Wegendereze UGANDA! (Watch Out UGANDA!)

I know this post is long overdue!

So I was sitting on the plane heading to Entebbe, Uganda on June 9th and I was overwhelmed with such emotion. So I pulled out my notebook and decided to write down all of my thoughts. Here is a small glimpse of what turned out to be pages of writing.

I don’t think I could begin to talk about my trip to Uganda without sharing a piece of me with you. This trip is more than just an opportunity to work in Uganda but an opportunity for me to connect and identify with a continent that is a part of my ancestry.

I was adamant about working in Chad this summer, a country that connects me to my past and present; a country that my family is from. As a first generation American, I carry with me many of the emotions and sentiments that children of immigrant parents do. We tip toe a line often of being too American or too African depending on the circles we intertwine with.

I grew up in a Chadian enclave where I spent most of my time playing with my cousins. And as I branched out of my Chadian circle, I found myself caught in somewhat of an identity crisis. How do I define myself in a place where I did not feel fully accepted? Where my culture and practices were mocked at times and although I was not at the brute end of the teasing, I watched other kids just like me teased on end. And I wondered if my ability to speak English without an accent or the way I talked or dressed influenced my ability to skim the radar of bullies.

But this had a psychological effect on me; one that I carried with me for years. I found that I let the spaces I was in define me when I should have defined myself within the space. I had an ahah moment in my early twenties, where I realized that I had become comfortable in my skin and in my culture. I wish I could remember the first day I fully accepted myself but I will never forget the day I realized I did.

During my time two months in Uganda, I will be living in a small rural town called Rakai, where I will look like everyone there, but my life experience will be completely different. Before leaving, I had a frank conversation with an esteemed colleague regarding how I will be perceived. I was informed that I should be mindful of my actions since I am African and look African unlike my colleagues and that I will unfortunately be held to a different “standard”. This became evident upon arrival to Kampala, which I will blog about at a later time.
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If there were one word to describe my experience in Uganda so far, it would be, ENRICHING. During my first weekend in Kampala, we visited the national museum and although it’s not the most elaborate museum, it was quite nice and informative. The museum is full of pieces from different tribes and time periods that give you a glimpse of how Uganda has changed over time. (They were going to charge us to take pictures so everyone was like HELLL NA! )

After spending some time at the museum, we went to a local buffet and helped ourselves to some of Uganda’s staple of matooke and chipati.

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The following day, we made our way out to Jinja to white water raft down the Nile and OMG was that an experience. Those category 5 rapids are not to be played with, but definitely worth the adventure.

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The instructor took us out on Nile to teach us how to use the paddle and what to do when the raft flips over.  Then, he flipped over the raft and sent us all flying out. I attempted to swim out as quickly as possible only to get smacked by the raft. Poor Rohan (guy with the blue shirt in the middle pictured above) was trapped under the raft, but there’s an air pocket under there so he waited until our next set of instructions to make his way out from under the raft. After our lesson, we made our way out on the rapids. I found the rapids to be manageable, but the last one, which was the second category five rapid. MY GOD, I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DROWN TO DEATH. The instructor asked us if we wanted the 100% flip, the 50% flip or the 0% flip. Rohan immediately declared 0%. He was NOT having it. He was ready to get back to land, but most opted for 50%. We paddled hard as our instructor yelled, “Harder, harder, harder, kneel”, so everyone held onto the rope and kneeled into the raft. We descended into the rapid and before I knew it the raft was flipping over. I immediately let go of my paddle and released my hand from the rope. I was on the left side of the boat, which tipped over first and I plunged into the river. The current was moving me swiftly down the river and I attempted  to come up for air, but the waves kept pushing me down under. I finally came up to see someone from the boat ahead and immediately latched on to her. I might have been under water for about 15-20 seconds but it felt WAYYYY longer. I looked around to see how many people made it out and noticed two people on the safety boat. For the entire 20 seconds, I wondered when I would finally be able to breathe. White water rafting is definitely something to do if you’re a thrill seeker and since I lived to tell the story, you should do it if you’re ever in East Africa. (FYI They are building dams on the Nile to generate power, so in a few years rafting down the Nile will no longer exist.)

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After rafting down the Nile, we hurried back to Kampala to head to a cultural show put on by the Ndere Troupe. The founder of the Ndere Centre takes in orphaned children and finances their education from the proceeds of the show. It was an amazing show that I would highly recommend. The dances are from various tribes across Uganda and they do a great job at explaining what each dance signifies (i.e. a coming of age dance, circumcision dance etc.)

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This sums up some of the exciting things we did during our first weekend in Kampala. Be on the look out for a post about the work I’m doing at Rakai Health Science Program and how I am perceived in this town. It’s quite an interesting dynamic! Ohh and our nights out dancing in Kampala!

Veni. Vidi. Amavi

We Came. We Saw. We Loved.
Until next time

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Backpacking: The Beginning

20160607_014817It’s been two years since I’ve seen my friend Sonya. We had a few classes together in undergrad, and I remember discussing our dreams of traveling during aerobics. Fast forward to present day, she is living out her dream backpacking. It just didn’t make sense for us to link up in New York City, even though we lived like 15 minutes from each other at some point. We even worked in the same area, but catching up over lunch breaks is just sooo cliche! So, what better place than Thailand. I mean Thailand is approximately 8,509 miles from New York, 11hours ahead of New York, and if you’re lucky enough only an 18 hour flight and not the 24hrs that I had (give or take). Before I knew it, I quit my job and bought a ticket to Thailand. On a scale from terrified to excited, I was all of the above.

Stay tuned to read more about my first backpacking adventure. Check out http://wayfaringgyal.com/ to read about Sonya’s travel experiences!

Veni. Vidi. Amavi

We Came. We Saw. We Loved.
Until next time

Best Buy Co, Inc.

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Club Colombia

When you meet like-minded people with the same passion to travel, all I need to hear are three things: dates, location(s) and flight prices.

Before I knew it, I was on my way to Cartagena, Colombia for five days along with seven strangers and two other people I’ve met off previous vacations.

I recall being so excited to go, yet unaware of what I’ve gotten myself into. Everyone is NOT meant to be a travel buddy. [And I speak from experience] I’m not entirely a fan of vacationing with a large group for various reasons. Number one being that there are way too many different personalities. Everyone is going to want to do things on their own time and pace, which is okay. But, if it’s going to hinder what I want to do, then Houston we have a problem!

Luckily, this wasn’t the case with this group.

Cartagena (Cartagena De Indias), also known as “The Walled City” was a major trading port for gold, silver and slaves. Eventually, huge thick walls were placed along the coast to protect the city from attacks.

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Cartagena is a great walking city. We stayed at Casa Relax Hotel located in Getsemani, just minutes away from the Old City. It is an affordable B&B. Even though the showers rarely had hot water, after being outside in the scorching hot sun, one can find a cold shower to be refreshing. Aside from that, the staff was extremely nice, the breakfast which consisted of fruits, a selection of a plain crepe or eggs, your choice of coffee, tea, or delicious fruit juice was a great way to save on a few bucks.

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The hotel had a good-sized swimming pool and a pool table. The huge wooden door and 24hr staff on the side gave a little extra sense of security.

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The streets are filled with beautiful architecture, graffiti art, vendors, people dancing and just sitting out enjoying the vibes.

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Right around the corner from the hotel is a big yellow church [Iglesia de la Trinidad], and every night people gather in front of it and just dance the night away. They even had a zumba night with an instructor leading. The energy there is so powerful you can’t help yourself but to join in on the fun.
Some of the tastiest food/drink carts park around the church and you can get anything from succulent fresh fruit juice, arepas, rice & meat, and more.

In a city like Cartagena, having a tour guide to tell you historical facts can be a great thing. But, we decided to ditch that and rent bikes on our own and venture off.

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Alex Rocha Youth Center
Neighborhood: Barrio La Maria

One of the girls expressed early on in our trip planning that she wanted to do volunteer work. She choose Alex Rocha Youth Center located in the neighborhood of barrio La Maria. Words cannot express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to be apart of that experience. Alex Rocha is a tour guide, who opened a center to give back to his community. Barrio La Maria is not the type of neighborhood you would find tourists. Many of the people living there lack basic necessities. Alex walked us through the neighborhood and we spoke with the kids as we rounded them up to go back to the center. We spoke about our dreams, laughed, danced, read and played. All Alex wanted was for us to teach the kids something. He was so humble and being with the kids was truly moving.
I recall us eating dinner together after and just going around, reflecting. This experience will forever be one of favorite travel memories.
If you’re interested in donating to a good cause, I would suggest the Alex Rocha Youth Center. https://www.facebook.com/AlexRochaYC/

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Bath for a QUEEN

Visiting the mud volcano is hands down A MUST DO. Like, add that to your bucket list now! El Totumo Mud Volcano is about an hour drive from Cartagena in Santa Catalina. We got picked up from the hotel and when you get there the first thing you notice is the 50-foot staircase leading to the volcano opening. When you get to the top you hand your camera to the “cameraman” who will snap endless pictures at your request when you shout “foto”, while someone in the volcano gives you a massage. It’s like being in heaven. The volcano is bottomless so your legs just dangle. Don’t be fooled and think you can swim in it like you’re in a pool because you will not move and end up splashing mud into people’s eyes. You pretty much lay on your back and relax, or just stand up along the sides. After soaking in the mud, all the tension in your body is eventually released, and you will feel rejuvenated.

To wash off, you have to walk down the staircase and down to the river where these women sit ready to wash you AND your swim suit. By the time you go to change back into your regular clothes in the locker room area, everyone is outside ready for their tip. For people that aren’t aware, the amount paid for the activity includes their tip. However, being aware of their lifestyle and realizing that 2000 colombian pesos (which can buy you a soda) is not even 75 cents. It doesn’t hurt to give them extra.

After a 3 hour massage and endless comedy. [We all looked statuesque]

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volcano food

[a restaurant on the grounds of the mud volcano]

 

When it comes to nightlife anywhere with good music playing is a go!
There’s also nothing like dancing to African music with the locals.
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Veni. Vidi. Amavi

We Came. We Saw. We Loved.
Until next time
~ Komalee

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