As I am leaving Uganda tomorrow, I should probably be working on a more thoroughly rambling valedictory, but all I’ve managed to sort out so far are the things about life in Uganda that I will miss after I leave, and those that I’ll be happy to leave behind. Here then, in that order:
Things I’ll Miss:
Of course there are the typical things that you miss when you leave any place where you’ve lived for any length of time: the friends, the sense of normalcy or of being home, etc. But there are a few others which are very specific to Uganda.
Tropical fruits. These can be divided into two categories: Fruits that I don’t think I will be able to find in the US or UK, and fruits that are available in the US and UK, but just aren’t as good and/or are much more expensive.
Regarding the former category, have any of my readers in the Isles or the States ever even heard of jackfruit, much less found it in a local market? Likewise, before coming to Uganda, I had seen passion fruit as a flavour of many things, but had never seen an actual passion fruit. I hope I haven’t seen my last!
Regarding the latter category, you might say, “Don’t worry, David. We have pineapples/mangoes/avocadoes in the US/UK!” To which, I reply, “”Oh? Can I get a mango or avocado for 20 US cents? Or a pineapple for less than 75 cents?” Moreover, when we have fresh fruit here, it’s actually fresh. It has not spent several weeks on trucks since being picked, as is usually the case north of the tropics.
Ease of access to goods. Not only is all that lovely produce fresh and cheap, it’s easily accessible. If I exit our apartment and walk 100 metres or so, I will pass multiple stands and little shops selling almost any basic household product that I might suddenly find myself lacking. If I can’t find a particular fruit or vegetable within this stretch, I am forced to endure the drudgery of (Gasp!) walking a few hundred more metres down to the market. Virtually everything I need to buy is close by!
Being able to so easily impress people. In every other place I’ve lived outside the US, locals seemed to expect that I was trying to learn their language. But here in Uganda, people are blown away whenever I utter even the most basic phrases or in some cases just individual words in Luganda. Knowing how to say “How are you?” I”m fine,” and “How much are tomatoes?” was enough to prompt one woman to call me a Ugandan.
I guess it’s probably a good thing that I’ll be forced to step up my game if I want to continue winning the hearts and minds of neighbourfolk.
Hearing “Sorry, sorry” every time I drop something, stumble, hit my head, etc. It’s nice to know that everyone in the vicinity who saw whatever just happened to me, sympathises with me.
Things I Won’t Miss:
There are some obvious things I could put in this category: load-shedding, open sewers, burning trash, etc. So I’ll focus on the ones that warrant more explanation. Such as…
The Noise. If you know me at all, you know that I have absolutely no desire to live in a quiet, small town somewhere, much less a solitary cabin in the mountains. I like the hustle and bustle of urban life, I love the vibrant energy that emanates from a thriving city, and its attendant sounds.
But I also love the noise ordinances of a well-governed metropolis.
Because I don’tlove the trucks with mega speakers piled up in back that roll down the street blaring some inane advertisement or song on loop throughout the day. I also don’t love the way that concrete and corrugated tin send every sound bounding through the neighbourhood toward my overwhelmed eardrums.
The Stares. I get it — I’m either a novelty (positive view) or an aberration (negative view), and if you don’t see bazungu on a regular basis, your best chance to study the manner and characteristics of the white homo sapiens might be to closely observe me as I’m walking, sitting in a taxi, or otherwise minding my own business.
I don’t really blame anyone for their curiosity, and I certainly can’t be mad at the kids who shout muzungu when I walk by, but it will be nice to return to only having people stare at me when they know me, are listening to me speak, or are signaling that they are a creepy stalker who is not to be trusted.
The ordeal of getting anywhere.Although most shopping needs are within a short walk, much of the rest of life — friends’ abodes, entertainment, etc — is not. Because the roads here are dilapidated and the infrastructure is so poor, there are usually very few good options for getting from point A to point B (where the distance between A and B exceeds a walkable distance).
If we ride in a friends’ car, or call a private hire, we are almost guaranteed to sit at length in Kampala’s famous jam. The main means of public transport is minibus taxis which can be a less than pleasurable ordeal, their whimsical windscreens notwithstanding. They will not leave until they are full, which means they have at least 14 passengers (and preferably more) in addition to the driver and conductor. There are boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), which are by far the fastest way to get around, and unquestionably the most dangerous. Every Ugandan has either been injured while riding a boda-boda or has a close friend or family who has.
Shortly after arriving here, I bought a bicycle, thinking I could keep living my European dream in Africa. But the roads were so chaotic and the drivers so blatantly unconcerned about whether I (or anyone else on a bicycle) lived or died, that the bicycle saw precious little use before I eventually gave it to our house cleaner.
And thus far, I’ve only mentioned the hindrances to pleasant travel within Kampala. Trips upcountry are another matter still…
Hearing “Sorry, sorry” every time I drop something, stumble, hit my head, etc. It’s a bit embarrassing to know that everyone in the vicinity saw whatever it was I just did.