Uganda Travel Log: Day 1 – TIU, meet UCU

Location: Kampala and Mukono, Uganda
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Departing Kampala

I woke up early so I could get my shower first, and be able to spend some time with God before we hit the road. We stayed two-to-a-room, so we had to juggle schedules, and it was clear I was the early riser between the two of us. She water pressure was weak, and it was a challenge to juggle wearing flip-flops at all times while — I was advised to avoid being in bare feet, especially in the bathroom — but the shower was hot, and that was a pleasant surprise. I was careful not to get water in my mouth or eyes, brushed my teeth with bottled water, got dressed — sadly, it’s all about dress clothes, no matter what you’re doing, so I was in dockers and a button-up — and had some time to pray and journal.

Our balcony also gave us a nice view of the city of Kampala, though there’s a lot of pollution. So, I was able to snag a couple pictures of the city.

Kampala skyline 2 Kampala skyline 1

We took breakfast back in the little café at the hotel. Plantains, Weetabix, corn flakes, hard boiled eggs, corn muffins, fresh tropical fruit, coffee and tea were available. They also made me an eggs and veggies omelet, which was delicious.

I thought you might also be interested in a couple pictures of the hotel where we stayed. Pretty nice, isn’t it? I forgot to take a picture of the room, but it was very simple. Mosquito nets were included, just as promised, which was huge. And there a towel. But other than that, no extras of any kind. Good thing I brought soap and everything else I’d need. And, as I implied in my post last night, the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. In fact, I’m getting that vibe from the culture in general.

Kampala hotel 3 Kampala hotel 2 Kampala hotel 1

Surviving the Travel to Mukono

After breakfast, we drove into the city (Kampala) to exchange money and make a supplies run. And in so doing, I got my first taste of the insanity that is driving in Uganda. I’ve never been to India, but any time I talk with those who have, they comment on how crazy driving is there. This is what I will now picture when I hear those stories going forward.

It was insane. The roads are sometimes paved, often not. Potholes and bumps that would eat my car are pretty much everywhere. There are no lines. No signs. No sidewalks. No street lights — well, that’s not true; we saw four (count, them, four) street lights the entire day. One, we drove straight through the red light. And another, I think all the lights were red, but it was hard to tell because I was too busy fearing for the lives of the people weaving in and out of traffic on foot and on bikes.

There are no lanes. Where your car fits … that’s a lane. Uganda was once a British colony, so they drive on the left and love their roundabouts. So all perspective for this American was completely skewed. The only reason I didn’t fear for my life continually is that we never got above 20 mph. Unfortunately, that was because of the congestion. Without ANY street lights or signs, every vehicle simply fended for itself, which didn’t exactly result in fast and efficient flow.

Not only did we not really observe any lanes in our van, but the streets are covered with a) pedestrians and b) bikers. When my family was in the Philippines, we saw a ton of little minivan-like cars called Jeepneys, which served as taxis and all-around inexpensive transport. The equivalent here is a boda. This is essentially a small motorcycle that the Buganda (the Ugandan people) use as taxies or to zip around through the ridiculous traffic. And it’s amazing what they can strap on the backs of these things. I saw furniture, mattresses, half a dozen kids, and so forth. Impressive.

But the worst are the people who just walk wherever they want to on the road right in the middle of all this traffic. There are no sidewalks, so if people are walking, it’s on the road. And there’s no way this country has jaywalking laws. In fact, the interaction between the cars and the pedestrians is so extreme that we were encouraged not to keep anything valuable near the windows, because it’s typical for a walking passerby to reach in and swipe a purse or other valuable. And I’m not kidding, our guide showed us a picture of an elephant reaching his trunk into his car window and stealing treats off the front seat.

Okay, enough on the traffic. Right about the time I was getting over the shock of riding into town, we arrived at a money exchange place, with which evidently our trip leader has a long-standing relationship. Our trip leader opened the conversation demanding a good exchange rate, so I did the same. So, I ended up with a pretty sweet rate. I highly recommend haggling in this situation. The rest of the team are all much younger than me, so I felt good about being available to help them understand currency exchange, which was fun. I felt helpful.

After money exchange, we stopped at a local grocery store to get water and snacks. We have seen many roadside stands as we’ve driven around the city, selling produce, furniture, clothes, etc. But this store was amazingly similar to a supermarket in the US. At the recommendation of a team member who had been here before, I bought a “Stoney” ginger-ale drink. It was super cheap (like $0.40), which was good, but incredibly strong ginger taste, which was not so good. Not really my thing.

Finally, having loaded up on snacks and the all important water bottles, we set off for Uganda Christian University (UCU) in Mukono.

Arrived at UCU

Trinity partnered with UCU to host us for three days while in Uganda, and create an environment in which we can interact with the students here. So, four students from the UCU “Honors College” are “assigned to” our team for the entire duration of our trip, even for the 10 days after we leave the UCU campus.

Upon arrival, my first impression was how pretty the campus is.

UCU6 UCU5 UCU4 UCU3 UCU2 UCU1

We started with a tour, and that resulted in my second impression… “Wait a second, the roads are all dirt / clay.” And a lot is under construction. So, the net result is that this is a very easy place to get dirty … and we have to be dressed up while we’re here. It’s customary for the men to wear dress slacks and a dress shirt (and a jacket and tie if we’re meeting someone important). Needless to say, it’s pretty foreign to me to be walking around in dress clothes on muddy dirt roads. But I’m adjusting.

After the tour, we checked into our rooms. Here are a few pictures of that. I’ll describe more in later posts.

UCU Guest House 1 UCU Guest House 2

After check-in, we ate at a local campus restaurant called “Touch of Class.” Great little place right on campus, which is evidently quite the favorite watering hole around here. Our guide ordered for me, since I had no idea what I was doing and because the room was dark and I couldn’t see the menu. Uganda Dinner 1As a result, I had matoke (a staple here; essentially mashed cooked bananas) and chapatti (similar to a soft pita bread) for the first time. And they topped it off with fried beef stew and an amazing mango fruit drink. It was all pretty good, but not something I’d want to eat all the time. Plus, I don’t even want to think about how many carbs we’re talking about here.

After lunch, we met the president of the honors college. We assembled in a classroom, and he came to address us. It was a formality, equivalent to our meeting the tribe’s elder. Very interesting. A fellow theology student and I also got pulled up in front of a chapel service to introduce ourselves, since they were a room full of fellow theology students. The leadership there encouraged them to talk to us while we’re on campus, so hopefully that will lead to some interesting conversations.

Next on the agenda was to get our electronic devices registered, so I got to experience the technology lair on the 3rd floor of the library. That was fun, and it resulted in the most stable internet connection I’ve had to-date on the trip, which is wonderful. I’m so glad to be able to talk to my family whenever we get a few minutes of downtime!

We then walked into town together as a group to visit a massive local market. The plan was to take that in, and then eat dinner in town. The walk there was as crazy as the drive to campus had been. There were no sidewalks, so we were constantly feeling like we were dangerously close to the traffic, and once we got into town, we crossed streets with impunity and got up close and personal with the bodas. I think it would take a long time for me to get used to all that!

On the way to the market, we passed a number of roadside shanties, where the obviously-very-poor live. But we also passed a number of houses, which were enclosed by walls, some of them topped by barbed wire. Our guide, Jordan, explained that this is a) for security, but b) because the Ugandan culture has a sense of privacy that strongly desires having a wall around your house. In other words, they would feel that the suburban houses in the States, even if their yards were enclosed by fences, were very open and exposed. They would probably even say that this kind of “exposure” constitutes an inherent invasion of privacy. Fascinating.

Once at the market, it was very dirty, very loud, and very hectic. Zillions of shops, many of selling the same thing as the shop a few doors down. There were lots of clothes, food, shoes, backpacks, and some furniture.I just don’t see economically how anyone could buy all that, or even enough to turn a profit. Granted, the cost of living has to be near zero, but still. It wasn’t like Israel, where people were essentially trying to force you to buy things. Also, there was a lot of cat-calling. A couple times people even (jokingly?) offered marriage to some of the women in our group. I think it’s just their form of banter, but it was a little uncomfortable. In reading to prepare for the trip, I did read how Caucasians / westerners are viewed as beautiful and desirable, even superior, so maybe that plays into it. I definitely wrestled with feelings such as wanting to help them to improve their situation. I also felt at times like we were a parade of white people. I haven’t processed through all those feelings, but what I definitely do know is that 1) it’s not a situation to be “fixed,” 2) as people, we are in no way superior to them, and 3) giving them more and speeding up their lives with affluence and modern technology wouldn’t necessarily be “helping” them. What if they’re happy with their lives? What if success doesn’t really have anything to do with money?

Ugandan Market 1 Ugandan Market 2 Ugandan Market 3

Anyway, lots of questions, and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to have all the answers. What I know is that Jesus is the only true “enough.”

And that brings us to the last activity of the day: dinner. Right down the street from the market is the Colline Hotel, a very upscale hotel (for the area) where westerns frequently stay. It’s evidently a sister hotel to the one made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda. It boasted a huge buffet, and we ate like kings, while enjoying some debrief from the day.

When we left the hotel, it was dark, and I was seriously wondering if I was going to survive a walk home in the dark. Fortunately, we hailed a taxi, and … I kid you not … squeezed 17 people into one minivan, and headed back to campus.

When we got back, everyone else took in a movie about Uganda, but I turned in, using it for some writing and down time. Plus, since I hadn’t slept much the first night or on the plane, I had hoped to get some real sleep.

And with that, I’ll sign off. Thanks for being on this journey with me. Please keep praying, primarily for restful sleep, stamina, and the power of the gospel.

God bless you all!

PS — Did you figure out the title? TIU = Trinity International University (us), and UCU = Uganda Christian University (those we’re visiting). icon_wink

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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Christ. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long journey, learning to swim with the current of God's love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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One Response to Uganda Travel Log: Day 1 – TIU, meet UCU

  1. Pingback: Ugandan Shillings For Sale | Breaking Away: Jeff Block's Blog

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