 10-minute walk from our house, so very convenient. We spent the day swimming and laying out. It was our host sister’s, Reenah, birthday on Saturday and the family made her a cake, so we had a small celebration. We were able to meet a few more of the siblings that no longer live in the house.
After breakfast Sunday morning, we headed to the mall to get some work done at one of the cafes. We stayed there almost the entire day until we met up with everybody and went to this place called the Ndere Cultural Troupe. This was the coolest thing I have ever been to in this country. They put on performances of all of the different traditional dances of the different areas and cultures within Uganda. This included singing and music as well. The drums were my favorite, but everything was absolutely incredible. It was such a cool opportunity and I’m so happy we were able to go. We were able to go dance with the performers at the end and this was by far my favorite 30 minutes that I have spent in this country.
Thanks for reading!!
All the best,