Reach Out Uganda: First Impressions

by Angelica Calabrese:

We were hot, sweaty, smelly, an exhausted as we bumped along the road, 13 of us sandwiched in the back of a mutato (or taxi cab) along with our bags and new Ugandan friends. We peered out of the windows of the mutato into the dark, trying to no avail to get a glimpse of this new world of ripe, warm air and welcoming smiles.

HAC helps children left vulnerable by HIV/AIDS achieve their educational goals - they are thrilled to receive new school supplies! (HAC Monthly Report)

This morning, only a few short days later, we prepare to pack into that mutato again and leave Kampala for Masaka, the home of the first NGO  we will be working with, The days we have spent in Kampala have been unforgettable. Our first excursion into the city, finally bathed in daylight, took place Sunday morning. After a filling breakfast of milk tea, toast, and eggs, we hopped a mutato downtown, to Old Taxi Park. Old Taxi Park is the heart of the city, where hundreds of taxis mill about waiting for passengers in the center of miles of bustling marketplaces. We split into three groups, accompanied by Moris and Donovan, two of our new Ugandan friends, and explored the marketplaces, wandering among tables piled with pineabpple and sugarcane, skirts and shoes, and most of all, bags. We bought and munched on corn and g-nuts, bananas, and pineapple as we meandered through, letting all the sounds and smells sink in. The streets were wild, cars and motorbikes zipping back and forth among pedestrians – it was crazy and thrilling, but we all survived.

After the marketplaces, we grabbed our first lunch of amatooke (mashed bananas), g-nut (a kind of peanut) sauce, goat, yams, and cassava. All so good! Following lunch, we hopped back in the mutato and drove to the offices of The Independent to meet with Andrew Mwende, the editor of the magazine and controversial activist. He was fantastic! He spoke about the difficulties of reconciling Ugandan culture with democratic traditions, the frustrating notion that Ugandans learn about their own culture by books written by Americans, and much more. His energy was palpable, words and thoughts flying across the table at the 13 of us, jetlagged but lapping up every one of his words.

The rest of the night passed slowly, as jet-lag set in and we all became increasingly drowsy. After dinner with Keneth, the founder of Hope for African Children, the NGO we will be working with over the next five days, we moved upstairs, were we did some first-day debriefing, bonding, and then finally all crashed, nestled inside of our mosquito-netted beds.

Yesterday, we spent the day meeting a number of different figures across the city. We spent lunch with physicians, residents, and internists working at Makerere University, who spoke to us about public health, global health, and medicine in developing countries. They told us about NGOs they had started and other work they had done in the community, and the power of listening and communication among doctor and patient, The two hours that we spent with them were extraordinarily moving, and we all left feeling moved and inspired. From the medical school of Makerere, we moved to the main undergraduate campus, were we split into two groups. Connor, Chris, and I met with Patrick Nalere, the director of Heifer International Uganda, with whom we discussed the implementation of goat and cow  projects in Uganda, how the communities that Heifer supports work via the “pass it along” program, and how they choose the cows and goats that they will provide the communities. The other group of students met with a number of students from the Forestry School, whom they spoke to about environmental engineering in Kampala and what steps could be made in the future to improve the city environment. Following these meetings, we met with Amal’s uncle, who works runs a Human Rights Defenders’ organization that supports human rights activists around East Africa and the Horn of Africa. After a crazy search for dinner that involved getting stuck in “jam,” the crazy late-night traffic jam that swallows up the city, we finally ended up at Nando’s, a Ugandan fast-food restaurant. We ended our final night in Kampala on a high note, at Mateo’s, where we all  had a blast dancing to American music with our Ugandan friends. We shared moves, sang each other lyrics at the top of our lungs, and generally danced our souls out. It was a fantastic way to finish up our time here.

We are all eagerly looking forward to our time in the villages, where we will get to finish up our projects and finally have the chance to spend time with the children that the NGOs support. It’s only a four-hour mutato ride away!