Hello, hello! Long time, no talk. I am a bit behind on my blogging. Part of the reason is because I have been so busy here in Kampala, with both work and with personal travels. But I have to admit the main reason is that I don’t feel like I am “traveling” these days; I feel like I am just living my life here in Uganda.
The last couple of weeks have been full of highs and lows. In an effort to be honest and real, I have to write about both at the risk of sounding like I am complaining. I will try to alternate between the positives and negatives as I catch you, my readers, up on the Kampala life.
Pro: My birthday was fabulous!!
I turned 28 years old since I last posted! Thanks to my amazing co-workers and new ex-pat and local friends from here in Kampala, I celebrated my birthday with a surprise party/Ugandan feast during the day and with a dinner at my favorite Kampala restaurant, Cafeserrie, at night. My co-workers also showered me in gifts…I was truly humbled! ❤ This birthday was one of my best yet—it reminded me so much of last year, when I trekked Vinicunca Mountain in Peru and the local villagers threw me a mini-surprise party. It is going to be so hard to beat #27 and #28!
Con: “Africa time”
Both locals and ex-pats alike use this term to describe the perpetual lateness of literally everyone and everything here. For example, when messaging our office last week about the start time of a meeting, the head of my organization who is a native Ugandan said “2pm, No Africa time please!” While I can be guilty of being late myself from time to time back in the US, nothing in the US comes close to being on par with “Africa time.” Basically, it means double however long something is supposed to last, or add an hour or so on to any time at which something is supposed to start.
This week in particular, I’ve had some bad experiences with Africa time. I think the worst experience was when the bus that was supposed to take our team to Masaka for a training led by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights arrived to pick us up 5 hours late. That’s right, 5 hours….that means we arrived in Masaka at midnight, because of course the 2 hour journey took 5 hours in “Africa time.” We then went to a local restaurant to eat, as no one had eaten dinner. I was so exhausted and nauseated from the trip I could barely eat anything (and also, I think I’ve had my fill of Ugandan food, as described in the next con).
One thing I love about Africa time is it means more leisure and less stress and worry. It’s been so nice to slow down from my usual NYC pace and live life at a pace that allows me to enjoy each day and live in the moment. However, this week has really made me miss the efficiency of the good ole US of A. I guess one positive is I now have an accurate way to describe the NYC subway system…it’s just running on Africa time!
Pro: Jinja, the Source of the Nile
Last weekend in Jinja was amazing! Located about three hours (Africa time) from Kampala, Jinja is home of the source of the Nile River, which flows north through Uganda through South Sudan to Egypt and the Mediterranean. Jinja town was adorable, and full of so many cute art shops. I bought so much here!! (Including lots of jewelry for myself and friends and family, and 2 sets of coasters for my apartment, haha…adulting hard!!) Saturday, I kayaked in the still waters while Carissa rented a stand-up paddle board.
That evening, we did a “dinner cruise” (which was actually more like a booze cruise) down the Nile at sunset. There were about 20 military members from the US, France, and the UK on the cruise from our campsite, so you can imagine this got to be pretty entertaining. Carissa and I camped in our tent along the banks of the Nile that night…it rained hard but our tent kept out all the water!
The next day, we went on an all-day rafting trip. This was my first time ever whitewater rafting, and it was a blast!! The rapids were grade 5, which is the most difficult level there is. Our guide, Koa, instructed us expertly as we navigated each rapid. We flipped over twice!!
Between each rapid, there was a nice long stretch of still water where we could relax and swim. I even got pulled out of the boat twice…the military guys would row up next to our boat and use their paddles to pull me in! Then Koa would have to pull me back into the boat. It was pretty hilarious.
I started out really loving the food here, but after 1 month of it, I think I am done. One problem is the portions at lunch are so huge, and I get “in trouble” if I don’t eat “enough”! I have even talked to our cooks twice about giving me smaller portions each day, but they continue to pile it on. Also, matoke is literally served at every meal. I have had enough matoke to last me the rest of my life.
The good news is I have found a pizza place here that I like, as it’s my #1 food back in NYC, as well as a place that sells hummus, so hopefully I can survive the next 1.5 months. There’s also a Pizza Hut if I get desperate and homesick enough! And, there is always Cafeserrie, where I go at least once a week now, which has delicious salads, pastas, and pizzas.
This week, I am going to have to start being a bit more firm about my lunch at work. As good as it is and as generous as they are, I do not want to be force-fed! I also still want to fit in my clothes when I go back to NYC, lol…
Pro: Sunshine and summertime
I have found my happy place here in Kampala—Kabira Country Club. A day pass costs 40,000 shillings (about $11) and it allows me to use the gym and the beautiful pool for the whole day! They also offer massages and have a salon on the premises, and their kitchen serves amazing food right to my chair by the pool!
The pro is I love and admire my dedicated and professional team, and the work we are doing together to promote media freedom is extremely important. However, it’s been a tough week. I wrote an article in the Daily Monitor about a situation involving a radio station here. The Ugandan authorities then called me out personally in a reply published in New Vision that also denied several facts I had included in my write-up that had been vetted by my team. I know my team faces this type of opposition on a regular basis, but it was a first for me. It was a reminder that this work is not easy.
In addition, last week, I travelled to Masaka (the journey is described above) to participate in a UN human rights field training for journalists. Our UN officer did a fantastic job giving an overview of the background, development, and mechanisms of human rights law for the participants, as well as advising on practical ways to ensure truth in reporting when it comes to human rights violations.
However, a lively and contentious discussion arose when our UN officer stated that LGBT persons are entitled to the universal human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was very taken aback by the refusal of many members of the group to acknowledge that LGBT people are entitled to the same human rights that heterosexual people are entitled to, including the right to life, liberty and security of person regardless of sex or status as clearly laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whether or not a person agrees that same-sex marriage is a right, I was shocked that it was even a question that gay people should not enjoy the same universally recognized freedoms as everyone else simply because they are gay.
I had read about the obstacles that members of the LGBT community face here in Uganda, as this is the country that in 2013 tried to pass a law that would sentence gay people to the death penalty. The law was amended to give only a life sentence in prison (“only” is used ironically here) but was later overturned on a technicality. LGBT people still face a prison sentence in Uganda.
It shouldn’t matter whether or not you agree with the LGBT “lifestyle” for religious reasons–no one should die or be in danger for being gay.
The prejudice and misconceptions about the LGBT community became very apparent to me during this training as the discussion unfolded, and I shared my opposing views with the group. I will be perfectly honest—it was quite scary to do this in this setting, but I could not look my gay friends back in the US (and here for that matter) in the eye if I didn’t stand up for them when it mattered. I will be writing more about this at a later date.
Pro: Dinner parties!
Tonight, Jill and I are hosting our new third roommate, our Airbnb hosts, and our local friend Nat and Jem for a dinner in our apartment! Therefore, it’s time to wrap up this post, as I’ve got to get to hosting 🙂 Until next time!