This is my first visit to Uganda. Since my arrival I have witnessed many similarities between Uganda and its neighbours Tanzania and Kenya. That said, I have also noticed subtle differences.
For example, upon arriving at Entebbe Airport, I noticed the friendly, laid-back attitude of the general population even extended to immigration personnel and airport security, which it certainly doesn’t in its neighbouring countries. I retrieved my bag from the luggage belt to realise that my razor was going off inside, so I opened up my bag, rummaged through to find my razor and switched it off. The security guard nearby worked out what had happened and started laughing. From experience at Nairobi airport, had the same thing happened there, they certainly wouldn’t have seen the funny side… They would probably have even tried to charge me import tax on it!
Having arrived in Uganda from Tanzania, customer service also seems to be a step up from what I had grown accustomed to experiencing over the past few weeks. Since my arrival, I have had a waiter “praying for forgiveness” (direct quote!) as they didn’t have my order. When I went to buy a sim card, I was also given the rather odd choice of which phone number I wanted. The sales assistant spread out around 40 different sim cards on the desk, apparently expecting me to wade through and choose my favourite 11-digit number. She seemed a bit put out when I picked a random card up and handed it to her.
As mentioned earlier though, these subtle differences are not quite as abundant as the similarities between Uganda and other East African countries. The day after arriving into Uganda, I was due to travel to Kasese, a small town in the west. I had arranged to meet someone at my hostel at 8am, before we travelled together to Kasese. However, I received a text at around 6.30am to inform me that there were problems with the bus and so he would be late… Which sounded very similar to my experiences in Tanzania and Kenya!
The similarities continued when I arrived in Kasese, a quiet little town enveloped by the Rwenzori Mountains, and met members of the community who continued to be unbelievably self-motivated and proactive despite terrible hardships that have been suffered by the area over the years. Clearly this is a characteristic which crosses over borders in East Africa.
The Rwenzori Mountains are famed for being home to gorillas and chimpanzees, but during conflict in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, they also became the home to hopeless rebels who had been exiled. These rebels, desperately used to charge into areas on the Ugandan side of the border, pillage the local area and kidnap people to fight on their behalf.
I have been shown around Kasese by Buluku, who is just over a year older than me. Buluku had to flee for his life at nine years old as rebels broke through an army barracks and charged into his school. Many of his schoolmates were kidnapped and faced the unenviable choice of fighting on behalf of the rebels or being killed.
Remarkably, this story only came out when I was being shown evidence of a more recent hardship to hit the local area. Towards the end of last year, floods tore through the area and swept away schools, houses and part of a hospital. 20 people lost their lives and from looking at the trail of destruction, it wasn’t difficult to see how… The volume of water must have been utterly immense to carry bolders, trees and entire buildings.