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Making it to Uganda

January 19th, 2022

Uganda – The Pearl of Africa – a continental food basket filled with beautiful people and endless opportunities

Uganda, officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Congo, to the south-west by Rwanda, and to the south by Tanzania. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, shared with Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda lies within the Nile Basin and has a varied but generally a modified equatorial climate. It has a population of over 42 million, of which 8.5 million live in the capital and largest city of Kampala.

Uganda is named after the Buganda kingdom, which encompasses a large portion of the south of the country. The people of Uganda were hunter-gathers until 1,700 to 2,300 years ago, when Bantu-speaking populations migrated to the southern parts of the country.

The official languages are English and Swahili, although “any other language” may be used as a medium of instruction in schools or other educational institutions or for legislative, administrative or judicial purposes as may be prescribed by law.”

In the 1860s, while Arabs sought influence from the north, British explorers arrived in Uganda searching for the source of the Nile. They were followed by British Anglican missionaries who arrived in the kingdom of Buganda in 1877 and French Catholic missionaries in 1879. The British government chartered the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) to negotiate trade agreements in the region beginning in 1888.

From 1886, there was a series of religious wars in Buganda, initially between Muslims and Christians and then, from 1890, Protestants and Catholics.  Beginning in 1894, the area was ruled as a protectorate by the UK, which established administrative law across the territory.

Uganda gained independence from the UK on 9 October 1962 with Queen Elizabeth as head of state and the Queen of Uganda. In October 1963, Uganda became a republic but maintained its membership in the Commonwealth. 

 In 1966, following a power struggle between the government and King Muteesa, the constitution was suspended and the ceremonial president and vice-president were removed. In 1967, a new constitution proclaimed Uganda a republic and abolished the traditional kingdoms. Obote was declared the president.

After a military coup in 1971, Obote was deposed from power and General Idi Amin seized control of the country. Amin ruled Uganda as dictator with the support of the military for the next eight years. He carried out mass killings within the country to maintain his rule. An estimated 80,000–500,000 Ugandans lost their lives during his regime. Aside from his brutalities, he forcibly removed the entrepreneurial Indian minority from Uganda. Amin’s reign was ended after the Uganda-Tanzania War in 1979, in which Tanzanian forces aided by Ugandan exiles invaded Uganda.

Uganda’s current president is Museveni, who took power in January 1986 after a protracted 6 year guerilla war. Following constitutional amendments that removed term limits for the president, he was able to stand and was elected president of Uganda in the 2011, 2016 and 2021 general elections.

Uganda’s flag was adopted at independence in 1962.  From the top, a total of six horizontal stripes of black, yellow, red, black, yellow, red.

  • Black symbolizes our African heritage and the fertile soil of Uganda. 
  • Yellow is for the glorious sunny days, so characteristic of Uganda. 
  • Red symbolizes the red blood that runs in our veins, forming a common bond to all humankind.
  • The majestic crested crane is the National Bird of  Uganda

Ugandan Shilling (UGX) to USD – .00029cents; to CDN $.00036

                              (notes come in 1000, 2000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 denominations)

Gas price:  5000 UGX per litre – about $5.40 a gallon – can be it’s higher in more rural areas

Beer: Castle Light or Tusker Light

Our flight to Entebbe, Uganda was more or less on time and we had to go through the mandatory PCR testing which went pretty quickly paying our $30 each. They wanted to know about our vaccination status and then did the test.  Here Doug met a nice Ugandan tourism lady and she walked us over to immigration and then to get all our luggage which had happily arrived with us.  We then had to have the bags x-rayed at customs.  Here for the first time we were questioned about the number of lap tops and Kindles in our possession.  They wanted to charge us $500 for bringing them into the country.  After some explaining on Doug’s part that they were old, they were being donating and they weren’t even worth $500, they let us go.  Phew!

The kind tourism lady took us to a cell phone company office and after some connectivity issues, we both got AirTel SIM cards for use in Uganda. Our rental car agent, Charles, met us outside and we sorted that out and began the drive to our AirBNB on the south side of Kampala – about 40 km away.  Due to COVID, Uganda has implemented a 7pm curfew so we didn’t want to get stuck in traffic making our way there (and our rental car agreement says “no driving at night”).  We dropped off Charles part way and continued on to where we believed the place was; not.  We WhatsApp’d with the owner and he sent us a live feed map (never done that before) to follow to find his house.

Kintu met us at the gate and we drove up the dirt driveway to the house.  It’s a big house with this little loft apartment attached to it which was what we booked.  There’s also a pool but no Wi-Fi.  He kindly helped us get some dinner (he tried to help us get an app to get delivery but when that didn’t work, he actually walked over to get it for us!) and we settled in having some Ugandan beer and South African cider:

We were going to be leaving early the next morning as Doug had booked an appointment with a cardiologist back while we were still in Vegas for an ECHO but since he already had one done in Nairobi, he was just going to get a second opinion on his current situation.  However he was feeling pretty good about what the doctor in Nairobi had told him at his last meeting with him and since we have a 7-9 hour drive ahead of us on Thursday, we cancelled the appointment and may reschedule upon returning to Kampala.

At 6:30 am after a terrible night’s sleep due to never ending barking dogs, we were in the car and began the drive to Kabale, 422 km / 268 mi away.

many an overloaded motor bike
Sun rises over Lake Victoria

We crossed the Equator in Uganda:

We wanted to stop enroute to pick up some school supplies and such as well.  We did that in Masaka and got to Kabale around 4ish.

countryside enroute – EVERYTHING is SO green!

There are banana plantations everywhere and many around people’s homes:

We had not booked anything as we wanted to see places first to make sure they were comfortable and had what we needed – an NO dogs!  We had three options; the first was okay but it was up four flights of stairs and we have a lot of sh*t with us.  It was also right on the main street so pretty noisy.  The second actually closed for renovations just today! So that didn’t work out.  The third option we couldn’t find but the school administrator did and he told us they have no Wi-Fi so….we looked on and found another hotel and drove there instead of booking to check it out.

The Riverside Resort hotel has Wi-Fi (not throughout the hotel but they gave us our own router!), is out of town a little bit so quieter and it was quite nice.  We don’t have a fridge but access to one and they bring us a thermos of hot water every morning for tea.  There is a king sized bed, a private bathroom with an electric hot water tank (took us days to learn that you need to wait 30 minutes before using it!) and enough room for all our stuff.  The internet price was $48 a night and they offered us $43 since we were staying nine nights, so we took it.  There was no one else here the first night.  There is supposed to be a kitchen but it’s really just a propane bottle but we have access to dishes.  As we don’t eat breakfast, and will be out most days to get lunch we can eat small meals for dinner that don’t require cooking.  By the third day, they had set up a kitchen for us in one of the smaller bedrooms but by the time we decided to use it on Wednesday, they had dismantled it!  They claimed someone had rented out that particular room.

Our happy hour spot on the patio out front:

Around 5:30 Lucky Asiimwe from Kitojo Empowered Girls School came to meet us for the first time:

We have been sponsoring this school for about three years now but had never been here nor meet the director, Lucky.  Please check out this website to learn more and consider donating:

We spent over an hour chatting with Lucky over a beer/coke and made some plans for the next few days.  The timing of our trip here coincides with the third anniversary of this school and the visit of a German couple who recently began supporting the school – they are building a small orphanage where the existing 28 girls who board here, will move to and there will be space for 12 more girls.  They too are bringing three laptops.  Lucky’s passion for this cause comes through when he speaks and his wife is the co-direction and a teacher there.  Meleth has two small kids and brings them with her each day.

Besides helping the school and sponsoring two young girls, we are also assisting a young woman to go to University – she is a graduate of Kitojo and is hoping to be a social worker.  Deborah lives near the Kabale University campus and we picked her up Friday morning to attend a planning meeting at the school.  After the meeting we were served breakfast and Lucky took us on a tour.

Another issue is the care, control and management of the six laptops and seven kindles which we all donated this week.  No one really knows how to use them and they must be maintained (ie charged up and kept secure) so a sort of “IT / Librarian” needs to be hired.  Doug wrote up a job description and Lucky will advertise same locally as well as spreading the word amoungst friends and family.

Row of all but one primary classrooms
The kitchen structure – most of the staff here work 7 days a week cooking for over 200 people during the week and the boarding students and staff on weekends
constructing bunk beds in the yard in front of the small staff boarding quarters
Laundry gets hung outdoors by the latrines outdoors – these latrines cannot be emptied and must be replace as they are over used
Primary 6 classroom we fund raised for last year – only permanent structure classroom
Inside primary six class room
Staff room building on left, office in centre, last primary classroom on right
looking towards front of property, Nurse’s quarters, front gate and play area – they have a vegetable garden on left side of driveway
orphanage under construction
classroom of the vocational girls’ school
inside of one of the wooden classrooms

You can see from the photos that most of the buildings are simple wooden structures.  The main building that houses the vocational school and Lucky’s office, the existing dorm room, the staff room and the nursery are better built structures as well as the 6th grade classroom which we just fund raised to build.  There is a cooking “hut” where the workers there pretty much work seven days a week to keep everyone fed (some three times a day, others just twice a day if they don’t board there).   At present three of the teachers board here and some have infants with them.  There is a real need for a better staff quarters and this would help retain teachers.   The teachers could earn more elsewhere but most are patient with the vision and one day, Lucky hopes to be in a position to pay them better.

There is a rudimentary shower block and very rudimentary outhouses but they are hard pressed to keep up with the number of people using these services and a second shower block is being built.  Keep in mind they do not have running water so it’s really a bucket system.  The toilets are pit toilets that cannot be emptied.  Life here is simple and hard and it’s amazing how well they manage and how they can keep smiling.  There is an urgent need for better bathrooms as there are nearly 300 people using the existing ones.

We visited each classroom and each time the children greeted us with a welcome song and we introduced ourselves and briefly spoke to them about our hopes for them and the school (Lucky translated to the younger grades but we think the 5’s and 6’s understood us).

The tour included seeing the staff quarters, the kitchen and the nursery school which has 98 children under the supervision of three teachers.  There are some boys in the nursery as some are the children of the teachers and some local kids who have sisters in the school and their mothers need childcare.  English is very important here and we are happy about that as knowing English will open so many more doors for them in the future.  Most just speak the local language before coming to school and in school they are taught to read and write in English.

The girls here are well behaved and discipline rules – in that nursery class we visited, the children were amazingly good.  They were told to sit and they did, they were quiet and respectful – there’s a trait first world countries could adopt.  While we’re sure we were a distraction visiting them, no one got unruly or disobedient (just a few furtive glances and happy smiles if we waved at them).

The girls who board at the school are given three meals a day.  The day students receive breakfast and lunch.  Some girls are sponsored (like the two we sponsor) and others rely on the generosity of the community.  Sponsor ship only costs $35 USD a month and covers their food, uniform, supplies and tuition. The community here is very supportive and the future looks bright but so much help is needed.  There are 135 students in primary grades 3-6 and next year a grade seven classroom will be needed.

Deborah had to be back at school for a 2pm class so we drove her there and then met Lucky in town; Fran went looking for an African outfit to rent and wear to the celebration on Monday and then returned to the hotel while Doug and Lucky took care of some other needs like a suit rental for Doug, a solar power system for the school as it has no access to electricity and limited access to water (ie the water is piped in but there is no plumbing anywhere (a German company donated a 10,000L water tank but they could use two more).  The local governments are trying but the powers above them seem to ebb and flow in their desire to get power to this community.

When we left the school on Friday and a few times previously, the car was very hesitant and didn’t want to move; Doug reached out to the rental agency and Saturday morning they brought a mechanic over.

Saturday was a very busy day for Doug.  Firstly the mechanic showed up while he was getting minutes and other documents prepared.  He took the car for a test drive and although naturally the problem did not present itself, the mechanic took it to his shop and diagnosed a loose cable and returned the car.  While in the lobby of the hotel, Doug met an eye doctor who was giving a conference in the dining hall today.

There are two girls at KEGS that need help with eye problems.  Doug arranged for the doctor to see them.  Doreen arrived with Mercy’s mother in tow and the doctor gave his advice but more tests are required.  He said he’d see Mercy at noon as she was not here as yet.  Unfortunately, their lunch break was quite late and Mercy did not get seen until about 1:30 but he felt she could be helped as well but both girls need their parents’ permission (which previously Doreen’s parents were reluctant to give so Lucky will reach out again – the problem is they are far away and have no phone).  The doctor will see about arranging appointments for them on Thursday in Mbarabara (three hours away) and Doug will take the girls in our car.  As you know having only one eye is something Doug can relate to and he spoke with both girls the day before at the school about his experience and hopes he had an impact.

Doug had a meeting with Lucky and Deborah on Saturday afternoon over a few administrative issues and later in the day they had their monthly meeting with the other advisory board members but only two others attended which sadly, is pretty normal.  They do this via WhatsApp and all conversations are messages as not everyone has strong enough data connection to do a video call.

We had a light dinner and a quiet evening.  It began to rain around 8pm and it rained hard for about 90 minutes.  Hopefully we will have better weather tomorrow and especially for Monday’s celebration.

Sunday, Doug went for a great run of ten miles which he was very happy about.  Lucky brought his family: his wife Meleth, their 3 year old daughter, Kind, and their baby boy, Luckson to our hotel around ten and we all went on an outing together.  We took our car and drove to nearby Lake Buyoni for a boat ride amoungst the islands and a stop for lunch; the first island we stopped at, Bushara Island, looked open but when we did the walk up to the lodge area, there was no staff around.  Kind was not shy at all to take either of our hands to help her walk the steep path up and then back down.

Lucky called the boat back and he took us to Eco Lodge on Kyahugye Island.  There they have impala, waterbuck and zebra roaming the island – we did not see the latter thought.  There is a lovely restaurant there overlooking the lake and we enjoyed a delicious lunch.  The island has some impala, zebra and water buck on it and we saw the former and the latter on landing.  The weather was dry but cloudy and we had a few sprinkles and some thunder but no big rains.

We were back by 3, Doug made Kind a balloon dog and we went our separate ways.