Though I’m far from an expert on this country and culture, I thought that it would be fun to share some random observations about lovely Uganda from the eyes of an expat. So without further ado, here you go. 🙂
- Almost all of the sodas here are in glass bottles that are recycled again and again. — I wasn’t a huge soda drinker in the States, but for some reason they are just so refreshing here. I’m firmly convinced that they taste better in a glass bottle. But also, cold drinks and ice are a bit of a luxury here, so drinking a cold soda on a hot day (that only costs 27 cents) is a beautiful thing. And there’s also this soda here called Stoney. It’s like a very strong, less sweet ginger ale. SO good. Man, I’m going to miss those when I come home. Oh, and Cola-Cola is BIG here. Both the pop and the advertisements for it are everywhere, including the most far out villages!
- Bodas (motorcycle taxis) are one of the primary forms of transportation. — Though they’re a bit risky, if you have a reliable boda driver and are wearing a helmet, you should be okay. I use bodas to get around almost everywhere local. They’re very affordable, a typical fare is anywhere between 25-75 cents. I love the feeling of the wind on my face. (Fun side fact: The roads here have potholes like nobody’s business. It makes for a bumpy ride! You’ve got to hold on or you might just go flying off when you hit one.)
- Speaking of driving, it’s crazy. — We drive on the left side here, and there are hardly any traffic rules. Everybody mostly does what they want. As one person told me, “When driving, do the opposite of what you think you should do!” I’ve learned to drive really aggresively, and I’m not quite sure how that will serve me in the States! 😉
- Desserts aren’t really a thing. — In fact, my language teacher told me that there are no words in Luganda for dessert, sweets, cake, etc. These are all foreign concepts and words that have come from the West. To most Ugandans, they are a luxury due to the amount of eggs, sugar, butter, and flour that they use. Oftentimes, if a Ugandan cafe or restaurant sells desserts, they won’t be nearly as sweet as back at home. This just means that I do a lot of baking. And then sharing my bakes goods with the mamas at Amani.
- But the fruit (and produce in general) is absolutely amazing. And cheap. — The pineapple and mangoes here are the best I have EVER tasted! So fresh and so sweet. It’s pretty much like eating dessert. (That’s what I try to tell myself anyway.) I will usually go to Central Market for produce and spend less than $5 for mangoes, a pineapple, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, onions, limes, etc. I will miss these prices! I think I’ll probably have a mini heart attack when I go home and have to pay U.S. prices again.
- Music and dance is a huge form of expression. — I feel as though there’s a song for everything here: songs to say thank you, songs for any and every celebration, songs of friendship, songs for family, songs of mourning, songs of worship. I absolutely love when our mamas sing, dance, and play instruments. It is a very joyous, lively time, and always a special treat. They got the rhythm!
- Life moves at a slower pace. — It’s less hurried than at home. At first this was hard for me as I came from an extremely busy season of life, but I have since grown accustomed to it…and am even very much enjoying it. You don’t really experience the tyranny of the urgent here. People will enjoy leisurely conversations as they check up on the family, the home, the cows, the dog, etc. They will rest in the afternoon shade. They will spend hours over a meal. And they will also run on “Ugandan time”, meaning that they will probably show up 30 mins – 1 hour after the given time.
- Greeting is very important. — Instead of rushing into conversation and stating your purpose, it’s very important that you first greet the person that you are speaking to, asking how they are, how there day is, etc. To not do this would be very inconsiderate. It’s taught me to slow down and appreciate the person in front of me.
- The currency is Ugandan shillings. — The smallest bill is 1000 shillings, which is approximately $0.27. Sometimes, I’ll pull a million ugx out of the ATM at a time (usually for rent) and get a kick out of saying, “Yeah, got a million in my bag right now. No big deal.”
- Livestock is everywhere. — It’s not unusual to see chickens or goats hanging around or in the middle of the road. I’ve even had to dodge them in the trusty tuk tuk I drive. I’m not really sure how the owners keep track of them, but even with their loose roaming, it’s not very likely that they will get stolen.
- Fans are life-savers. — A/C isn’t really a thing here, so we’re pretty dependent on fans to help keep us cool. (When we have power, that is.) For my first few months here, I didn’t have a fan. But I finally decided to invest in one, and it was maybe one of my best purchases. EVER. Thank you, Jesus, for fans!
- Some common things to eat are chapati, rolex, posho, turmeric noodles, beans, rice, cow peas, cabbage, and simosas. — Meat is not eaten daily since it’s more expensive. The Amani kids get it 2-3 meals a week. For the most part, I really enjoy the food here! Mama Cook at Amani does a wonderful job preparing it.
- Umbrellas are mostly used for shade, not protection from the rain. — During the dry season, it’s not at all unusual to see someone walking down the road on a day without a cloud in the sky, with an umbrella shielding them. At first I thought it a bit strange, but it definitely makes a lot of sense now. Maybe I need to invest in one. 🙂
- There’s a lot of talented craftsmen (and women). — From weaving baskets, to painting homemade canvases, to sewing beautiful custom dresses, to carving wooden animals, I’m always amazed at the skill and talent Ugandans possess. I will for sure be bringing a lot of beautifully made items back with me.
- Because we’re so close to the equator, the sun is hot and STRONG. — Due to my Hispanic background, I’m not a girl who really sunburns. But if I’m going to be in the sun for an extended length of time here, I put on sunscreen. And even with doing that, I’ve got burned once or twice.
- You use something until you absolutely can’t use it anymore. — This has been a really convicting thing for me, because even though I’m not intentionally wasteful, wasteful tendencies have been revealed in my life since being here. Got veggie scraps? Put them in a stew! Your sandal is broken? Take it to that jaaja (old man) in the alley, and he’ll fix right back up! You’ve got holes in your skirt? Sew ‘em up! The other week I complemented one of our mamas on her outfit and she responded, “Oh, this is old. I’ve had it for over 7 years!” Use what you have, and if you don’t use it, then give it to someone who will.
- Monkeys are the Ugandan equivalent of squirrels. — They’ll jump around and play on the trees near Amani quite often. We have to be careful when we leave our windows open as there have been multiple incidents where a monkey has climbed in and stolen eggs. They also can be very mean and aggressive, so you don’t ever want to get too close. (People here will throw rocks at them to deter them.)
- Ants are a major problem. — We’re currently fiercely battling this at my new apartment. If you leave just the smallest crumbs on the counter for a few minutes, it’s almost guaranteed that when you return there will be a small army of tiny ants. If I leave dirty dishes out, I often wake up in the morning to dozens and dozens of ants all over our sink, so I usually try to get all the dishes done before bed. They’re also worse when it rains. But I would take ants ANY DAY over cockroaches, which can also be a big problem here!
- It’s not uncommon to have the men be very friendly. — I’ve been catcalled, yelled at, and asked for my phone number and “contacts” more times than I can count. One time on the short walk from my house to Amani, I had three different men, perfect strangers, ask me saying, “We are friends now. Give me your number. What’s your name? I will add you on Facebook then! Let me walk with you.” I’ve learned to respond graciously but also firmly. (Don’t worry, Mom and Dad. My answer is always thanks-but-no-thank-you-and-have-a-lovely-day-goodbye.) **Disclaimer – this is definitely not always the case. There are also Ugandan men who are perfect gentlemen. But since it happens almost daily, it is something to be aware of if you are ever to visit.
- Uganda is absolutely beautiful. — It’s fertile, green, and lush. The Nile is breathtaking. I often find myself looking around amazed because of the beauty, despite the brokenness that is also present. Pictures just don’t do it justice. You’ll just have to come, see, and experience it for yourself. 😉
- The people here are even more beautiful. — They are strong, resilient, brave, kind, loving…and well, I could just keep going. Uganda (in relation to some other African countries) is especially known for their welcoming and warm people. Ugandans never cease to amaze me. It’s truly an honor to be able to live and work alongside them for this short season. They’ve taught me so much, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay them for that.
That’s all for now! I hope you enjoyed learning a few random things about the place that I call home.
Until next time,