Africa & Middle East

Mbarara Uganda

Mbarara Uganda

They even have computers. Internet cafes on every corner. And believe it or not bottled water, food, and other essentials. It’s an interesting and sense stimulating place. Poor, dirty and also beautiful. There’s nearly constant attacks on your senses from the wind, dust, exhaust, grilled foods, people yelling, horns honking, the body odor and always the sun, the sun, and some rain.

Using a friend’s computer has its advantages but the power goes out every other day all over Uganda because of shortages. It’s only been like this for a month so people are still adjusting to life that way. Power is generated from a dam and there is a drought which means no power. But people are mad because the government is selling power to neighboring countries when this country doesn’t have enough. Very strange indeed.

People are very nice so far. Always saying hello, and of course as you travel anywhere offering whatever they have to sell. Kampala is a very active city, dusty- from red choking dirt everywhere. The roads are bumpy at best, sometimes dirt and potholes everywhere, even in the speed-bumps sometimes. Everyone gets around in matatus (like a mini-bus taxi) that seats 14, and you wouldn’t believe that many people fit inside. Costs about 15 cents. Also boda boda, which is a scooter which can hold two people or one person and a whole lot of plantains (known as mah-tok-ee) costs between 50 cents to a couple dollars depending on the distance. And you can hire taxis which costs just as much as in most American cities. And we also got a ride from Kampala to Mbarara (about 4 hours away) in a private car courtesy of friends.

We’ve yet to see the more impoverished parts of the country but pictures you may have seen don’t do justice to some of the things you see. People everywhere- children, adults working and so many people just sitting around. Everywhere you go there are more people working in a store than could possibly be needed. And they have so many places to get fast food just like anything you see in the U.S. minus the chains, no McDonald’s or anything like it.

You can buy just about anything you’d want in the U.S. at the supermarkets. (Which all use generators now on account of the persistent “load-shedding,” read: rolling blackouts). But your average person makes $40 per month which means they can’t afford many things in the supermarkets. In the outdoor food and meat markets prices are more affordable (and the sanitary conditions far more questionable.) There are a number of affluent people eating in the nice restaurants and cafes, right outside you may find street kids in rags and down the street people washing clothes in the water so brown it looks like clay not water as it flows into the storm canals.

In this smaller town everyone stares at us and says Muzungu, Hi, hello, how are you? Which means white person, it’s not derogatory and everyone says it openly and loudly. You can wave and smile and people wave back. If you respond some people will ask how your family is and how your life is. We understand that this is normal and just like in the U.S it is expected that the answer is always fine or OK, even when someone has died. You will go through the ritual of asking how the family is and then the person will say after this back and forth. “Also my son died today.”

If you don’t get this far in the conversation then sometimes people may try to sell you something others times they just stare or smile or wave. And if they have nothing to sell they are still very friendly. Just about everyone in the capital Kampala seems to speak English and here in smaller more rural provincial Mbarara many don’t. But anyone who is educated at all speaks English.

And in the restaurants they always know English. The locals eat mainly matoke (mashed plantains) and beans. Also posho (mashed maize that tastes like mashed potatoes) chipote (a salty fried pancake like bread a little thinner than American pancakes, greasy and good. You dip it in a pink Geenut sauce which is ground peanuts (the shells make it pink) sometimes with roasted goat in it. Other foods may be cassava (like yuca root) rice and cabbage with onions and spices. Fish is served whole- head , spine, bones and all. However most Ugandans are lucky to eat any fish, chicken, goat or beef.

Usually they will only be able to afford it for Christmas and special events when they would slaughter a chicken, a cow or a goat. Fish can be more common and are found on grills- of cars for transport before it is put on a grill with coals, usually the same day at a restaurant. It costs about a dollar for a whole Tilapia that comes from Lake Victoria (source of the Nile) or other lakes in the country.

Next up Rwanda…