All posts by Heidi Hoffman

Customer service

One of the things I feel most awkward about is that the people here are always serving us – and kindly. I think I notice it most at dinner time when there is always a handful of people preparing our dinner, making sure we get everything we need. Then they are right there waiting to clean up after you when you’re finished.

For me, it’s a new thing to get used to for the time being because I’m more of a do-it-yourself kind of person. I like to figure things out on my own and I’m so used to cleaning up after myself it’s weird to just walk away from the table and leave dirty dishes just sitting there. It makes me feel bad because I’m perfectly capable of cleaning up after myself. Isn’t the general rule that you’re supposed to pick up the table if you’re not the one who made dinner?

The thing is that it didn’t stop with just lunch or dinner being like that. It happened when we went shopping too. I distinctly remember several women asking if they could hold my things for me while i shopped, when I am perfectly able to hang onto them – although it was nice not to be carrying so many things.

Wish granted…kind of

I’ve been meaning to get this out here, but I always wanted a bed with a canopy. From a girl’s point of view it’s always something a princess would have.

Well, wish granted in Uganda! Little did I realize it would come in the form of a mosquito net above my bed. I clearly didn’t think this one through. I had absolutely no idea how incredibly difficult it is to tuck in a mosquito net after an exhausting day.

The thing about mosquito nets is that just about the time you crawl into bed and literally tuck yourself in, you realize you have to go to the bathroom. Typical. So you get out to go to the bathroom, tuck yourself back in and realize the light switch is across the room. I’m pretty sure this happened every other night for me and Gabby – if not every night. Yep. You think we’d learn right?

But hey, at least we’re safe from getting Malaria right? Especially after dousing our entire room with deet at one point. That counts for something right?

Taking notice

Now that the initial shock of how drastically different Uganda is from anything else I’ve ever seen, I’ve begun to notice more things. We’ve spent a good amount of time on the bus and all I can do is look out the window. My plan was to do some reading during the time we spend going from place to place, but I’m absolutely mesmerized.

One of the things that sticks out the most to me is that there are a number of people who just sit out along the side of the road and watch the cars go by. I’m sure it’s not every day that they see a bus full of Mzungus drive by.

Herbert, our guide, told us that the unemployment rate was about 40% – and we freak out if unemployment rates touch 8%! My guess is that the people staring off into the distance, watching cars go by, or the men who sit together on their motorcycles all day are the ones who are unemployed. For me, it’s hard to understand why they would just spend the day doing nothing. I mean, shouldn’t they at least by making things or doing something with their hands?

If it were me, I’d get restless and stir crazy. I’m used to being on the go all the time. I guess it makes me feel incredibly lucky to have two jobs.

Crazy Mzungus...

Give way

The most terrifying things I’ve experienced in Uganda are transportation and the 12 of us getting into a hand-made oat on Lake Victoria with some incredibly expensive camera equipment.

Our mode of transportation for this trip is the obvious choice – a big, blue, rickety bus with big windows and Fred as our driver and Herbert as our guide. The windows are perfect for being able to take pictures. We were able to see everything. this also means that every Ugandan can see us as we pass by.

But everything about riding in this bus is slightly frightening in the sense that Ugandan roads aren’t the best (although most are paved so that’s a plus). Everything is backwards. They drive on the left. And they don’t have any stop signs or traffic lights in general. There are times when vehicles are literally only inches apart. It’s absolutely insane. I swear every time we cross the street John is telling us to look right THEN left so we don’t get hit. It’s weird to be re-learning how to cross the street. It makes me feel like I’m back in kindergarten. Maybe I should hold someone’s hand next time.

But, the transportation doesn’t even compare to when the 12 of us got on a boat at Lake Victoria today to go see the source of the Nile. And because we’re practicing with our cameras and getting pictures today, we decided to bring all our cameras on the boat with us. It sounded like it would be a perfectly fine idea until we pulled away from the shore and the boat sank to a level that made everyone uneasy. But we were lucky enough to get some really great shots from it.

The boat we rode on Lake Victoria


The weary traveler

Roads in Kampala

Ok, so I’m not going to lie, that last plane ride seemed to go longer than eight hours, or maybe I was finally just ready to get to Uganda.

I haven’t traveled over seas since I was in third grade. Needless to say, I’m not at all accustomed to how you’re supposed to sleep on an eight hour flight, nor am I familiar with the atmosphere of an international airport.

Traveling this far, for me at least, was absolutely exhausting – which would be fine in any other case except I don’t want to miss out on anything and it’s hard to keep your eyes open when your dogs are barkin’ like crazy.

My experience this far has given a new meaning to the term weary traveler. And I definitely have way more respect for those people who do a lot of international traveling. I’m not sure I could handle another eight hours of the crying baby that sat in front of me on the first flight.

When we finally got to Entebbe it was dark – and when I say dark, I mean it was pretty much pitch black. It isn’t like there’s a whole lot of flashy advertising with lights.

My first impression of Uganda was based purely on smell. I would describe it as a mix of campfires, New Orleans, exhaust and dirt. I don’t really know how else to describe that – it’s not really a one word kind of thing because it’s definitely unique (but not awful).

The group at the airport in Amsterdam

We’re so lucky

We leave in a couple of hours and the question that’s been stuck in my head is – why me? Why am I the one who has this opportunity, and a rare one at that? Through  this journey to the other side of the world, I hope to find an answer to that question. But for now, at this moment, I have such an open mind as to what this trip will behold. I have no reservations and no expectations that need to be fulfilled for this trip to be a success. The mere fact that I even have the chance to go is…beyond words. I feel so incredibly lucky. So lucky.

My grandparents called me this morning to wish me well and all I could think about was what my grandma used to say to me, “We’re so lucky.”

My grandma and I doing one of her favorite things - watching the sunset.

Just go with it

Since I was in seventh grade I was convinced that I’d eventually get to study abroad in Spain. I even took 6 years of Spanish classes in preparation for the day I’d finally be getting on a plane to Spain (the rain in Spain falls mainly on the…oh wait…wrong “plain”…back to my point). I spent the last year looking at programs and classes I could take abroad in Spain.

But I’m not going to Spain. I’m going to Uganda.

No, that’s not a joke. I’m really actually going to Uganda…and I’m still trying to convince myself that it’s for real going to happen – tomorrow. Now why in the world would I spend all this time planning to go to Spain and then completely throw it out the window and go some place that sounds completely insane? The truth is, I have no idea. All I know is that it’s a rare opportunity, something unique and I’m just going to go with it. I think one of the best feelings in the world is when I’m going some place and everything is new and so overwhelmingly awesome, I get this sweet feeling where I want to feel, touch, see, smell  and learn absolutely everything. My automatic response to things starts being, “No idea – let’s do it!” and “just go with it”. And the best part is, I’m going to feel like this for a whole two weeks and I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life.

My bags are packed!