Monday, 18 June 2012

Goodbye Kampala, Hello Mbarara!

My time in Kampala has ended (well, for now), now its time to get down to business in a town called Mbarara, in Western Uganda. So I had spent the past two weeks in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. I was waiting for the physician with whom I will be working to come back from a conference, which was held in Washington DC. She has finally come back and we have traveled to Mbarara where I will be for the next two months working on my research project. I’ve actually been in town for 5 days. I just didn’t get a chance to post the update sooner, my bad:)

About Mbarara

Mbarara is located in Western part of Uganda. It is the 6th largest town in the country. Mbarara was not always this big though. In 1955, when Alan Forward arrived in Mbarara to serve as its new district officer, he found himself “chocking in the dust” of what seemed to have the atmosphere of a one-horse town. Indeed, at  the end of the colonial era, Mbarara was too small to be ranked among the towns whose population exceeded 4000. By the early 1990s, however, the one-horse town had grown to become one of the largest towns in the country, with the population exceeding 40,000. Mbarara is, in short, the most rapidly expanding town in Uganda.

The climate here is much colder than that of Kampala. The mornings and evenings can get down to the 30s (a little too cold for the month of June if you ask me) and middays are usually in the 60-70s. I just love the tropical weather. The town is much smaller than Kampala. I’ve only been here for 5 days and I feel like I know where everything is located. The supermarkets, the banks, the restaurants, the beauty salons...I can get to the them with no problems. I was in Kampala for 2 weeks and didn't know where anything was. Here in Mbarara, there is only one main road, called the High Street. This is the only road into and out of town. It goes right in the middle of the town, dividing it into two sides (West and East). Nearly everything is located on the High Street: banks, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, shopping malls/boutiques, gas stations, churches, hospitals, parks, they are all on this street. Unlike Kampala, there is no getting lost here. If for some reason I get lost, all I have to do is find the High Street and will eventually find my way back home. The smaller size of the town means there are also lesser people here compared to Kampala, which means it is less crowded here. Sometimes Kampala was so crowded that I felt like I was suffocating, especially during rush hours.

The downside to the smaller size of town and quieter environment is occasional boredom. I haven't been able to visit any tourist attractions simply because there isn’t any nearby. There are a few national parks that I would like to visit sometime but they're all located at least 2 hours away and transportation is a challenge since I dont own a car and not very many public transport reach there. The town is said to boast perhaps the best selection of hotels and other tourist-related facilities but they are aimed mostly at local businessmen. There is not much sightseeing, which is probably good for me because I can spend more time doing what I really come here to do.

One of my favorite things to do when I go places is meeting new people. Like the people in Kampala, people here too are very friendly. I have been meeting really nice people at church, at the hospital I work at (Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital) and sometimes in restaurants and stores; however, I haven't been able to befriend many because of language barrier.The local language spoken here is Runyakore, which is different from Luganda (the language spoken in Kampala).  I don't speak Runyakore; however, I taught myself to speak Luganda using some words I found in the Bradt guidebook, so I can actually manage to form a few sentences in Lunguage. The only thing is, very few people in Mbarara speak Luganda and fewer speak very little English (except for those who are educated), so this makes communication very difficult.  Whenever there is a language barrier, I try to gesture my words. Sometimes I look crazy doing this, but would be surprise how much is conveyed by my gestures and that is what counts. haha

Apart from the chilly weather and language barrier, I really like living in this town. Mbarara is a small university town. At times it reminds me of Iowa City. The town is known for its famous university, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST). Students travel from all corners of Uganda to come study here, their families come to visit them, and businessmen come here to make money off of them and their families. Students, professors and other staff members, businessmen, and their families are who make up the majority of the population. When school is in session, there is a boom in business and the local economy. The opposite happens when school is out and the town becomes less active  (sounds like Iowa City, doesn't it?).

Anyway, this is all I have for now. Till next time! 

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