Why did the Canadians cross the road?

May 21st, 2015

Put on your party hats and blow up the balloons folks, because yesterday was our one week-aversary of arriving in Uganda! I can say with complete confidence that the Rachel who got off the plane a week ago is not the same girl as the Rachel writing this blog post now. It feels like we’ve been here for months, but that can probably be attributed to the fact that we’ve done so much, and the learning curve has been so steep. Boy, has it been steep. I’d like to think that it will become more of a gentle uphill slope the longer we’re here – you know, the kind that gets you a little short of breathe by the end, but you never quite break a sweat. However, I’m sure that goal is still a long way off since Jeremy, Shelby and I still have a lot of learning to do. But for now I’d like to celebrate this small milestone by sharing seven things we’ve accomplished in the last seven days:

1. We found and moved into an apartment.
Unlike in Canada where these things can take months, in the span of a week we went from tourists living in a guesthouse to rent-paying tenants of a lovely apartment in a neighborhood called Mengo. Check out my last post for pictures of our new digs!

2. We started work.
On Monday I started work at the Food Rights Alliance here in Kampala. I’ll save the details of the internship for my next post, but so far I’m loving it! Stay tuned for more info.

3. I rode a boda boda and didn’t die.
Boda bodas are a cross between a motorcycle and a scooter. They are Kampala’s cheapest and fastest form of public transport because they can zip in and out of the city’s unbelievably congested traffic. Unfortunately, they are also notoriously dangerous. Everyone who has been here told us that if we had to ride them we should buy our own helmets and only ride with drivers who we know so that they will drive slowly and safely. So of course for my first ride I did none of those things. It was yesterday, and we were running late for an early morning meeting so we didn’t have time to call our reliable driver. And because we were late we also didn’t have our helmets. So when I hopped on the back of a rundown old boda with a driver I didn’t know and my hair whipping in the wind I felt like I was inviting my own death. But despite this, I couldn’t help but love it! The wind felt so good and it was exciting to zoom between cars as they idled in traffic. After four more rides in the last twenty four hours I think it’s safe to say that it’s my new favorite form of transit. But don’t worry mom, dad, and anyone reading this from the QES II program, from now on I’ll stick to the rules.

4. We became experts in pest control.
In our excitement to move in we failed to realize that we are not the only tenants in this three bedroom apartment. We also share the space with beetles, cockroaches, fruit flies, an army of ants (RIP), and even a gecko. As I should have known from living in Singapore, these critters are just part of the package when you live in the tropics. And unluckily for me, the ones here also seem to have good taste. When I drew first pick of all the bedrooms I didn’t realize that the largest one came with the caveat of a cockroach the size of a lime crawling through my toiletries, and a gecko living behind my toilet (I named him Gordon). We effectively exterminated the cockroach, but there are sure to be more. I guess if we have to live with them maybe we can convince them to cover part of the rent?

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5. I successfully accessed my money in time to pay said rent.
By no fault of my own, for the past four days I’ve been unable to access my money. No matter how many ATMs I went to, phone calls I made to my bank, or panicked emails I sent to my mom, I had no success until yesterday evening. One of the other scholars had the same problem. Finally, last night we were able to take money out in time to pay our disgruntled landlord. Although it seems trivial now, at the time it was terrifying to have no way to access my money and no one on this continent who could help.

6. I started learning how to speak Luganda.
Although the official language of Uganda is English, there are hundreds of other languages and dialects spoken across the country. Here in Kampala the most common of these is called Luganda. Today a few of our co-workers started teaching Jeremy and I their native tongue. And just in case you ever have use for it, you my dear blog readers (hi mom) can learn too! Here’s what I know so far:

Yee = Yes
Nedde = No
Osivyeotya = Good afternoon
Wasuze otya = Good morning
Olagawa = Where are you going?
Obeere bulungi = Goodbye
Gwe ani = Who are you?
Nze = I am

7. We learned how to cross the road.
Sounds too simple to be on this list right? Wrong. Here in Kampala there are no lanes, no stop signs, no traffic lights, and no crosswalks. Occasionally a traffic police officer will stand bravely in the middle of a busy intersection and direct traffic, but other than that it’s a free for all. Bodas and cars zoom past each other with only a hair’s width of space between them. Any pedestrian wishing to cross has to take their life into their hands to do so. But in our case our hands are already full since Shelby, Jeremy and I instinctively grab on to each other every time we risk a crossing. Although we’re getting better, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ll need the handholding support for the foreseeable future. Like the chicken in the tired old joke, we really are crossing the road just to get to the other side.

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