Thursday, 31 May 2012

Boda-Boda (moped taxis)

I've had many interesting days since I’ve been here, but today was probably the most interesting of all. I had my first experience riding a Boda-Boda. You may be wondering what is  a Boda-Boda and what is so interesting about it.

Boda-Boda, motorcycle-taxi, are one of the most popular ways of getting around in Uganda. So-called because they originated as bicycles with large panniers, used for smuggling goods across borders by rural footpaths. Now, replaced by mopeds and motorcycles, they are a convenient form of suburban transport and also a great short side trips where public transport is not available. As I was reading the pages on public transport on the Bradt guidebook, there was a section that mentioned that, “if a traveler is going to rely on public transport, it is inevitable that they will use a boda-boda at some point”, but before hopping aboard the traveler should be aware of its dangers. One of the dangers mentioned was the lack of formal training of its riders. According to Bradt, most motor-vehicle accidents in Uganda are caused by boda-boda riders’ reckless driving. What is scary about this is that I’ve heard the same thing from several local people. I have been told multiple times by aunty (the receptionist at Athina Club House which is the Hotel I am staying at) that if there’s anything I should avoid in Kampala, it would be riding a boda-boda; at least until I become familiar with the city. She said there are two reasons for that. 1. Because the riders are reckless, and 2. Because some riders kidnap people, especially foreigners.
Plus, I’ve actually seen how reckless the riders can be. They ride as if they were the only ones on the road. They do not respect street signs and do not care about pedestrians crossing the roads.
Today, though scared, I decided to use a boda-boda to visit a few tourist sites suggested by the guidebook, one of which was the Café Pap. I heard they had the best baked goods and the fastest internet. So I woke up this morning, took a shower, got dressed, and headed straight to the street around the corner to catch a boda-boda for the very first time.
Moi on a motocycle boda-boda
The ride was everything described by the guidebook and the Ugandans I've met. It was fast, bumpy, and nerve-racking. On a road with speed limit of 15 kph (kilometers per hour), my driver was going twice as fast. Whenever vehicles would stop because of backed up traffic, he would get between cars, and even on the sidewalk. There’s no such thing as lanes on the roads in this city. A road that we’d consider a two lane-road in the U.S is usually filled (horizontally) with 3 or 4 cars. So image motorcycles fighting to get through between the cars. At one point I thought we were going to either collide into a car in front of us or get hit by one, so I asked my driver to slow down....he actually did (after laughing at me for being scared).

Another thing I was warned about was getting overcharged by the riders. Taxis or any private transports here don’t have meters, so the amount you pay for a trip depends on the distance and it varies from driver to driver. Before leaving the hotel, I told the receptionist where I was going and asked her how much I should expect to pay. She said I shouldn’t pay no more than 2,500 Ugandan Shillings (UGX) which is equivalent to $1.10. She suggested that I negotiate the price with the rider before hopping on their boda-boda....this I forgot to do. So when I arrived at the café, the rider demanded 6,000 UGX, probably because he figured out that I was new to the city. After a two minute bargain, I ended up paying 3,000 UGX.
I have to say, though the ride turned out the be everything I was told it would be, it was FUN. I’ve never really been on a motorcycle before, so I felt like I was on a rollercoaster ride. The breeze I felt while on the boda-boda was remarkable. The sun didn’t come out today, so I didn’t have to worry about the sunlight burning my skin. The only thing I had to worry about was getting hit by a car or falling off the motorcycle. The good news is that I made it safely to my destination. I even took another boda-boda back to the hotel….I figured, if I am going to be here for 12 weeks, I’d better get used to it since it is the most common mode of transportation.

I thought we were going to hit some-thing/body or get hit

I took this picture and the one above from the boda-boda I was on.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Un-planning the plans: I was warned

Sooo, I was supposed to be in a province called Mbarara working at a regional hospital called Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital (MRRH); HOWEVER, I am in Kampala. I will actually be here for two weeks. In order to travel to Mbarara, I had to stop in Kampala because I was told this is where I would find a bus to take me to Mbarara. I planned to stay in Kampala for just a day. That would have given me enough time to rest up a bit and register myself at the American Embassy. Little did I know I was going to be here for two whole weeks. I guess there was a misunderstanding between my mentor (Dr. Nabukera), the physician with whom I will be working (Dr. Mwanga), and me about when I was scheduled to arrive in the Country. Apparently Dr. Mwanga has to travel to the U.S (D.C) for a conference from May 27, 2012 through June 3rd. This means my project will be delayed for two weeks. I am basically here waiting for Dr. Mwanga to return from the U.S so we can travel to Mbarara together. I was told she wanted me to wait here for her because she didn't think traveling via bus to the province alone would be safe for me, especially since I don’t speak the local language and I have 3 huge suitcases with me..... “you could attract a lot of attention with all those bags”, a woman told me.

  Since I am in Kampala, I plan to make the best of it. My plan is to see and learn as much as I can.

Meeting Ugandans

Who says traveling alone is boring? Well, not for me. Though I am staying in a hotel in a somewhat quiet neighborhood, I take walks around the neighborhood/town and I have actually met some people (friends) that way. You know what they say, the best way to get oriented to a city and its people is through the local people. The local dialect spoken here in Kampala is called Luganda, which I know nothing about (very naïve of me I know). Fortunately, English is the official Language in Uganda, so most people I’ve met to far actually speak English.
Seeeeee it is not so hard to meet new people
The 3 little friends...they are beautiful!!!!
More friends:)
Ugandans are very welcoming and friendly, except for one man who I met on my very first day here. I ran into him as I was looking for a coffee shop where I could access the internet. I asked him where I could find one, "I don't understanding you" he said with a very heavy british accent that I found difficulty to understand at first, "why don't you tell me what you're asking in Luganda so I can better understand you" he added. I told him that I don't speak Luganda and that is when he said "you're Ugandan, why don't you speak your language?" I told him I was not Ugandan but he insisted that I was. He even said that he knew me and my family. I couldn't help laughing when he said that. When he saw me laughing, he suddenly became upset and walked away from me. hahaha This just made my day!!!!

People are not the only ones I have been meeting here, since I arrived, I have probably met thousands (with a little exaggeration) of mosquitos. God forbid, but I think It will be a miracle if I leave this country without getting diagnosed with malaria. Oh, and there are other insects...I HATE THEM!!!
This thing was crawling on me. I screamed so loudly when I saw it and of course everyone started laughing at me

Anyway, I have a lot more to say about my journey so far, but my fingers are getting tired to typing so this is all I have for now….UNTIL NEXT TIME

First Week in Kampala

My impression of Uganda before coming here was basically similar to that of  most Westerners after the “Invisible Children” aka the “KONY” video went vital on facebook, youtube, and other social networks. I knew of Uganda and actually knew where it is located geographically because I was forced to memorize the geography of all 50 plus (54 I think) African countries in elementary school. Other than its geography, I knew nothing about the country; well, until I was introduced to the KONY video on facebook sometime in March 2012. After watching the video, began generate preconceived ideas of what Uganda was like. I began to imagine Uganda has a dangerous, unstable, and inhuman place to be, well at least for children. The reaction I got when I informed my family and friends that I was going to spend the summer (3 months) in Uganda didn’t really help either. In fact, it made things worst. I began to second-guess my decision of choosing Uganda as the site for my research project. HOWEVER, my bad impression of the country took a 180-degree-turn when I got here on the 23rd of May, 12 and discovered how beautiful it is here.

The Tropical Climate and its white&bluish sky that sits right on top of the beautiful green trees&plants simply blew me away. I fell in loveJ
Kampala is built on 7 hills, I am on top  of one, overlooking the city

Background Info:
Lake Victoria: the Uganda side
Uganda lies on the elevated basin which rises between the eastern and western branches of the Great Rift Valley. Most of the country is over 1,000 meters in altitude, and according to what I have read, it is topographically flat. With the exception of the semi-desert in the extreme northeast, most of Uganda is supposedly well watered and fertile. Nearly 25% of the country’s surface is covered by water (Oh WOW! That’s exactly what I said). Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the world’s second largest lake is shared by Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya. In addition to the Lake Victoria, Uganda is covered by other lakes including, Lake Albert (which I plan to visit), Lake Edward, Lake George, and many others.

The climate here is just amazing. It is much cooler and dryer compared to Gambia where I spent my summer last year. The highest it ever gets here I guess is 20-27 degrees Celsius and the  lowest 12-18 deg. Celsius. I guess this equatorial climate is tempered by the countries elevated altitude. 
By the way, the capital of Uganda is Kampala

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Recap of my trip to Kampala

It has been 5 days since I left Iowa. I’ve only been in Kampala, Uganda for 2 days, the other three days I spent traveling. I left Coralville on Monday May 21st, drove about 45 miles east to Moline where I took a flight to Chicago, and then to London.

I had a 10hrs-layover in London, but I was definitely not going to spend it in the Airport. I have an uncle, Papa Eduard, who lives about 20 minutes away from Heathrow International Airport, so I called him to go pick me up from the airport so I could go to his house to take a little rest before the 11hr flight to Entebbe International Airport, Uganda. It took him about 3 hours to show up at the airport, but he did come. He took me to his house where I was able to see my 7 little cousins (Excel, Eduard, Gerald, Richard, Sarah, Jenny, Joshua) plus an 8th one who was born just 3 months ago; her name is Jessica. During the three hours I was at his house, I showered, ate, held and played with my newborn cousin, went to a neighborhood store with Sarah and Jenny for some ice cream, played rugby with Excel and Eduard, and even had some time for facebook chat with some friendsJ

Papa Eduard took me back to the airport about 2hrs before my departure time. My flight was schedule for 9:15pm, we arrived at the airport at around 7pm. We were a little bit delayed due to the London evening traffic jam. I didn’t care though because I didn’t have any luggage to check in, so getting through security was fairly quick.

Entebbe International Airport, in Entebbe Uganda



Why is Uganda called The Pearl of Africa?

The Pearl of Africa was a nickname based on Uganda's alluring features which included rolling emeralds hills, shimmering lakes, snow capped grand mountain ranges,  misty forests and deep, and impenetrable forests where chimpanzees and mountain gorillas roamed wild and free, and most importantly her people. The "Pearl of Africa" was how Winston Churchill, moved by Uganda's great beauty, declared it when he visited in 1907. Later in 1908, in his book 'My African Journey', Churchill made it official and thus the nickname the ''Pearl of Africa" was adopted.

When visitors visit Uganda, they fall in love with her breathtaking Rift Valley scenery, lush countryside and incredible biodiversity. On their journey, some track our closest relatives, the Mountain Gorillas and chimpanzees, some venture on safari to see the Elephants, Big Cats and incredible 1,000 and some species of birds, and other just lie by the poolside overlooking the fabulous River Nile.
Ugandans love to meet and greet new people – the country’s crafts, dance and community tourism intrigue and delight the visitors.
"Somebody once said that if you planted a walking stick overnight in the soil of Uganda, it would take root before morning dawned. Of all Africa's safari destinations, this is the most fertile. It's also the best destination in Africa for seeing a variety of primate species – visitors can spot more than ten types of monkey including mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. And if primate enthusiasts are found wandering round with imbecile grins, Uganda's birds have ornithologists doing cartwheels: more than 1,000 bird species have been recorded here making Uganda, in practical terms, the finest birdwatching destination in Africa. Moreover, in Uganda's premier savanna reserves, one can be almost certain of encountering lions, elephants and buffaloes" -Bradt

Lake Victoria: the 3rd largest lake in the world

Another shot of Lake Victoria and a bird