Category: Life in Uganda
“You Are Welcome”, a common phrase that I have heard most people say in Uganda and one that is used sincerely. Whenever you travel to a different country or interact with individuals from different backgrounds, culture is always a topic of conversation. Culture is the foundation for differences and commonalities between people and the locals in Uganda are delighted to share their culture and language to visitors. This sharing was foreign to me as I did not experience it growing up.
Growing up in a small city in Canada, where the population of people of African descent is low, I never felt like I truly belonged. My heritage includes East African and it was challenging to create personal connections with people that came from the same culture as me. My elementary and secondary school experiences have not significantly contributed to my understanding of African history and culture. My knowledge was only limited to stories from my immigrant family members. I remember during my time in history and social science classes, these topics were either minimized or glossed over. The lack of emphasis on African history, culture, and legacy led me to believe that these issues were unimportant. Yet as I grew older and began to watch more news media, I became increasingly aware of the dissonance between what was reality and what people wanted to believe. I was itching to learn more about the diversity of Africa and to understand real life there. I wanted to learn beyond the struggles that I’ve seen from Western media, which can often shape the public’s view and misrepresent African identity. These representations have become rooted in the consciousness of most individuals I have met in North America. I sought out anything that I could learn—from books to university classes—but it wasn’t enough for me. Soon after, I came across an opportunity to work with FullSoul and the Maternal Medical Kit (MMK) program as a Project Manager Intern and was immediately hooked on the idea of experiential learning. The chance to interact with people in Uganda would give me invaluable insight that goes beyond what I would learn from school or news articles. Exploring and branching off into new environments have always been an aspiration of mine and I’m very grateful that life has brought me here.
From the moment I arrived in Uganda, I was greeted with warm smiles and friendly hellos. When you are in an unknown environment, your sense of awareness starts to increase. Residing in our guest house in Mukono, you are awoken by the sound of roosters crowing and the birds chirping in the early morning. The call of prayer from the mosque nearby is also a reminder to me of the diversity of religions that are within this community. The sound of taxi conductors yelling names of cities and the honking of cars gets increasingly louder throughout the day. Our neighborhood is filled with young children with wide grins and endless giggles who run up to you each time they see you walk by. Around the corner of our guest house, there is a music school with a performing band that plays almost every evening. The sound of trombones, drums, and laughter in the air fuels my soul.
Because of these features, community cohesion is stronger than ever. You never feel alone here. So many of these aspects are like the glue that holds the community together. I constantly learn from the people around me through daily interactions, which helps me better understand diverse perspectives within the world we live in. My new friends share what is important to them, from their dreams to aspirations. This makes me believe that we are not quite different from one another. The interactions with people that I have met here have given me comfort knowing that storytelling strengthens relationships. It is also a reminder of the similar stories I grew up listening to as a child of immigrant parents. The harmonious connections that have been created is something that I have always been searching for back in my hometown. I am planting my feet firmly on the ground with confidence, knowing that I feel a sense of belonging here in Mukono and grasping the narrative of my family cultural roots. I am constantly exposed to an environment that continues to teach me some of the most essential values and lessons. These values include developing open mindedness and communicating effectively with people from diverse backgrounds, which have become increasingly significant than they ever were before in today’s diversity and culturally aware society.
The two months working with FullSoul with my fellow intern Vinu have been a whirlwind. Adjusting to our new environment has kept us pretty occupied. From getting accustomed to the hot weather and busy streets, trying the local food, and finding our way around health facilities, moving to Mukono with numerous things happening all at once felt like an emotional rollercoaster.
I remember the feeling of shock during my first time walking into FullSoul’s partnered hospitals for introductions. The waiting rooms were crowded with people. The equipment were either old or not functioning properly. Other resources, such as beds and mosquito nets, were scarce since the hospital is low-funded. The fast-pace environment and the surplus of patients and low-staff can give you a sense of panic. Despite the conditions in which they are in, the midwives continue to push through and work with what they have. I continue to witness both patients and midwives greet each other with smiles and friendly conversations from all around the facility. It is evident that this is a part of Ugandan culture, which made me feel at home with my family again. It was encouraging to see how receptive healthcare staff were towards the work that FullSoul is trying to do in providing instruments and improving maternal health. However, I am learning so much more from the midwives and their tremendous efforts to be as efficient as possible to keep mothers and babies safe and healthy.
Part of the work that Vinu and I do is conducting a needs assessment in the labour wards to see how instruments in the MMK and other resources are used. This is done through observations. Observation is one of the best ways of learning. It allows you to see exactly how a process is done and understand the technicalities of it. Learning through observation wasn’t easy for me initially. I caught myself deliberating Western practices, which greatly impacted my learning ability. Having discussions with the midwives and letting us into their world as to what they perceive as challenges has opened my mind in ways I never thought it would. For people living in the developed world, it is hard to swallow the truth that solutions to problems may look different in other places around the globe. Due to the lack of resources in hospitals, improvisation is common among midwives. Allowing yourself to take a step back and comprehending the bigger picture to the problem is tough but truly rewarding. I am grateful for the amount of patience from the people I am learning from and to have the opportunity to connect with the midwives while understanding the problems they face when working in the labour ward. Working alongside with them has been an enlightening experience as their resiliency and perseverance is always inspiring. I am growing strong roots in Mukono by making connections here that will last a lifetime and I look forward to what the future has in store.
We’re here! We’ve arrived safely from a journey close to 24 hours long. 10:50 PM and bedtimes have never been so exciting.
But of course, we have yet to meet our new friends Asha and Bersh, ‘Bash’.
Two lovely Ugandan young people who we soon learned have passion beyond their years to change their country and see it to become the best it could be. And since life is all about opportunities, to work with FullSoul and have a chance to make a difference one way or another, they became part of our team. They guide us through everything cultural and all things Uganda.
We took our private hire car-a luxury as we soon learned- with 4 people at the back, the driver and one person at the front, no seat belts and loads of speed bumps. The car ride alone was an adventure.
We arrived at the Gorilla Guest House (it’s still crazy to think that’s it’s named ‘Gorilla,’ because there are real Gorillas in this country- like the ones you grow up watching on National Geographic).
We unloaded the car, and made our way to the cafeteria. We hung out with Asha and Bash for a while, talking about everything from our plans for the next day to child soldiers and world economics! Quite the dinner conversation.
Our accommodations that night couldn’t have been any more comfortable, in comparison to sleeping on a chair for a whole flight. Thankfully, we also had our mosquito nets to protect us. And a guard with a ginormous gun standing at the guest house gate.
The next morning, we head to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Kampala is one of the 2 most visited cities in Africa, a city known for its nightlife.
Another adventure. The drive to Kampala was nothing we could have expected.
First there are a few rules one has to keep in mind:
– There will be traffic. A LOT of traffic. And so you can never have your phone out..
‘Wait, what? Why..?’
‘Oh, because there will be people who want to take them. If they see them, they’ll put their hands through the windows, and just take them’ ‘…Oh, Okay.’
And so, the journey to Kampala continues. We go to get our new Ugandan numbers, and we finally get our beloved- cannot-live-without-internet.
We’re finally there. We’re in Mukono, at the HIHU Guest House. Our new home!
Now, it’s time to meet our neighbours. On one side, we have a music school with a performing band, where we get our very own show. Every day, around sunset, the band comes out to practice their music. The daily sound of drums, trombones and cymbals fills the air with music. Another reason to love Uganda!
Around the corner we have our other neighbors, the kids. They’re a group of about 10 children who live on the same street. Their ages range from 4-10 years old. Daily, Devina and I would stand in our balcony (with amazing views) and say ‘hi’ to the kids. They will start waving so excitedly, jumping up and down, with smiles so wide and laughs so loud, you’d think they’re going to Disneyland! Then, they’ll call for us to come downstairs and play with them. It has become part of our routine around sunset, and they’re the most joyful, energetic group of kids you can meet.
These are some of my first impressions on Uganda; but, enough on my recollection of memories. The following are some of Madhav’s and Devina’s thoughts on this beautiful country that we’re calling home for the next while,
“Uganda, you’re not what I expected. But in the best way! It’s definitely been an adjustment to live here, and I can already feel my heart and worldviews shifting. Learning to get around using taxis and boda-bodas… Trying food that my taste buds have never been so happy to discover… Making new friends with the best sarcastic humour… Finding my way around the health centres and hospitals… It’s a lot of new things all at once. Yet, there’s something about finding comfort in the uncomfortability that helps me see the beauty in unfamiliar places and things. I’ve always been very in touch with my senses – and let me tell you – they are registering new sounds and sights at such a fast pace. Roosters crowing in the morning, dogs barking at night. Drivers honking at pedestrians, taxi conductors yelling town names. Little kids laughing, newborn babies crying. Mothers in labour screaming, midwives silently focused on delivering. There are rare times in my life when my current circumstances or surroundings will leave me in shock, but when it happens, I’m left speechless in awe. Settling into Mukono and into the role of Fullsoul’s Project Manager has been exactly that. I may not have many words to explain everything I am experiencing right now, but all I can say is that I’m very excited that life has brought me here.”
“To visit new places around the world has always been my dream, and when the opportunity to work in Mukono, Uganda, as a field engineer and consultant arose, I couldn’t resist applying. In no time, I was already here, making new friends, and meeting people who grew up in a completely different world! My impulse to learn and achieve new experiences has contributed to my growth, and this trip so far has given me many opportunities to do such. I’ve realized this when I met several kids in school at the floor below, first showing them how to juggle, and then teaching them! By doing this, they’ve reminded me that sometimes the best way to learn is with a playful spirit. Uganda is an amazing country, with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I was very excited to visit Rotary, they’ve shown me that there are people out their working hard to make their own communities better. A truly inspiring club, with motives and actions that don’t get enough attention. I know the adventure has only begun, but if feels like it’s been on for the longest time, welcome to Uganda!”
And there you have it! Some of our insights on the first few weeks here in Uganda! 🇺🇬Read More