Observations on Africa

Visiting Uganda has been an eye-opening experience.  It makes me appreciate the basic amenities we have at home, as well as make me want to create a more simple, slow-paced lifestyle.

There are few cars that are not associated with tourism.  Most people walk, or ride motorbikes.  Most of the roads we’ve driven on have been unpaved.  Our 11 hour ride from Entebbe to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest might have taken 3 hours in the States, without all the pot holes.  The dirt roads were actually smoother than the paved ones, and our guide would swerve back and forth to avoid the worst bumps (like how we try to avoid speed bumps).  Occasionally, we’d cross paths with a truck that took up most of the road.  We’d end up on the shoulder, but never slow down.  The first time that happens can be pretty alarming.

In the mornings and afternoons there are hundreds of children on the road going to and from school.  Every child wears a uniform, and every school has a different one – link gingham, bright purple, green, orange.  The children are so friendly and happy.  They’d see us as we passed by and wave with a big smile on their faces.  The children are one of the best parts of this trip. 

There are always women walking and men on bicycles.  You’ll honk your horn to let them know you’re coming and hope they get out of the way.  It’s pretty automatic for them – hear a horn…get out of the way.

Plumbing is not readily available outside large cities.  All day long you’ll see men, women and children transporting jerry cans (5 gallon containers that, when filled with water, weigh 40 pounds).  They have to fill their jerry cans at the nearest well and carry their water home.   People carrying jerry cans are everywhere all day long.  Bringing water home may occupy most of their time.

Since plumbing is not always available, you’ll encounter some very interesting toilets – regular flush toilets, toilets without a tank with a bucket of water nearby you’ll pour in the bowl, and simple holes in the floor (like a port-a-potty without the potty).  Luckily, I don’t really care where or how I have to see (Outward Bound taught me how to do my business).

We drove hours and hours, to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, through Queen Elizabeth National Park, and back to Entebbe.  At home, there’s a gas station on every corner.  Here there are LONG stretches without seeing a town, so our van must have a very large fuel tank.  I only saw our guide fill up once.

I’m glad I don’t have to haul jerry cans home for water and that I can take a hot shower every morning.  At the same time, I envy the slower pace in Uganda (and, I’m sure, in all of Africa and many other parts of the world).  Their greeting is “you are most welcome,” accompanied by questions about our trip, our sleep, our activities.  When talking one on one, you need to be prepared for a lengthy introduction and discourse.  For type A personalities like me, it can be challenging, but also a reminder that slowing down can offer an opportunity to truly appreciate your experiences and the people you interact with.  Being here makes me realize how rushed we are, always multi-tasking, thinking of the next thing we have to do, striving to have more, never just “being” and enjoying the moment.  That’s one thing I will try to do when I get home, if I can find a way to merge this culture with the pressures and expectations of our society.

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One Response to Observations on Africa

  1. Sydney says:

    This is wonderful to read, Karen! Thank you much for sharing.

    Your comments about the children and the road conditions remind me so much of my first visit to Indonesia, when my parents moved there in ’98. We were on a horrible “paved” road for 14 hours one day to reach our destination in northern Sulawesi. Also, Boris and I had a similar experience in Morrocco last December, learning very quickly to get out of the way whenever we heard a car/motorcycle horn or even a bicycle bell, for that matter! If you’re in the way, you just might get ran over! That experience made me realize how poorly many people in the Western world pay attention to their surroundings.

    I love hearing about your experiences in Uganda! Thanks again for sharing about your adventure and lessons learned.

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