A Muzungu Wanders in Uganda

Just as generations before them have done, two women and a girl carry items on their heads

“Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa. The Kingdom is a fairy tale. The scenery is different, the climate is different, and most of all, the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa.”– Winston Churchill, November 1907

When I saw her, she was looking at me. My left hand went out questioningly, and I held my camera out similarly. Her nod was almost imperceptible. Click. Another slight nod. It only took one shot to capture the noble essence of that African woman with red clay etched into her feet. I’ve photographed Queen Elizabeth II and Mother Teresa. Now I have a queen, a would-be saint, and a pearl in my portfolio.

There are dozens of ramshackle shacks selling cell phones to meat to tailormade dresses

What does it take to be such an emblem of serenity? There are dozens of ramshackle stands surrounding her. Everything from cell phones to meat to tailor-made dresses are for sale in those shacks. She must block out the cacophony of noise made by hundreds of sellers and shoppers. And the buzz of the motorcycles darting around people and cars.

I walk past bagayi (men) surrounded by those ubiquitous motorcycles. They watch and wait for the muzungu (me) to get hit by a motorcycle carrying three people. Muzungu? Roughly translated, it means “white wanderer.” Suits me.

Motorcycles often carry two people plus the driver. Often, the load includes baggage

I’m about to board our bus when I see something that makes me laugh out loud. A young boy, about four years old, stands on a bench, arms crossed as if to say, “I’m serious, and I’m going to get my way.” In return, he gets a look that says “Good luck. You can stand there all day. You are not going to get your way” That stance and attitude must be universal.

A boy stands on a bench with arms crossed as if to say that he will get his way.

Back on the bus, we continue our trip to the Hands of Love Orphanage. On the trip, I saw the Africa that I had seen in the National Geographic in the sixties. People still live in grass huts. Women and children carry plastic yellow water cans and other items on their heads. A man pushes a bicycle stacked with wooden chairs. There are no straps. It looks like a 10-foot-high Jenga game.

A man pushes a bike loaded with chairs. It resembles a Jenga game

I was in Uganda to document a short-term mission group to the large orphanage south of Kampala. Many would help with a myriad of projects. Some polished hundreds of shoes while others taught physics and other subjects. Others painted and did construction work. Others would go out and talk to people.

A girl leans on her mother as her attention is on a photographer

Then, I had an opportunity to talk to locals–my favorite thing about traveling. I was able to watch family interactions. Very often, I’d talk to people before or after the group visited. Most people in Uganda speak English. I learned as much about their lives and history as I could in fifteen minutes alone with them.

They all permitted me to take their photos. One woman, almost blind, could see colors better than anything. Bright colors, she said, bring her joy. She told me to make sure that I included her tablecloth in the picture. Elsewhere, bongo players made sure that I photographed them.

Over a week after arriving, we boarded a bus to leave. On the trip, I saw why Winston Churchill mentioned Uganda’s scenery. I saw rolling hills, baobab trees, and the impressive Lake Victoria. Armed soldiers stationed around the bridge over the Nile ordered us not to take pictures. If we did, they would take our cameras. I believed them. I had expected the river to be wide and muddy. Here, not far from its start, it reflected the blue sky and was narrow. Trees and greenery surrounded the historic river.

Man watching the kids playing

Kampala’s Balikuddembe Market (the Owino Market) encompasses over 17 blocks. The smell of street food radiates from the center of the capital city. One can hear the sounds of sellers and shoppers from blocks away. People come from neighboring countries to shop. With the ability to accommodate over 50,000 traders, it is the largest market in Uganda.

A tailor makes dresses that are often sold at markets in Kampala

Around 300,000 customers from all different social backgrounds and incomes visit daily. Like-new clothing from designers like Gucci and Calvin Klein sells for one-half retail price. Watch people bargain for appliances, electronics, and even their groceries. It’s a perfect place for people-watching because it’s where many different cultures merge.

An outside meat market that makes Americans cringe

Street vendors are scattered throughout the market. Want a snack? Try some nsenene fried with onions, chili, and salt in their own oil. I am told they taste like fried chicken skin—I’ll never know. Nsenene is Ugandan for grasshopper. Or would you rather have a variety of fried animal organs?

The sun sets over a village in rural Uganda

Many of us want to eat where the locals eat. There’s a way that you can do many times better than eating at a local dive in Kampala. How about shopping for dinner with a local family? Then, you go to their home to cook, eat, and visit with them. Google “Viator cooking class Uganda” to create a memory that will last forever. NOTE: I visited Uganda a few years ago. Now, the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel advisory. Study their site at www.travel.state.gov before traveling there. Regardless of your destination, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). That program provides you with alerts and makes it easier to locate you in an emergency.

Bikes are often used like trucks in Uganda
Share the Post:

Related Posts