Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Breathing it in

I came to Uganda trough European Union Aid Volunteer Initiative, funded by the European Commission. My project would be to work with the local community most especially local women. Women, in general, are one of the vulnerable groups in Uganda and Africa. Even though the laws of Uganda are quite equally treating men and women in traditional families there is little space for equality.

My assignment is to work with local women groups in the West Nile region in North Uganda on product development and marketing. The area is known to be less developed then Southern Uganda due to the rebel attack until 2006 and struggling with high HIV rate, low income, lack of jobs poor education ad health facilities. I will be working in this area mostly in two towns called Arua and Pakwach.

Arua is an 8-hour drive from Kampala. We are setting off from Kampala to Arua at 7 o clock in the morning. The taxi to pick me and the host organization representative Sam is late and we get stuck in the jam. Arriving in Kampala downtown we rush out of the taxi in the middle of Kampala jam and call two motorcycles where we put my luggage for the year and ourselves and rush through the narrow spaces between cars to the bus station called Gaagaa. To my surprise, the representative of my hosting organization is worried and anxious about our delay. I am curious because in my assumptions all the African people are relaxed and laid back. The bus is one hour late and I am relaxed.
Knowing that the drive will be long I am looking forward to the travel snacks, scenery and conversation with Sam to find out more about Uganda. Sam in his 30, well dressed Bugandan, he does not feel comfortable sitting next to me and sits backside of the bus.
To my amusement journey starts with the introduction of the bus driver and the crew and finishes with a prayer. The prayer includes keeping everyone safe and not hitting elephants on the way. While taking off I start to understand the need for prayers, because the bus driver is driving like a mad man, taking over cars and trucks with high speed. On the bus windows are signs to take action against speeding drivers, but everyone is sitting quietly, it’s the way how people drive here.
In Europe, while traveling, the petrol station provides you with fresh coffee and sandwiches, hygienically wrapped into designed packages. In Uganda you can buy traveling food like gonja - fried banana that is offered from the bus window and wrapped in a newspaper. From more heavy dishes one can buy fried chicken legs on a stick or cow or coat meat or liver on a stick. It does not look or smell desirable. Everything is prepared freshly by the roadside in the middle of traffic and dust. To enjoy Uganda one can’t be very keen on keeping strict hygiene.

During the travels, there are many highway towns who are known for different products. In Luweero one can buy pineapples with a cost of 5 pineapples 1,2 euro. In Karuma salesmen are offering live chicken that you can buy for 7 euro and store them in the booth specially for transporting chicken and goats. The next known sales spot is Pakwachi where ladies sell fish–deep-fried or dried in different sizes and types. So the traveler's appetite should be satisfied. But I am afraid of all the delicacies except 3 pieces of gonja. It tastes nice.

Arua is close to two refugee camps from South-Sudan so it is full of NGOs and UN cars passing by in the streets with darkened windows. Many hotels and local shops the trade with Congo and Sudan are growing the town. Congo is just five kilometers distance.

We arrive at Arua in darkness and we pile my staff on the motorcycles called boda bodas. I can’t stop being surprised about the way of transporting my luggage and we drive 3 km on a dusty dirt road to arrive at my host home. Its pitch black and I don’t feel comfortable. We are welcomed by a crowd of people who sits in a small living room, they have all come to welcome me. After a short introduction and agreement for the following day, we can go to sleep. The mosquito net of my bed is attached to two wooden sticks that keep knocking my head.