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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