here, there, everywhere

‘First’ Time in Africa

In Africa, Uganda on December 30, 2016 at 9:38 pm

It’s been a long time coming but I finally set off for my ‘first’ trip to Africa to visit Uganda and Rwanda. (Yes, I’ve been to Morocco before but more on that later.) After my flight got cancelled due to the plane having 2 flat tires (no, planes don’t carry spares and oddly airports don’t really either), I finally touched down 14 hours later than planned in Entebbe, a town about 35km south of Kampala. So this is how it goes with Ugandans – you become friends with one of them somewhere else in the world. They tell their friends and family back home about you, and all of a sudden you have all these new friends and family to call your own. When I touched down in Entebbe, I didn’t ‘know’ the people who were picking me up; I knew about them and had communicated with one a few times by email, but had no idea what they looked like or even all their names. And yet, when I came out of the baggage claim after midnight, there they were with flowers and hugs and warm greetings. That’s how it started and that’s how it continued right up to the end, minus the flowers.

We jumped in the car and drove into Kampala and to the apartment where I’d be staying for the duration of my time in the city. On the way everyone kept asking if I’d been to Africa before and I said yes, Morocco and a tiny sliver of Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula. To which they responded those were not African, didn’t count. Apparently you’re in Africa only if you’re below Algeria and above South Africa. They didn’t say it explicitly like that, but after a bit of prodding they also said you had to be black. Subtle. This went on while we drove over the numerous potholes and ruts in the roads that serve as Uganda’s regular infrastructure. 35km doesn’t sound like much but when the roads are poor it takes a lot longer to get somewhere, but eventually we made it to the apartment where I was able to shower and finally get to bed.

The next morning we were off and running in what became the norm for the next few days. My friend’s sister was in the hospital for surgery so we started the day there to meet her and her mom and to wish her good luck, and then headed off for an authentic African meal followed by a trip to the Uganda Museum, more driving and sightseeing, and then finally ending up at ‘Carnival’, a restaurant whose tagline is ‘The Only Meat, Culture, and Entertainment” establishment in the country. Find it interesting that meat goes with entertainment and there was a lot of both. BBQ’d wild game like boar and buffalo, the regulars like chicken, pork, warthog and a bunch of others. All the meat was served well well well done so I was not able to distinguish between the different species but I do know I was amply fed. After dinner the entertainment was provided by a group playing traditional instruments and performing various tribal dances from around the country. As usual, I thought the women’s dances were harder than the men’s and was exhausted just by watching them; maybe it was the jetlag and 11 hour time difference as well. I was seeing double of everything by about 10pm but all in all it was a pretty great first day.

The next day was slightly more relaxed with another trip to the hospital where I met the rest of my friend’s family, another sister who was due with her third child in 2 days and the brother. I can only speak for myself but there was no getting acquainted with any of them, we connected like family at the outset and that was that, I was in the folds of my own sisters and brother. Mom kept looking at me then finally said I should get my DNA tested cuz she was pretty sure I was black, I mean, just look at those hips! Now in North America that is not the thing to say to any woman, but they assured me this was a very good thing indeed. I had to give myself an internal pep talk and tell me to be ok with this. Fortunately I learned how to take the ‘compliment’ in stride which was good because it was something I heard A LOT the whole time I was there.  And this whole time I just thought I was German.

About an hour later we were on our way into the centre to have lunch and do some shopping.  I also had to exchange some money and discovered that even exchange rates are negotiable; my aggressive friend got me 10 shillings above the posted rate, and it wasn’t even black market.  By this time I was seriously crashing but there was still stuff to see and around 8:30pm we headed to the Cassia Lodge for drinks overlooking the city.  Beautiful views, good tea.  The end of a pretty perfect second day.

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