June 27, 2013

I am spending the next month volunteering at a local grassroots nonprofit organization called Arise and Shine Uganda (AASU) based out of Jinja. AASU aims to provide education, health and community development programs to rural villages outside of Jinja, with an orphanage/refuge for children with special needs who have been abandoned by their families.

My journey to Uganda was rather interesting, considering that it is my first real solo trip and I arrived late at night. I’m not going to lie, I have been extremely nervous and paranoid the few months leading up to this. I found the organization through the University of Sydney’s job opportunities webpage and reached out to the founder by email two months before I hopped on a plane to East Africa. A part of me was still worried about the validity of the organization until the morning after I arrived. I kept thinking I should just go on the University organized trip to Indonesia with the group of my fellow grad students.

After a 24-hour layover in Johannesburg, I made it to Entebbe around 11pm, where I then met a driver for a 3-hour drive to Jinja. My friendly driver kept telling me I could take a nap, but there was absolutely no way I was going to let my guard down in a new country with a stranger for even a second, despite how tired I was.

I was still a little shaken from my layover in Johannesburg. It seemed like everybody was trying to “help me” with my bags and or take my money. I ended up getting ripped off by a guy who simply pointed me in the direction of the hotel shuttle bus area and then told me I owed him and his friend each $50 Rand for their assistance, I told them I didn’t have any money, and they followed me for a few minutes and then grabbed the money out of my hand after I went to an ATM to get money for myself.

Now that I’ve settled in after 2 days in Uganda, a couple of things have happened. Firstly, I am quickly falling in love with this country! Secondly, I am learning what it means to be on “Africa time,” similar to island time = always late or no real concern for time. Thirdly, I’ve realized motorcycles are not as scary as they seem. Everyone uses motorcycle taxis or “boda-bodas” to get around here (sometimes even with 3 passengers), and they are quite fun!

There are also Matatu which are basically taxi vans where complete strangers all pile in without seatbelts, which I will experience when I go to the village. I also learned that the roads are chaotic whether you’re a driver or a pedestrian, it’s simply a free for all! 

Unfortunately, I’m also learning how difficult it is to find gluten-free food here ( I have Celiac Disease), but so far I’m making do on fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Finally, I’m experiencing truly being a minority and constantly being reminded of it when all the locals constantly call me “mzungu” (white person). Although it’s in a friendly manner and it’s really cute when the kids say it.

Day one: I was quite disoriented and jet-lagged but still managed to do quite a bit. I had my first boda boda ride and went to the Arise and Shine Babies home where I got to meet all the adorable kids! Then we took the eight disabled kids on a mini field trip to go swimming at a hotel pool nearby which was really fun. I met the project coordinator and determined that I’m going to be working on HIV and family planning with women in the village in addition to assisting with teaching English at the school which I’m really excited about! I also met most of the volunteers at dinner last night, which consists of a lovely group of people from all over the world. Everyone is so nice and helpful, and I feel comfortable with most of them already. I don’t go to the village until Monday, so I have the weekend free which I’m taking advantage of.

Day Two: This morning I went with two other volunteers on a wild goose chase to try and sort out an educational workshop for family planning/ HIV for health day in the village next week. We started at TASO, and then were directed to USAID, then MSH only to conclude that we won’t have a drama group performing an educational workshop at the event.

I also went horseback riding along the Nile River and through some villages where all the kids shouted “Jambo Mzungu” as we passed by. The scenery was extremely beautiful and I even saw some monkeys!

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About Author

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, listening to soundtracks from musicals, and watching anything in the post-apocalyptic sci-fi genre. These days you can catch her learning about off-grid living and gardening the hard way, wandering with her partner and dogs through forest roads in a camper, or hiking to waterfalls or glacial lakes. You can also find her on YouTube at Anna and Ryan.

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