You are welcome in Uganda…

Mzungu!

We have been told this means foreigner or explorer but suspect that there are other meanings as well.

Each person we have met has told us, with palpable pride, that Uganda is a beautiful country and we are very welcome. Although tourism is a large part of the economy, thus far, we have been the only visitors at many of our stops. Each person from Uganda with whom we have had the opportunity to speak has impressed us with his or her politeness and genuine interest in our trip and us. And through our conversations, we learned more about each of them.

But, our adventure started before we arrived in Uganda. Due to the generosity of Emirate Airlines, we spent a 13-hour layover in Dubai. Dubai is full of manmade wonders in the middle of the desert. Our whirlwind tour included the world’s only 7 star hotel, the world’s tallest building and a fountain (resembling the one at the Bellagio, only bigger) that allegedly could shoot water up to 80 stories in the air. One particular highlight was a midnight visit to the Arabian Sea (or Persian Gulf depending on what map you are looking at) where we waded into the water. The temperature was still 38 degrees Celsius (in Fahrenheit that is really really hot) with 65% humidity and we found the beach full of picnics and families. We went to bed that night knowing that our next stop would bring a very different sense of wonder.

The world’s tallest building

We arrived at Uganda’s international airport in Entebbe and were struck by the lush, green landscape that welcomed us. The temperature was pleasant and we were excited for the team building portion of our trip. While waiting to clear passport control, we experienced our first black out and were reminded why we were here. If a country’s only major airport can lose power in the middle of the day, what does it mean for the hospitals and mothers giving birth?

Our first stop in Uganda was Jinja, a town on Lake Victoria where the source of the Nile is located. We were greeted by our driver, Richard, who shared with us how he created his own business (a transportation company), as that was the best option for those who were not educated and not connected. He whisked us through the small towns along the road from Entebbe. Each was a mass of stalls and shops touting everything from salons, charging stations and groceries. Although distracted by our first sighting of African towns (for three of us, it is our first trip to the continent), the driving was still terrifying. Between the boda-boda taxis zipping by every which way and the constant swerving and driving on the wrong side of the road, we were relieved by the presence of the traffic police, clad in all white along the side of the road. They restored order, briefly and through the order created traffic jams along the main highways.

We were excited to arrive at our accommodations for the first two nights and settled into our lakeside cottages. In addition to breakfast, an armed guard and watchdogs were included. Initially startling, we adjusted to the security and our day guard, Mazimba, plans to visit Mike in the States.

Sunset over Lake Victoria

After one night in Jinja, the adventure truly began. Our first day in Uganda involved an all day white water rafting trip along the Nile River and a bungee jump by one of our team members – any guesses who jumped? The bungee jump was a success and we navigated, with the help of our guide, Roberto, the 4 and 5 grade rapids with only part of the team falling out of the boat on the last rapid of the day. Roberto has guided rafting trips on the Nile for the past seven years. He plans to keep guiding for five more years when he will take over his father’s farm. On the farm, he will raise chickens, pigs and a family.

Rafting the Nile with Roberto

Our last morning in Jinja, we went for a walkabout. Although a popular tourist destination, we were the only Mzungus in town. The first person we encountered along the road was a cow herder who spotted our camera and immediately posed for a picture. Throughout our walk, many people volunteered to pose for photos if we showed them the image. One young man asked us “to take a snap” and made a horrified face when one of the team members joined the frame.

The town was bustling and many people were dressed in their finest for church. We found the town market, which was full of the local crops, such as corn, pineapple, tomatoes and various root vegetables. The market was well organized and the pictures taken from the meat section will likely influence many of our future food choices.

And that afternoon, we survived another terrifying car ride to make it to our project home base, the Mamba Point Guesthouse in Kampala, which boasts a swimming pool and the most reliable Wi-Fi that we have encountered to date. We are very excited to begin our fieldwork tomorrow and learning more about this beautiful country. Our first stop is to pick up a solar suitcase, so we may demonstrate the potential impact of WE CARE Solar and its tool designed to improve the quality of maternal health by providing caregivers reliable lighting and a means of communication. Then, we are off to learn more about how the NGO community works. Possibly getting to our meetings via boda-bodas to avoid future Kampala Jams.

WE CARE Solar IBD Team with Co-Founders Laura Stachel and Hal Aronson