Thank you to David and Faith for suggesting this guest post about our visit to Uganda. We are Steve and Darlene Maus, and we spent ten days in February with David and Faith, and her family Cal, Deanna, and Charity. This is an Epilogue to a more lengthy piece covering the details of our trip; to receive that please contact me (Steve).
In the time since our return home we’ve been asked by many what Africa is like. The one word that describes it best is ‘fascinating’.
On one level, for comfortable Americans everyday life in Africa is definitely uncomfortable. Very few buildings have air conditioning so windows are always open; meaning the red dust that is everywhere is always coming indoors. That means the noise is always coming in too, whether it is the ever-present traffic of taxis and boda bodas, or the music from the many night clubs that plays whenever the power is on.
Electric power is another point of comfort for us; in America when the power goes off customers immediately launch phone calls of complaint by the thousands. In Africa, rolling blackouts are routine and somewhat predictable, and those who have electricity at all quickly adjust to the interruptions. At night that means cooking by candlelight on gas stoves unaffected by outages, and turning off those switches that were left on before the outage so as not to be awakened in the middle of the night when power is restored. For businesses that require continuous power, that means being equipped with generators and all the care and feeding that requires. For most it seems that electricity is a luxury to be enjoyed when it’s on, and not worried about when it’s off.
Africans also have great patience when it comes to water. Many must haul yellow plastic Jerry cans some distance to a central well pump for filling and then return home lugging forty pounds of the stuff, often on the back of a bicycle or on top of their head. To take a drink means boiling a potful first, then using it for tea or allowing it to cool before drinking a tepid glassful. Forget about ice cubes – even if you have a freezer the power may not be on long enough to make ice anyway. If you do catch the right part of the cycle, though, there is nothing like the luxury of a cool glass of iced tea in the shade under a hot equatorial sun.
Showers are hit and miss depending on your location. In the city, water pressure is good and steady and if you’ve had your water heater switched on a hot shower is close at hand. In the country, the attitude toward water pressure is more relaxed: if it’s strong, fine, if it’s non-existent, that’s okay too. Same goes for hot water – nice to have, but not required.
Once we got past the differences in conveniences, there was much to enjoy. The constant activity around us in the city created a kind of drumbeat that was alluring. Everybody else was out and about, so why not us too? People were walking the streets at all hours; on nearly every street corner was a group of five or six boda boda drivers looking for customers and on many other corners were vendors selling their wares. American suburbia is dull and infinitely quieter by comparison.
Vehicular travel is much more exciting too. Kampala with its population of five million has a total of five or six traffic lights, and even those are ignored. To navigate ‘The Jam’ (rush hour) is an exercise in controlled aggression and faith in your fellow man – honk the horn, hit the gas, and fill that gap! While there are a few Mercedes and BMWs afoot, most of the vehicles are older Toyota Corollas, Coronas, and HiAce minivans that were imported from Japan when they reached the end of their useful lives there. The vans are mostly diesel-powered, and most lost their engine compression some time ago and now emit thick, choking black clouds of carcinogenic exhaust at every press of the throttle. Most are used as taxis and have been fitted with fourteen seats and are adorned with catchy, often spiritual slogans on their windshields and rear windows. The system, if you can call it that, seems to function and people get where they need to go.
The Ugandan countryside is captivating. Toward Jinja in the southeast, the hills are rolling and green and many towns and villages dot the main highway. The homes tend to be small rectangular brick structures. Toward Pakwach in the northwest, the towns and villages seem fewer and farther between although that perception may have been colored by the greater total distance that we traveled in that direction. The land is flatter, with more grassland for grazing cattle. Here the dwellings are usually circular huts with almost stucco-like mud walls and thatched roofs.
The two forks of the Nile River that we saw were fascinating in different ways. At Jinja, the new reservoir that we navigated had the steep banks characteristic of dammed-up bodies, while confused birds sat in the tops of only recently submerged trees. On the Albert Fork near Murchison Falls, the wide and lazy river gave way to scattered marshes and plains between the bluffs, allowing hippos, hartebeests and elephants places to cavort. It was fascinating to think about the history to which these sources of the great river had contributed. Supplies for the pyramids were floated over it, Moses was carried along by it as a babe, and it was turned to blood in a biblical plague against the Egyptians. How many places in North America could boast anything like that?