Tag Archives: kampala

The Onlooker

Kampala is the most populated city in Uganda and, therefore, very crowded. This is painfully obvious during rush-hour traffic. And, to get to JRS Kampala from the hotel and back, we had to cross the city in this traffic, so we spent a lot of time on the bus.

These bus rides have been challenging for me. Last summer, I was a participant in Creighton’s Peru FLPA in which students live and study in the urban poverty of Lima. It is a service learning program, so we served at various service sites in the community. To get back from service sites and overnights with our host families, we took the public bus (M1). And, despite some surprised looks from other bus riders, it was a way to delve into the reality in which these Peruvians were made to live and an act of solidarity.

In Uganda, riding public transportation is not an option for us. We are hauling around large, expensive camera equipment and working under a time crunch to get all the footage we need to assemble a documentary film when we get back to Omaha. So, I get it. However, we still see public transportation on our route in addition to many other vehicles, motorcycles, bikes, people walking, and children selling stuff on the streets.

The ease and comfort of our commute compared to most residents of Kampala is unsettling for me. This is magnified by broken, wordless interactions across windowpanes as I make eye contact with riders on the vans used for public transport. These vans are usually packed as full as possible (and then some) and sit lower to the ground than the bus I ride. This creates a physical hierarchy in which I am situated higher than the bus riders using public transport and, therefore, looking down on them.

And the eye contact is pretty unbearable, but I will not let myself look away. Under the circumstances, looking – and gently smiling – is the only way (that I can think of) to recognize the fellow human being in the vehicle beside me and dignify their life as of equal worth and value to my own. And, as our respective vehicles chug along, I feel like an onlooker in a landscape of hardship and suffering from which I am undeservedly spared.

But, on a positive note, today I had my best interaction from the bus so far. We visited the home of a South Sudanese refugee named Lewi that we interviewed yesterday. After getting some establishing shots outside his home, I played soccer with his sons. We started with passing but quickly transitioned to headers. The goal was to get as many consecutive headers. Our highest was an impressive three headers! Before you judge our soccer skills, you should know that we played on a very slanted ground next to a brick wall with a toddler at our feet.

We left after getting B-roll, and, as we drove away, the family stood outside their home and waved goodbye. When Lewi’s son spotted me through the windowpane past Tim (sitting between me and the window), he stuck his chin out farther and grinned harder so that the rest of the skin on his face tightened. To see each other better, I had to duck under Tim’s waving arm, and he had to duck under his dad’s waving arm. I made a silly face at him, and he made a silly face back. And, in that moment, the glass of the windowpane seemingly dissolved so that it no longer was a barrier. And I was grateful for its opacity that allowed me to connect to my new friend a moment longer.

It’s no coincidence that my best interaction from the bus only happened after I left the bus and met (and played soccer with) the person on the other side of the windowpane.

Discovering a Generous Heart

It’s impossible to predict the new experiences you’ll gain when you enter a foreign space for the first time. For instance, I never imagined that I would feel adventurous enough to suck on a tilapia’s eye (I wish I could say that I managed to swallow it like the other brave students who attempted stomaching the Ugandan delicacy, but I couldn’t stick it out once I tasted its salty cornea). I also didn’t expect to let go of my inhibitions and dance like no one was watching at a cultural performance, crazily swaying my hips to the African drums and laughing uproariously with other uncoordinated visitors from all over the world. And I most certainly did not anticipate the incredible generosity and welcome I have received from the Ugandan people.

Uganda is not a comfortable place to live by any means. 84 percent of Ugandan youth are unemployed, and only 46 percent of college-educated people have jobs. There is a significant economic divide between the poor and the wealthy few; the majority live on less than $1 USD a day and struggle to meet basic needs such as food security or healthcare, while the rich minority reap the benefits from the financial disparity. Malaria, a tropical disease transmitted through mosquito bites, is a real threat, but the simple antibiotics that may help reduce risk for parasitic infection, such as Doxycycline, is not affordable for individuals  living below the national poverty line.

However, despite having very little and struggling greatly, the Ugandans are some of the most generous people I have ever encountered. They are generous in their compassion for other people, quick to sympathize and offer aid if possible; they are generous in their love for Christ, demonstrating their devout faith by connecting God back to all things; they are generous in their time, patient in listening to another’s story and ensuring that individual feels heard; and they are generous in their laughter, taking great joy in the simple pleasures of life.

One moment of generosity that particularly stood out to me  involved a seven-year-old boy we met during our first afternoon in Kampala. While we were enjoying a late lunch at Caffe Java, the restaurant staff brought out a large chocolate cake to the boy, who was celebrating his birthday with his family. After blowing out his candles, the boy cut the cake into multiple bite size pieces and began moving from table to table, offering peripheral restaurant patrons a bit of his dessert.

When the boy reached our group, it took us a few minutes to realize that he wanted to share his cake with us. In the United States, we don’t give food off our table to strangers; such a gesture probably wouldn’t even occur to us. But here was this child, who did not have much, unselfishly giving up his cake for people he did not know, making sure that every one of us was fed. I couldn’t believe that a seven-year-old was capable of such love for his fellow human beings. It was a profoundly touching and humbling experience.

A storm rolling over Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in East Africa. This is also the site of the legendary eyeball-eating incident, which was not as delicious as the boy’s cake.

For the rest of our time here and beyond Backpack Journalism, I want to practice the same generosity that flows through the Africans’ hearts. I will work to offer more of myself to others, to give attention more than I receive it. And maybe one day, I will be able to emulate the same generous spirit as the boy who felt compelled to share food from his table.

It’s funny — I imagined that Uganda would change my heart, but I never expected to be moved so quickly.

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

As my second day in Kampala draws to a close, I find myself having difficulty processing everything that I have experienced in such a short period of time. I have driven from one end of town to the other and seen extreme wealth and destitute poverty a mere few kilometers apart from one another. I have seen a seemingly never ending stream of people out and about along the Ugandan capitol’s jam-packed roads traveling in a mismatched assortment of taxis, motorcycles, and by foot. I attended mass at the sight where Uganda’s famed martyrs were condemned to death. I even ate fish eyes along the banks of Africa’s largest lake. Yet, the thing that has stood out to me the most about Kampala is something so insignificantly small that many people might not pay it any mind at all.

Since arriving in Kampala, I couldn’t help but notice the wide assortment of signs and advertisements that cover almost every free inch of the capitol city’s buildings. As a person from the western world, these signs and painted advertisements are absolutely ridiculous. Daycare centers with pictures of Mickey Mouse and other recognizable characters seem to dot just about every street corner. The names of these daycares alone would ward off potential customers in the United States. Here in Uganda, however, people don’t seem to bat an eye. Bars and restaurants with signs featuring the logos of prominent beverage companies can be seen on just about every street corner not occupied by some sketchy looking early childhood education or daycare center. Each one seeming to rotate between having a sign featuring the logo of Pepsi, Coca-Cola, or Bell beer. These types of signs are just the strangest thing for me. There is no way that any restaurant in the United States would prominently display the logo of a beverage company on their storefront signage. Yet again, Ugandans don’t seem to bat an eye about something I find strange.

Perhaps the best sign that I have seen since coming to Kampala two short days ago can be found on a restaurant about a 3 minute drive from the hotel where we are staying. The sign reads, “I Feel Like Chicken Tonight.” When I first saw the sign, I busted out laughing. What kind of restaurant calls itself something as ridiculous sounding as this? After I had gotten over the initial laughing fit caused by the name of the restaurant, I realized that a restaurant name such as this is really fitting in a place like Uganda.

When organized chaos reigns supreme in a place like Kampala, ordinary citizens and businesses alike must do something to stand out or risk being swept away by the sea of never ending chaotic activity in Uganda’s capital city. In this sense, a restaurant with a name like, “I feel like Chicken Tonight” symbolizes the very spirit of a Ugandan’s daily struggle to stand out amongst the organized chaos that otherwise dominates society in the pearl of Africa.

Fire

As I look through the pictures from my trip, I am reminded of the smoke that permeated the air from all the burning waste. This sight was especially noticeable in Kampala, where from afar the city seemed as if it was smoldering.

Smog above the city of Kampala.

Now these pictures of a city up in smoke are not just of Kampala, but also of my neighborhood in Colorado Springs. From what it seems like, the entire state of Colorado appears to have caught aflame.

When high winds and atmospheric pressure combined to spread the fire outside of Waldo Canyon and towards the outskirts of the part of the city in which I live, I received a barrage of pictures documenting the flames coming over the foothills.

Fires burning on the front range of Colorado Springs. Picture provided by Adam Pink.

Unfortunately, some neighborhoods were destroyed. An elderly couple was burned inside their house. I personally know some families who lost their home. On another occasion I know a family whose home is the only one left standing on their block.

In no way to I intend to trivialize the situation in Colorado Springs by quoting the Joker in the Dark Night when he says, “Everything burns.” Science would say everything does burn, one just needs to find the right temperature.

However, no matter how bad the conditions became (the fire was so hot it melted glass, lower grade glass melts at 900 degrees F, other grades melt around 3000 degrees) the fire could not incinerate the efforts of all the responders who fought to extinguish the fire.

I saw a comic in which Batman, Superman, and a firefighter were all standing side by side and the caption read something along the lines of ‘who is your favorite superhero?’ There was a checkmark under the firefighter.

Comic provided by reuters.com

As I watched a fire in a barrel shrivel the paper waste from my Grandpa’s farm outside of Yankton, South Dakota, I am reminded of those whose efforts are directed at putting out the fire around my home. I want to thank all those who fought and continue to fight the fires that have burned areas of the Midwest and all across America. Your dedication, determination, and courage are examples of who real heroes are and what the entire human race can be. Though it is not even close to enough, I offer my appreciation and prayers for all that you have done and continue to do. Thank you.

Insert Image Here

I told myself I would attempt to somewhat organize the structure/subject matters of these blog posts, but it’s really not going to happen so I apologize for my lack of order. Then again, it reflects the chaotic nature of my first two days here in Uganda. I’ve spent probably a solid three hours with my face right next to the open window of our home away from the hotel, also known as our bus, which has left a lovely layer of dirt on my face and hundreds of lasting images in my mind.

One of hundreds of motorbikes that passed by the windows of our bus.

Traffic in Kampala should not even be described as traffic. It’s more like drive where you want, when you want, as fast as you want, because you can. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone through round-a-bouts amidst tons of motorbikes inches away from both sides of the bus. Meanwhile, you drive on the left side of the road here which constantly gives me these split-second moments where I panic and convince myself we’re about to die in a head-on collision. Slightly dramatic and unpleasant, so let’s move on.

We went to a market to shop for gifts and I discovered two main things. First of all, if you ever find yourself in foreign markets with me never, I repeat, never count on me to do the bartering. I had barely figured out the exchange rate of currency therefore I had zero idea of how much money I should be paying for anything let alone demand a lower price. My inability to assert myself aside, I did manage to make some friends in the process. A woman asked what “Creighton” on my T-shirt meant and when I told her it was a school she immediately gave me a giant hug. It was a warm embrace, but at the same time a harsh slap in my face for not appreciating my education as much as I should. I also bonded with my buddy Dennis, a charismatic painter who told me even though I was American he still thought I was “one cool cat.” Thanks Dennis, right back at you.

The boat which took us across Lake Victoria to the Source of the Nile.

Today we ventured down to the Source of the Nile which was stunningly serene, if that’s even possible (I’ll post a picture eventually). We climbed into a rather shaky wooden boat, where if one person would have shifted their weight too much in one direction, there could have been a short documentary produced about the backpack journalism crew swimming through Lake Victoria. There was a moment when we pulled into shore from the boat, and a Ugandan man was filming us on his phone as we arrived. At first I thought “This is odd,” then I looked down at the camera strapped to my own neck. The shoe was officially on the other foot, or I guess in this case the eyes were on the other side of the lens.

As Long as You Love Me” and “Last Christmas” played at the first restaurant we ate dinner at. Backstreet Boys and Christmas music, two things I generally associate with Africa. It was a nice reminder of home (and who doesn’t love boy bands and out of season Christmas music?), but at the same time an interesting display of just how far the United States influence travels.

Those are just a view tidbits of all the images that have crossed my path in these past two days and I’m sure it’s only the beginning. Tomorrow is going to be another long day on our trusty bus, but every day is a new adventure here and I can’t really complain about that.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

p.s. Yes, this does indeed happen every morning as the sun comes up. Just kidding. Or am I? I guess you all need to take a trip down here to find out!

“Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” -Roald Dahl

And So It Begins

As I sit in Carol’s room sitting to write this blog, the roosters crow in the background and I have a gorgeous view of the city of Kampala. What a whirlwind last couple of days. I have faced my fear of small planes and seen an area of the world that is completely new and different to anything I have ever seen.

Two nights ago, after a little over twenty six hours of travel,  layovers in Amsterdam and Detroit, and a stop in Rwanda, we made it to our hotel in Kampala. At that time I was so  exhausted it seemed almost surreal that was as actually in the middle of Africa.

The first plane ride was a  nerve racking, we were in a twenty six passenger plane. A plane so small that not all the bags would fit in the overhead bin.  I felt claustrophobic just sitting in my seat. I swear that first plane ride took longer than the  other plane rides combined.

I almost kissed the ground when we landed in Detroit. We had a short layover, enough time to get a quick snack and board. The flight between Detroit and Amsterdam seemed to fly by. (bad pun intended.) Landing in Amsterdam we got a gorgeous aerial  view of the fields and waterways. One of the coolest things I saw was wind meals  placed in the water.
I have to go to Europe, my short layover only showed me just how much I am missing.

Yesterday morning, I woke up slightly more rested, to a beautiful view of the city.  It became completely clear to me ready or not I’m here.   We had a light breakfast and then we went off in search of a bank to exchange money.  We went to a market to shop for souvenirs. I met a local artist and we talked about his work and the fact we both had brothers named Stephen. He told me some about his life and his faith. We visited both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Ugandan martyrs shrine.  My favorite part however has been driving around and seeing all the different parts of town and  looking briefly into  the lives of the  people. Seeing women carrying baskets on there heads, smelling trash burning and seeing children laugh and play music are sights completely new and exciting.

Today, we have a busy day ahead of us. I cannot wait to explore this beautiful country.