Pearl of Africa. This is how Winston Churchill described Uganda. The country mostly famous for endangered mountain gorillas, wide range of bird and butterfly populations, chimpanzees and great safari experiences. But no! I didn’t see any of that.
I arrived late at night to the country’s sole international airport in Entebbe airport. Quite remarkable for a country with almost 40 million inhabitants. I need to admit that the airport looked similar in size to that of Vilnius. The only small detail is that Lithuania’s population is only close to 3 million.
I stayed over-night in a hotel close to airport, surrounded by a huge metal fence and armed security, which to me felt more like a prison experience than a stay at a hotel. But it didn’t stop there. The next morning I had an early start at 4am, because a cock decided to loudly wake up the neighbourhood and regularly reminded me of his presence somewhere in the vicinity. First lesson learnt; don’t forget the earplugs at night 😉
Once I got picked up by Integrated Villages representative’s brother Gerald, we started to drive to my base location near Masaka town. My first impression of Uganda was very GREEN. The constant views of banana, coffee, avocado and pineapple trees, vegetable fields and various other plants, which I still need to get to know.
I was also surprised that we didn’t have any traffic jams along the way, but after some research is probably quite logical. According to 2015 World Bank study, around 80% of Uganda’s population live in rural areas, which means most of them simply don’t own a car. What is even more interesting, is that Uganda is the youngest country in the world. Almost half of the country’s population is under the age of 14.
While we were driving to Masaka I was constantly asking Gerald whether we already entered a rural area or not. I was slightly confused, as I could see some shops, busy streets and schools.
Now, this is an interesting cultural difference to capture already. I grew up in Lithuania, a country which doesn’t even inhabit a population of 3 million. My definition of a rural area can best be described as my father’s home village Jurgaiciai, which has around 5 houses with 10 inhabitants. There are no physical shops, twice per week a mini bus would come to sell some food products and everything else is far away. My father’s school was at least a 5 kilometres away.
Gerald explained to me that a rural area in Uganda is not defined by the number of inhabitants, but rather by having access to basic facilities such as water and/or electricity. Gerald considered the areas we passed as “Rural, but not sooo rural”. Okay, I’m now even more curious to see the real rural area where I will be working…
Not yet though! In the first week I am staying in Godfrey’s parents’ house, which is really big and nice according to local “not so rural Ugandan” standards. Godfrey told me that it’s good for me to stay here for the first week, so I can get adjusted to the environment. As of next week I will live in a more rural house with a local family, consisting of 8 kids divided over 3 to 4 rooms; one of them will be freed up to the Princess from Europe.
I am excited to experience a more rural life but in hindsight I trust Godfrey’s strategy of going step by step. I am not yet that savvy with showering with water buckets and urgently need to build stronger upper legs muscles for squatting in the toilet.
Today I have also visited one of the women groups called Luteete. It was a fascinating personal experience to be warmly and friendly welcomed in their community. After meeting the women for the first time, seeing how they work and hearing their life stories, I forgot my morning frustration to wash my hair with a water bucket. That purpose, why I came here, that excitement from them looking to me like some sort of Messiah that will improve their life, gave me a lot of strength and energy.
Time to roll up my sleeves and start working!