Volunteering in Uganda

Map of Uganda

Map of Uganda

I got on the flight from Bangkok to Entebbe, Uganda (via Qatar) at 1.35am, and then we sat there at the airport for nearly 4 hours whilst they tried to diagnose and fix a fuel valve issue. Luckily it was nighttime and not so hot otherwise we would have been sweltering sat in the plane with no air con. I fell asleep, thank goodness it was hours past my bedtime so I was tired enough to sleep during the wait, well a little anyway. They then weirdly woke us up to give us a snack, which I guess they would do anyway, but why do they do this on night flights? Does anyone else snack on a pastry at 3am?! 

For those of us with flight connections, which seemed to be everyone (Qatar isn’t a famous tourist destination), we knew we would now miss our connections and the lady sat next to me was really quite wound up about this. I could understand her frustration, I was going to be late too and probably have to fly to Uganda a day late, which would mean missing my transport with Rod and Ann, but at the same time there wasn’t anything we could do about this so we might as well jst relax and deal with it when we landed.  

When we arrived they had organised hotels and flights the following day for all the passengers and met us in groups depending on destination. When the lady got to the end of the list for our group, I realised there was only me left and she had no cards left in her hands LOL; it seemed they had missed me off. She ran off with my passport, and 15 minutes later had not reappeared, so I’ll admit started to worry slightly but all was fine and she explained that the next flight was either later that night at 10pm, with a 7 hour night wait at Nairobi, or the same flight I was supposed to get that day, but a day later. I called Rod and Ann and they said they wouldn’t leave until the following day anyway rather than rush off as soon as I arrived, so I took the hotel option with the identical flight the next day straight to Entebbe. The day then was a series of more waiting; waiting for the bus to the hotel, waiting an hour and a half to be checked in, waiting for my bag to be brought to the hotel as I had no other clothes..so in the meantime I tried to sleep and then made use of the hotels pool to do some exercise. The food was a buffet, with only rice and veg and salad that was vegan, but I was just glad for some food. They also had dark chocolate mini tarts, which I was assured were vegan so that made up for the lack of vegan options. I had been given a sea view room, which was lovely, and it had a bath robe and a bath! Naturally I enjoyed both, and embarced the silver lining of being delayed.  

The next morning I was woken up a 3.50am with a start by reception saying that the bus was in half an hour. I was confused as my flight was later than most at 8.30am and as it was a non-US flight only required me to be at the airport 2 hours before and the airport was 15mins away. I got ready anyway and headed down to be told that not only was the bus full, but they had made a mistake by waking me up early and that my bus was in an hour and a half at 6am. Not impressed. Plus the breakfast boxes they had promised were not happening either. So now I was tired and hungry. I got the next bus instead, deciding to wait at the airport instead of in the hotel lobby. I questioned about breakfast (thinking with my stomach) at the Qatar Airways customer service desk and was given a voucher – result! I had beans, hash browns and grilled vegetables with a muffin, which I am pretty sure was not vegan, but the man serving was not of a nature to allow questions and ushered me along the line, also refusing me fruit instead of the muffin, which he said was a cost option; surely a muffin is more expensive to make than some chopped up fruit?! Anyway, fed and watered I boarded the plane. I was overjoyed to see that the seat next to me was free, wahoo. Unfortunately though, a rather large Korean man, who was sat in the middle of the middle aisle noticed this and swapped out of his seat and sat next to me. He also had putrid breath; I feel mean saying that but just to get you to understand how I went from flying on high with extra space, to this. I watched a movie and then tried to sleep, but I was also joined by 2 noisy people having a loud (so very loud) conversation behind me, for hours! Every time I dropped off to sleep they would start up a new tpic, which meant the volume went up again. So needless to say I was pretty tired by the time I arrived in Entebbe. The airport was tiny, really very different to Bangkok or Qatar. We queued for visas in what looked like a school canteen hall. There were signs above the stations saying ‘Uganda’, ‘e-Visa’ and ‘Diplomat, armed forces etc’ but no foreigner queue. The lady who had sat behind me having the loud conversation saw me looking and ushered me into her queue, she too was confused but had been told to ignore the signs, it was all the same. I paid the $100 for an East African Visa, and was greeted as I exited the airport baggage room (I think this was also the only other room of the airport) by a voice behind me saying “Suzie, is that you?” It was Rod and Ann from Project Uganda with Robert, a man who worked for them. Finally I had made it! 


On to Rukingiri 

We headed back to the little bungalow in Kampala on Robert’s land that we were to stay in for the night. Hos family house was a litte further away, but they had a kitchen here and as we got settled, Cristine his wife prepared us a dinner of beans, rice, mashed potato and cabbage; it was delicious. I got to meet his chidren Angel an Ly also, so very sweet! 



The next morning we had fruit and bread before heading off on the 7-8 hour drive to Rukingiri, which was the town where Ann and Rod had built their house and the base for the project’s work in the surrounding villages. Their vehicle had soft covered seats and it was just me in the back, so I slept for a few hours on and off, waking up to see some of the Ugandan views, and eat some bananas and watermelon. Kampala was crazy so different to anything I had seen before. And as we continued along the road it just got quieter but stayed much the same. A lot of the roads were red clay dirt roads, but luckily most of the way had now been tarmacked. The shops were mainly whattle and dorb huts with corregated iron roves painted with adverts for phone networks, paint brands stating to be the most long lasting, and animal feed adverts. It was a wash of colour, and in between the huts would be people selling piled up sweet potatoes, tomatoes and what they call Irish potatoes, which were like our regular potatoes. They piled them high and seemed to be selling them in groups all selling the same thing, this seemed a little odd to me but clearly it worked. We went through a couple of larger towns, the last one being Umbarara, where I got some money at an ATM, and finally we saw the 40km sign for Rukingiri. 


The Homestead 

The house that Ann and Rod had built was lovely, it had bedrooms downstairs, each with their own en-suite bathroom (with composting toilet – another blog post), mosquito net and small double bed. The upstairs was a large open plan room with sofas, a table and kitchen, plus a balcony. I could see that they had made a home from home and that it would be nice and comfortable here. 




Ann took me into the town the next day to the shops and the market. The biggest supermarket called Sena was smaller than your average little Tesco Express, but had a fair amount of familiar things in it. I could see that perhaps a variety of beans and pulses may be an issue here, as well as nuts and seeds, tofu etc, but I found peanut butter, peanuts, oats, soya milk powder (which was actually labelled as baby milk), and at a later date I found almonds, raisins and spices in there – wahoo! We also had beans prepared at home by a lady Olivia that came in to cook lunch of beans and posho, a Ugandan staple, for the men working with us. We also went to the market and got some fresh veg, it was nice to meet the ladies there that Ann knew and to see where the locals shopped. It was a market similar to home, but with only veg on stalls under corrugated tin roves. There seemed to be the same selection of veg at most stalls; tomatoes, onions, potatoes, rice and carrots, so we got some of each and found an ‘exotic’ stall with some green peppers. We took it in turns to cook lunch and dinner, with Stuart bringing in avocados and tomatoes every few days, we were well stocked up with plant based goodness! 

One of many vegan cakes I have made to show everyone how yummy they are, oh and they don't really do cake here; I wish I had filmed them all trying it! Amazing reactions! (Domestic Goddess?)


Ann and Rod had asked James, one of the men who worked with them, if one of their sons would like to accompany me and guide me in walking around the local area as training for Kilimanjaro.; they happily agreed. Their oldest son Precious was studying over the holidays (December and January are their equivalent of our summer holidays here) for his A Levels so they said that their second oldest Stuart could be free to help me. I met him the following day and he had a walk planned out to show me where he lived and then up to a rather large mountain behind his home. We did about 20km up and down over 5 hours – wow what a walk. I got to meet his Mum, cousins, younger brother and sister and his uncle too, which was lovely.  


The view from the hill was amazing; my first glimpses of rural Uganda, and it really reminded me of home! 

The view from the top of the biggest hill

The view from the top of the biggest hill

One thing that I have to admit made me a little scared at first was people shouting out. I think I already naturally had some apprehension about being in such a different place, even different again from Asia and Indonesia. So for a few days, the shouting of 'Mzungo' and people coming up wanting to shake my hand was a little intense. I soon realised it was friendly and that some people, especially the children in the remote villages where we were walking, had actually never seen a person with white skin before, and if they had, not with blonde hair. So I started welcoming the curiosity and it gave me chance to also be curious and get to know them too. 

I was introduced to various people over the next few days; some of the guys working on the project, the project manager Moses (my new gym partner) and we had lots of other visitors from people who had got wind that Ann and Rod were here for their yearly stint and came to say hi. They brough food as welcome gifts, we got passion fruits, tomatoes and a chicken! She came in a box and I thought she was dead at first, but seems that as very few people if any have refrigerators, they may give you a chicken for food as a gift but it has to be given live to keep it fresh!  

A chicken in a box! I named her Matilda :)

A chicken in a box! I named her Matilda :)

 We named her Matilda and put her in the pen they had. I hoped she would lay some eggs and then not be seen as a meal option, but was told by Laurence that she wouldn’t lay as she was a broiler hen. So I had a word with her and said a little prayer too.

Laurence lived downstairs on the property full time. Until recently his best friend Bosco had also lived with him. Sadly, last August he was getting off a Boda Boda (motorcycle taxi) and was hit by one of the taxi mini-buses and killed. How tragic and awful. Now I have seen the buses and the way they drive around like crazy, beeping and speeding, overtaking everyone, I can see how this might have happened! The ironic thing is they have things like ‘Jesus loves’ written on the back of the bus, but yet drive lie maniacs, putting others at risk! 


My first Ugandan wedding

The first weekend in Uganda we were invited to the wedding of Henry and Provia. Henry worked at the local Sena supermarket so everyone knew him. We had to miss the church ceremony but got to the reception on time, but actually beat the bride and groom to it. I had no idea what to expect, but was still caught off guard when we were ushered into a queue to eat when the wedding party hadn't actually arrived yet. It was informal with everyone queueing and then sitting anywhere. They PILED the food on, and even asking for a small portion didn't seem to work (see my heap of food below). I got to try all the local food for the first time though so I tried everything (apart from meat). Mashed matoke, their plantain style banana (really nice); millet bread, a sort of moist dough that didn't taste of much; posho, a tasteless maize flour mash; beans (love them!); dodos, a spinach like plant, sautéed; sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes (they call them Irish but they're just potatoes); g-nut sauce, ground peanuts (also love this); chapatis; and melon on top. What a heap of carbs! I ate some, I tried my best, and made sure I tried everything. Then we were moved into the marquees. They put Ann, Rod and I right at the front of the marquee opposite the wedding party tent. They also put Collin with us, another Mzungo that we had just met, which seemed a little odd to so blatantly group us all together but it actually worked out well. Once the bride and groom came in about an hour after we were seated, the speeches started and they were all in the local languages of Nwankole and Luganda, so Collin, who was also volunteering here with his own charity Unified In Mission, had a modem and whilst there was long periods of waiting, we watched silly YouTube videos of Russian dashcams and idiots doing idiot things, it passed the time well, I just had to not laugh too loud!

I witnessed some of the traditions of a Ugandan wedding, such as the Groom dancing around with the Best Man and then the Bride dancing towards her husband as he sits on a chair, and then feeding him wedding cake, then he feeds her some! It felt a little like we were watching something way too private, but everyone seemed ok with it. The MC leading the reception (yes they use an MC) was making jokes the whole time to keep the crowd laughing. They then handed out the cake for all of us, it was very dry but tasty.

The gym

Moses, the project manager/coordinator, showed me a little gym in town. I use the word gym in a loose sense so as not to get you imagining the local David Lloyd gym here; it was not quite like that. It was a basement with a light and 2 exercise bikes, a very old school cross trainer and some weights. We started doing the class that the gym owner Martin ran every evening at 6pm, but it involved a lot of jumping, which I can't do because of my back issue, and it was the same every day so then we alternated between this and weights, eventually just doing HIIT training on the bike and weights. I had lost a lot of my former strength, leanness and fitness and started my mission to get fit for Kilimanjaro but also to feel better and lose the 10kgs I had gained over a few months; now being the heaviest I had ever been (although probably the same as when I returned from South America). It can be hard to keep the same shape when travelling due to many factors; it's hard to know what is in the food you are eating when eating out all the time; there may not be a gym in a lot of the places so if this is one of your joys, you have to mix it up and find some other way; and if you're not in a routine and sight-seeing or volunteering, it can be easy to fall out of good habits. Now I LOVE keeping fit, doing weights, Muay Thai when I can, yoga and walking and I also LOVE healthy food, plus I have discipline, so at home I stay a fixed weight and don't fluctuate much, if at all, but travel seems to always get me a stone or more heavier than I am at home. So time to keep my mind on my feel-good healthy fit goals and get back to optimum health!

So after I left to go to Kilimanjaro, Moses stopped going as he was very busy, which meant that I went on my own when I returned. I always workout alone so this was fine (and I had already lost 3 of the said kilos so was doing well!), plus I met 3 little gym buddies who copied everything I did and provided a joy to my workouts that I was missing :)


The Pentecostal Church 

Over the road from the house is a community church, and I have to tell you this is the loudest church I have ever heard! They had been moved fro in town a few years previously due to disturbing everyone with the volume, and so now we had to endure them. The neighbours, including Ann and Rod and 4 schools, had complained the year before, involving the Environment Officer and the police, and as a solution was being reached, the church paid off the police and the complaint was 'lost'. Now if this doesn't give you an idea of how noisy it is, let me help you picture it; imagine you are at a concert that you didn't want to go to, but that concert is outside your bedroom window and the speakers feel like they're under your pillow, so even if you stuff foam mattresses in the window and use ear plugs, it still is VERY loud. And not a pleasant music concert, a concert of heavy metal, because the pasteurs are trying to get rid of demons! And then every Friday night this goes on from 7pm until 4am, then every day in the day, and Sunday from 7.30am. Joy! So mission 'peace and quiet' has begun, with a meeting with the Environment Officer. Watch this space!



Here are some before and after pics of some of the projects that Project Uganda did in the 3 months they were here from Jan to March. These first pics are rain water harvesting tanks and washrooms built in a school called Kamikanda Secondary School. They have no running water and told us about how they have to go looking for water in he summer. The previous year a young girl was hit by a motorbike when doing this, so it was a safty need too to have water onsite. The washrooms replaced an old shed that the girls washed in. Building good facilities goes alongside teaching good health and hygiene.  



And the thank you show they put on for us:

Traditional dancing and singing at Kamikanda as a Thank you to Project Uganda

Traditional dancing and singing at Kamikanda as a Thank you to Project Uganda


Kids Yoga

I absolutely love teaching yoga to these kids, they all put in 100% effort, have fun and encourage each other; the essence of yoga! I also taught at the diabled unit at Kataz Scool; teaching deaf and disabled children. They absolutely nail it every time and are always so happy to get stuck in and try something new. Watching these brave young people develop is an absolute joy, I'm blessed!

The fascination with my hair and skin becomes apparent with the smaller children who aren't afraid to ask and touch. It seems obvious to us that we are the same inside, although we look a little different on the outside, but to these kids, this is a lesson they need to learn, some of them had never met a 'mzungo' before.. So I got down and let them feel how different my hair is and how my skin feels just the same as theirs, whilst teaching that inside I am just the same :)

A beautiful moment when the nursery classes asked if they could touch my hair and skin

A beautiful moment when the nursery classes asked if they could touch my hair and skin

...Watch out for my next post on helping to rebuild a school with the money raised climbing Kilimanjaro!