When thinking it would be an experience I would never forget, was right! Arriving in Uganda was like nothing I have seen/done before. Getting off the plane and onto the tarmac was a crazy feeling-I no longer had the choice of choosing when to think about what to bring or how to prepare- I had arrived. It felt slightly overwhelming and I started to think of all the things I could have/should have done to be more organized or pack more responsibly but within 2 minutes, I gave that up. I'm here. It's now. Here I go!
So the first thing you have to do is get your visa which you can do at the airport. You pay $50 U.S dollars and is is usually good for 60 days- in theory. However, the issuer is at liberty to allot more or less time if he/she chooses. Luckily, the man I had gave me 90 days so I won't have to worry at all while I am here. After getting my passport stamped and getting my THREE bags feeling a little self conscious of the amount I had (to which, when Leslie saw my luggage responded; "well, you don't pack light!") I was warmly received by Leslie who was holding abig sign with my name on it. Taking me to her car, it was an awesome surprise to see she had brought a giant water bottle for me for the roughly 1 1/2 hour drive to Mukono where the volunteer headquarters is. Leslie is the program director (the big boss) of The Real Uganda, the program I am working with while here. Originally from Canada, she volunteered for 3 months in Ghana several years ago. Deciding it wasn't enough time to be fully immersed in the culture and experience, she chose to come back committing herself to a year and this time choosing Uganda. Falling in love with the country and it's people, she just celebrated her 5th year here and built up her organizations to partner with over 20 small grassroots organizations sending them funds and volunteers to encourage expansion and constant improvement.With Leslie telling me a little bit about herself and her work, she also gave me great information and advice ranging from "you should cry your first week here" to "people believe that the problem with Africa is simply there is not enough money. There is money it's just not handled in the same way. Relationships come first. There is not training in business practices." I tried taking it all in but at the same time my eyes were probably having mini epileptic fits moving in every direction following the-I guess I will use the word, "traffic."
We were taking the main road and by main road I should be a little more specific and say, ONLY road that goes through a majority of soutern Uganda and actually ends in Nairobi, Kenya. There were so many sights to absorb; cows and goats grazing on the side of the road while Ugandan taxis (which we would call vans) are stuffed with enough people
to have a football game with both sides accounted for; perhaps even a few extras thrown in to keep up concessions. These taxis and boda-bodas, motorbike taxis that would give an overprotective parent nightmares for the rest of his/her life, are the main source of transportation. On boda-bodas, you jump on the backseat and (holding on?!)
just go. I will let you know what it's like when I get to try it! The way they are used is incredible. I saw a woman holding a baby and a large package clearly comfortable and without concern go by as well as a man cradling two large plastic bags with each hand and one between him and the driver. It's also common to view more than one person using the boda-boda. It was definitely a little crazy but also cool to watch how this thing called "transportation" rises to a whole new level here. However, that was by no means the most surprising thing I discovered on my first day. I noticed something that seemed a little strange about the people all around me; ALL of them look incredible! Bright colored clothing spotless with beautiful skin and hair. They may be walking into their home which is little more than a hut with no electricity or running water and yet their shirts and pants look pressed and their shoes are shined. I on the other hand was fully aware that my appearance was less than immaculate. Within 5 minutes of walking down the road, I am accumulating dust and already feel grimy.
I was aware before coming of the standard of dress here: it is not really appropriate for women to wear shorts or short skirts. Shorts are really only worn by children and dressing conservatively is standard. It does not matter what you do or who you are, you are expected to look nice and it is easy to spot a backpacker a mile away. Ugandans pride themselves on their appearance as they absolutely should. Trying to take the image of a well-dressed, beautiful person and meshing it with the reality of poverty is difficult for me. It is quite humbling to understand that while someone might have so little, they will make the best use of what they have. For example, a man might have only 1 or 2 shirts that he can wear to work and so every night, he will take them home and his wife will wash and dry it (by hand of course!) and then in the morning, use her coal burning iron to press it. It will honestly look brand new and no one would know he had worn the same shirt the previous day. Incredible. As for me, I'm attempting to master the art of bucket showering and looking decent before I go into the one outfit mindset. One day at a time...
As far as the living accommodations go, I am staying in the volunteer house until Sunday when I go to my placement about an hour and a half away and closer to Kampala. The place I am staying now is basically headquarters for The Real Uganda and also a place to hang out if you want a place to meet with other volunteers. I am staying with one other girl from New Zealand who leaves tomorrow for her placement and am getting acclimated to the new and interesting differences about my life in Uganda. Bucket showers and pits for latrines are standard here but nothing I didn't expect. I attached a picture of the sink used in the room where you can shower as well. It's functional and low maintenance that's for sure! I am a little nervous about getting used to the bathroom but I have confidence if kids and elderly can do it, so can I!
I also attached some pictures of the coolest part of the house; the walls. In the main room where we eat and can relax anyone who volunteers can write on the walls when they leave. There are some really interesting as well as some awesome artwork on the wall and I attached a few of my favorites. People have come as far as Taiwan to volunteer with this program and it is really cool to see what people have said to leave a mark!