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?


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.

Home Alone

May 18th, 2015
Remember the first time your parents left you home alone? How grown up you felt, but nervous at the same time? Maybe they had to run to the corner store, or else they had an appointment but couldn’t find a babysitter. Or, as in my case, maybe both you and your sister were covered in chicken pox and your mom had to go to the drug store to get calamine lotion before you itched yourselves into oblivion. Whatever the case, you ended up in the house alone, however briefly. At first you thought it would be fun (think of all the cool things we could do!). But you quickly realized that this being alone business was a bit trickier than you had anticipated. You didn’t know how to do simple things like make toast or answer the doorbell because your parents always took care of that. Pretty soon your excitement turned to anxiety and you found yourself just waiting for them to come home. Now imagine that scenario but in a foreign country. Where you’ve only been for five days. With two others who are just as lost as you. That should give you a sense of how we’re feeling after having just moved into our apartment here in Kampala.
Of course being home alone isn’t a perfect metaphor: I’m twenty-two years old now, and unlike my eight year old self I’ve had ample experience living on my own. I know how to make toast and answer the doorbell; those things haven’t been a challenge for me in years. But there are still a few equally simple tasks that we need to navigate, like where do you take the garbage when it’s full, and what’s the protocol for laundry? How do you turn on the oven, and why won’t the shower get hot? (Answer: the oven has a switch behind the lid, and the water has a heater that needs to be turned on 20 minutes before you hop in). All these things would be common knowledge to us in Canada, but here it’s like experiencing that first time home alone all over again.
Of course hot water and garbage are mundane little things that we’ll figure out as they come. The real adjustment will be learning how to live in Kampala, from getting food to getting around the city. Since we arrived we’ve been completely taken care of: from meals to transport, everything has been out of our hands. But now the training wheels are off, and it’s up to us to sink or swim. This time my parents aren’t the ones away from home – I am.
This is when the real adventure begins…let’s see how we do!
First though let me show you our new home, starting with the good parts:
My room

Kampala - Apartment 003

Living/Dining Room


Kampala - Apartment 008

And the not so good parts:


Kampala - Apartment 006


Kampala - Apartment 004

But saved the best for last! There will be many afternoons sitting out here.

Kampala - Apartment 014

From one country of Great Lakes to another

May 16th, 2015

We now have three days in Uganda under our belts! We arrived late Wednesday night after an exhausting 24 hour journey crossing the Atlantic Ocean and traversing three continents. Upon our arrival we were greeted at the airport by a man who we’ll call R, who we have quickly come to know as our driver/tour guide/friend/life saver. After packing our bulging luggage into his small car, tetris-style, he drove us to Visitor’s Village – our guesthouse in Kampala, the capital city. There we were greeted by the friendly owner, we’ll call him E, who we have since discovered is the most welcoming, hospitable person any of us have ever met. He set us up in our beautiful accommodations were we quickly passed out from exhaustion.
The next day we awoke to a beautiful breakfast of fresh fruit, fresh juice, omelets, toast, and tea with Ugandan mint leaves. It is hard to describe how we felt sitting outside eating this luxurious meal, surrounded by lush trees and flowers, with tens of species of birds chirping in the background and the sun warming our backs. Any anxieties we had were quickly soothed by this peaceful scene, and for that we were grateful.
That day and the one that followed were a blur of logistics. R drove us to the bank to take out Ugandan shillings (1 dollar Canadian = roughly 2500 shillings), to the mall to get cell phones, modems for the internet, mosquito nets, and helmets so that we can safely ride boda bodas (or motorcycles), which are the city’s fastest and cheapest form of transport. We also went to the head office for Food Rights Alliance where myself and Jeremy, one of the other interns, will be working starting on Monday. There we met our boss – a confident lady with brightly coloured nails – who graciously welcomed us to her organization and explained some logistics of our first few days. From there we went to three different apartments, one of which we will move into tomorrow (stay tuned!). Needless to say it was a hectic two days, in contrast to the Ugandan way which I get the impression is much more laid back (upon hearing how much we’d done yesterday E threw up his hands in surprise). So to unwind from our 48 hours of logistics, last night we went to a wonderful three hour dance performance featuring dances from all over East Africa. There was drumming, singing, and some of the most athletic dancing I have ever seen. Upon hearing we were from Canada, the host also told a story about his dance troop arriving in Halifax for a performance in January and experiencing snow for the first time, with very comedic results. My thought was that it is amazing how you can be in Uganda, and within two days meet people who have been to your small coastal city halfway across the world. That’s globalization for you.
As for today’s activities, our jet lag and our busy schedule caught up to us, so we decided to take things at a slower pace. We started the day around noon by driving to a nearby resort to catch a glimpse of Lake Victoria. It is one of the Great Lakes in the region, and it feeds into the Nile. You can also take a boat from Kampala and cross the lake to Tanzania or Kenya – two trips that I hope to make sometime in the next three months. From there we drove to Gabba Beach, which provided a stark contrast to the resort. While the latter caters to diplomats, expats, and heads of state, Gabba Beach is a bustling local market and fishing village. Where the resort had been quiet and well maintained, the market was noisy and in a general state of disarray. The resort had been picturesque and felt out of context, but the market was messy and authentic. Although we blended in at the resort, Shelby, Jeremy and I much preferred the market. It was one of the many examples of the discrepancy between rich and poor here in this country, which I will talk about in a different post.
Although there are many other anecdotes from our first three days here that I can tell, I’ll leave it for now and get some rest before our busy move in day tomorrow. Until next time!

Kampala - Day 1-3 012



Kampala - Day 1-3 021


May 13th, 2015

It hit me when I sold the couch. I was standing in the rain outside my garage in downtown Halifax, helping a friendly British woman load my couch onto her friend’s trailer. It had been a staple in all of my student apartments over the past four years, and before that it sat in the living room in my childhood home. Needless to say the couch and I had history. But it wasn’t the only sentimental piece of furniture I’d sold that week. In the proceeding month I’d posted numerous Kijiji ads, gotten several vaccinations, bought plane tickets, and a whole slew of other logistical things. In the marathon of planning that leads up to any big trip my focus was on ticking things off my to-do list rather than thinking about the big picture. The weight of the various things to do obscured any view of WHY I was doing all of this prep. But selling the couch was the last thing on my to-do list. And that’s when it finally hit me: I’m going to Uganda!

Now, eighteen hours later, I’m sitting on a flight from Brussels to Entebbe, which is the third flight I’ve taken today. Looking out the window I can see the Sahara desert sprawling out below me with no end in sight. The plane is flying parallel to the Nile, and for the better part of the last hour my nose has been pressed to the window trying to take it all in. But before I get too excited, let me back up and explain some context. Several weeks ago, I was selected to participate in the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships Program. The purpose of the program is to:

“Increase collaboration between Canadian universities and Commonwealth country partners, via student scholarship placements, to lay the foundation for the next generation of entrepreneurs, public servants, community leaders and academics with innovative minds and a sense of commitment to Canada and the Commonwealth.”

The program is currently in its first year and was created in response to a recommendation by the Queen herself. It is administered by Community Foundations of Canada, the Rideau Hall Foundation, Universities Canada, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFAIT). Dalhousie University was one of the lucky schools across Canada to have received funding to send students on international placements. As a result, this summer five students will be going to work abroad: one to Barbados, one to Tanzania, and three of us to Uganda.

For the past few weeks we’ve been attending pre-departure training sessions to prepare for our in-country placements, where we will be working for 90 days.The three of us going to Uganda will be interning for two NGOs that work to address issues of food security within the country and the region. As food security is a topic that I’ve become very interested in the last few years, I couldn’t be more excited to get hands on experience in the field. Moreover, as I am a Political Science and International Development Studies student, this internship will utilize the skills I’ve learned thus far in my degree. Not to mention that I’ve never been to any country in Africa, which in itself will be an incredible experience!

All that to say that as I stare out the window at the continent far below, I can’t wait for the adventure to begin.

Link to an article about the QES II Program: http://cfc-fcc.ca/news/news.cfm?intNewsID=2222