It’s time for me to brief you on Ugandan culture! Because obviously I’m an expert after 2 1/2 weeks…
Wherever the other interns and I walk around the city, it’s like the circus is in town . There are constant stares, catcalls, and “Mzungu!” (Uganda’s word for ‘Americans’ or just westerners in general) is shouted at me at least a couple dozen times every day. It took a few weeks to get accustom to, but I’m now completely used to it.
Everything is on Africa time, including when we eat. But it has been sort of nice knocking out right after I eat dinner!
8am- Light Breakfast (usually tea & porridge, toast, chapatti, or pineapples)
1pm or 2pm- Lunch
7pm- Afternoon Tea (I LOVE the African tea here, but especially in the afternoon- it’s must sweeter and milkier than morning tea).
9pm or 10pm- Dinner
Lunch and dinner consists of the same food. Some typical Ugandan cuisine I’ve eaten is amatooke (plaintains but in the consistency of mashed potatoes), omuceera (rice), lumonde (sweet potatoes), ebijanjago (beans), posho (corn meal), avocado, stewed goat, chicken, or beef, chapatti, and cassava (yucca). My favorite thing so far has definitely been the abundance of pineapple, and the fresh fruit juices my family’s house maid makes on special occasions. I could drink that all day!
To be honest, the food here isn’t that great. The meals are very repetitive so I’m trying to give myself some breaks, which is easy here since everything is relatively cheap. Sometimes, the other interns and I will go out to eat to our favorite local Indian restaurant, Moti Mahal, where all-you-can-eat vegetable curry, dhal, rice, and naan, is 15,000 shillings. There are also a few internet cafés that sell “Mzungu” food, although they are very expensive. But I did not come here for the food! I came for the culture and development experience, which have more than lived up to my expectations.
The drinking culture here in Jinja was one of the biggest surprises to me. Uganda has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in Africa, and this was evident from the first weekend I arrived. I went out to a few bars/nightclubs with a few family members and American friends. But when Ugandans party- they start at midnight and don’t stop until 5 or 6am. And then the day after (Sunday), everyone just met up at bars again to talk and drink again. I mean- it is very relaxing to sit outside and enjoy a Club or Nile Special (my 2 favorite beers here!), but sometimes it can get a bit overbearing.
This is how we get around everywhere (photo taken mid ride). These motorcycles, called Boda Bodas, are the main means of transport in Uganda. There are always millions of Bodas available, and I usually hop on to 2-3 each day.
There are taxis here, but there more like buses, and take you far distances. Uganda’s equivalent of American style taxis are “special hires,” but they are very expensive. A Boda can take you almost anywhere for 1,000-1,500 shillings (about 50 cents in US dollars), and they’re SO MUCH FUN (except when it’s 2 in the morning, and your driver is drunk and racing another Boda driver).
What do Ugandans watch on television? Mexican telenovelas (voiced over in English). All day, all night. My favorites so far have been “Irrational Heart” and “Maid in Manhattan.”
My host brother, Solomon, said my name for the first time a few days ago. Before that, he would call me “Lola,” because I look like one of his favorite telenovela actresses named Lola. Everyone assumes I’m Mexican or Hispanic here and only a few people believe I’m actually American. But I get that back in the states too!
Here are a few photos of Jinja I took on a walk one of my first days here:
Oh! And there are goats everywhere!
Jinja is the second largest city in Uganda after Kampala. However, you can pretty much walk the entirety of Jinja town (made up of one main street and several side streets of shops) in a couple of hours.
My family back home has asked my to explain what Uganda is like, but I simply cannot find the right words for it. I feel as though I want to strap a camera onto my head and live feed the recording to my blog. Actually that’s not too bad of an idea- let’s face it, it’s like I’m living on a different planet over here, and actually visiting would be the only way for anyone to understand.
Mid last week, I came to the conclusion that I am experiencing quite a bit of culture shock. The language, geography, expectations- everything is so much different here.
For example, I assumed I didn’t need to bring sunblock here, because I never get sunburn. However, I failed to realize my skin is still very susceptible to sun damage in very-close-to-the-equator Uganda. I traveled into town, and every grocery store I stopped into had absolutely no idea what sun block is. Then it got late, and I fell into a pothole in the street and a bunch of Boda drivers laughed at me. Then I almost got hit by a taxi, because whenever you need to cross a street in Jinja, it takes over 30 minutes (stoplights/signs do not exist, and cars do not stop for pedestrians. They WILL just hit you here… it happens all the time.) I was lost and fed up, it was pitch dark, and I began sobbing uncontrollably.
Looking back on it, this is actually pretty funny, but at the time I just really craved the luxuries of America and Americans in general. I missed my family & friends. I missed having people around me who understood me and related to me. And most importantly, I missed the FOOD. In fact, the first thing I want to eat when I get back to Chicago is a Snickers bar and a big bottle of (light) blue Gatorade… and some deep dish pizza… and a Caesar salad… and (I know this sounds crazy) McDonald’s… and an entire pan of brownies…
Despite small bits of culture shock/home sicknesses/food cravings/I REALLY miss my roommates (shout-out to Mel and Maddie), my first weeks in Uganda have been filled with so many incredible new experiences- new cuisine, new friendships, new love, new music, and new outlooks. I’m surrounded by am amazing group of Northwestern students who have made things a lot easier here for me. We’re all growing closer, and meeting inspiring and welcoming local Ugandans. If given a chance to fly back to New York tomorrow, I guarantee you I wouldn’t take it. I have so much more to learn and I look forward to the next five weeks I have in this insane and overwhelming little city.