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I arrived in Uganda on Monday, to little ceremony. Not that I expected anything, but I was surprised all the same.
First, Kampala is massive. I had expected a small city, easy to get around, not that much going on. By Nairobi standards, it may seem small, but it’s on several rather steep hills. Getting somewhere may require walking up and down several hills, and at some turns, the landscape very randomly opens up and the views are awesome. So while Nairobi is large, Kampala has a spread-out city centre with suburbs close by on all the other hills, so it is quite hard to walk around, and easy to get lost in if you don’t know where you are going…
Secondly, Uganda has quite a number of people… They’re all spread out, so it’s quite hard to fully appreciate how many they are, but Kenya has a population of about 40 million, while Uganda has a population of about 30 million on about half of Kenya’s area…
The reason why I came here was to help some chapters of AIESEC Uganda with their development. I have also taken on a project called swITch with Makerere University that’s hosting me for the three or so weeks that I am here. Makerere is located on a massive hill, possibly the biggest in Kampala. Getting around is hard, so you have to take a boda boda, a bike taxi. Initially, to be honest, I thought bodas were there because people were just lazy… I have since changed my mind, or rather my mind has been changed against my will… The bodas are there because some of the trips they would have to make to get from point A to B are just murder…
Another thing, the matatus are actually called taxis, complete with a Taxi sign fixed on the back. They are not marked, their routes look quite random (but are in fact planned and deliberate), so you have to listen to the conductor to figure out if the taxi is going where you want to go.
One other thing I cannot get enough of is the variety of soda available… They’ve got brands that died a long time ago in Kenya, like Mirinda and Pepsi, along with the usual Coca Cola brands. They’ve got something like five mobile operators with all sorts of offers, like free calls, free Facebook (which I still cannot get enough of), free airtime… In the end you just wonder where the profit comes from…
The currency… Uganda has to have some of the hottest-looking notes I have seen. The new-generation money is, for lack of a better term, beautiful. It’s got all sorts of security features and designs, and it feels bad to spend, but then it’s like having pocket-sized pieces of art in your pocket. Plus it’s neutral, no pictures of presidents, just scenery and maps of the Equator…
The language, and the commentators, being as it’s football season, are also the source of much comedy.
I still can’t get over the exchange rate… One Kenya shilling, depending on where you are, goes for about 25 Uganda Shillings. Hearing things going for 800 shillings still surprises me, so I have to do quick calculations to get how much that is in Kenyan (multiply by 4, divide by 100)… So another thing Uganda is good for is mental math….
I did not expect the sheer level of culture shock I have experienced, made that much worse by the fact that things look so much like home, but maybe with time it will dissipate. I’ve gotten to meet lots of really nice people, from the Ugandan AIESECers that let me sleep in their room after I arrived, completely exhausted on Monday then took me to Wandegeya for lunch (best fries ever) accompanied with some quick problem solving, editing a video so it could get on YouTube, then afterwards getting me a place to sleep, to the kids that are in the swITch project that ask all sorts of questions that so far I have been able to answer, the guys from AIESEC Moi and the intern from AIESEC Singapore that were in Uganda for one project that didn’t work out, so they got into the swITch project, the guys of AIESEC MUBS who may not know it, but they will get their chapter off the ground… There’s so many…
Now Miss Girl, I have not abandoned you, international calls on the Safari tariff are ridiculously expensive, but I’m alright, don’t worry. I’ll call you once I get my Zain working.
First week is almost done, next week will be just as good… No, way better.

PS: Memory card corrupted, so no pics yet… But that will be fixed.

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