Recession Mama

{July 19, 2009}   GUEST POST: Thoughts from Uganda

Katy sez:  My friend Stephanie is in Uganda, as part of her work with International Medical Corps.  It’s a great non-profit organization, and she sent an e-mail out to friends, family, and others that I wanted to share with you today, as our guest post.  For me, it’s important to give to charities, and this is a great charity for me to give my money, when I can.  I also think that although this recession is bad, and a lot of people are out of jobs…other people in other countries have it worse.  After reading what Stephanie wrote, I was in awe of her work, but I was also so grateful for everything I have.  I hope you are inspired too.

Uganda is in orange next to Kenya

Uganda is in orange next to Kenya

By Stephanie

My first week in Uganda will be spent with a remarkable young woman named Georgina Miranda who started a campaign called “Climb Take Action” for which she will climb the highest summit on each continent with hopes of raising $50 per meter to benefit International Medical Corps, a total of $2.2 million. She climbed her third summit – Kilimanjaro – this week and will be visiting our programs in the Southwest where we have HIV and gender based violence activities. She will be joined by two other Kili climbers who also raised money for International Medical Corps. After that I will head to Northern Uganda where I will see programs that range from HIV to nutrition. It is also the site where we implemented our American Express Members Project grant, so I will be collecting information on that so we can report back to Amex. My third week will be spent in Nairobi where I will see our programs in the Kibera slums. I will also be reaching out to journalists, hoping to get some media coverage of the good work that we are doing at International Medical Corps.

Kampala is the capitol of Uganda

Kampala is the capitol of Uganda

July 18, 2009

Today was my first full day in Kampala. After taking an Ambien I woke up a bit groggy and it took me a little while to just get going, but it was worth it because I feel totally caught up on my sleep. Thankfully the shower was warm this morning – last night it wasn’t. That after 48 hours of travel, in the same clothes!

Moses, one of the International Medical Corps drivers, was going to pick me up and take me to a few hotels that I wanted to see for a donor trip we are planning in October. When he called to ask if he could come an hour later, I decided to take a cab as the hotels I was interested in were in the same area and I could just walk to them all – after all it was his day off and he has a one month old baby!

Moses is a young, hard working Ugandan who takes pride in his work, his family and his country. In addition to working for International Medical Corps he has a cab company, which keeps him busy off hours. Right now his wife is staying home with their three children, but he would like to be able to buy her a salon so she can have her own business. He carries photos of their children on his cell phone and showed them to me on our ride from the airport. They are pretty darn adorable. He does not want anymore children because he wants to be able to support his family and have a good life.  He explained the whole cycle of lack of education and poverty in Uganda that we see throughout the developing world.

Moses reinforces that lesson I always learn when traveling: We all have similar dreams and goals.

After touring the Sheraton, the Serena, and the Grand Imperial (if you are looking for luxury the Serena beats them all by far), I walked to the city center. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for but ended up in a place called the City Garden which is a big shopping center. Most of the shops were not very interesting – salon, dry cleaner, food court, a couple of restaurants and clothing stores that were not very appealing. But I did find a really great bookstore and finally got the Lonely Planet East Africa guide book I wanted to pick up before I left along with a couple of maps. Now armed with information, I decided to check out this area below Kampala Road that they suggested for people who wanted to see beyond the tourist spots.

It took me a while to find it, even with the map, but the walk there was really delightful. People were very friendly, saying “hello, how are you?” which I learned is customary here in Uganda. People don’t just say hello – they genuinely want to know how you are. So, after a few mishaps, I got myself in the habit of asking ‘how are you?’.

There are armed guards all over the place – not overwhelming at all, just noticeable. They carry these big guns – rifles maybe, or even machine guns, I wasn’t sure. I stopped to take a picture of two armed guards in front of the election council and had to explain I was just a tourist in order for them to let me keep them on my camera’s memory card. The walls around the Council’s compound were covered with slogans and paintings that encouraged voting and democracy, which of course I thought was very cool.

I felt I was getting closer to this market I was looking for, but wasn’t know certain. I was constantly being asked if I wanted a ride by men with motorcycle taxis and buses that were really mini-vans that would pick people up along the way. I had been warned by Moses that I would be taking my life into my hands if I rode on a motorcycle, so opted against that. And I had no idea where the buses were going, so just continued to walk. I could always see certain landmarks like the Parliament building and some other high rises that were near the hotels, so I could tell what direction I was going and never felt lost.

I turned down one road and as I walked along the poverty was stunning. I did not take any photographs as I thought that would be rude, but the people were living in flimsy shelters with tin roofs that I assumed did not have electricity or running water. Once I got to a section where people clearly had a little bit more I took some photographs. There were these adorable children playing outside of one house and as soon as I took out my camera they started waving and smiling. In general I did not take too many photos – unlike other places I have traveled it just felt like a violation of their privacy.

After a bit more walking I knew I was almost there. I walked through an area where they sold car parts and other supplies, then a few turns later I was at the market. One enterprising Ugandan named Pasqual offered to show me around. I politely declined several times then just decided to give in. In the market there were several tables where men were playing Lugo – a game played with dice that looked a bit too complicated for me! Without Pasqual I would have no idea what that game was called so already decided it was worth whatever I would end up buying.

We walked around and he took me to stalls run by his friends. Our first stop was someone who was selling fried and spiced insects – I forget what kind, but I promptly turned them down. He ultimately convinced me to buy some vanilla beans, passion fruit, plantains and roasted peanuts. I already knew how delicious the peanuts were from a colleague’s trip, and was not disappointed with the rest. At one point we stopped at a meat counter and I wanted to take a picture but the guy did not want me to unless I paid. So I gave him a couple of coins and took a few photos. Feeling empowered by my new level of comfort, I decided to try one of those insects on the way out. It was good, but glad I didn’t buy a whole bag!!

I did a bit more walking, found my way back to the posh hotel neighborhood and caught a cab back to my hotel. My feet were covered in red dirt and my face with many layers of dried on sweat. I now sit at the patio bar at the hotel, enjoying a glass of white wine and an incredible view of lush trees and a sky filled with papery clouds just starting to collect moisture. The perfect end to a memorable day.


recessionmama says:

From Heather: What a brave soul! I would love to take an adventure like that, but I would be a little afraid. I’m pretty brave when I’m working on a story, but I’m not so adventurous when I’m on my own.(A press badge gives me a false sense of security for some odd reason) I hope we can see some of Stephanie’s photos in the future. Thanks for sharing her story!

carla says:

I’m with Heather. Brave soul, indeed. It’s always amazing to see what we can learn when we travel. Our ideas of rich and poor in this country are not shared with most other nations, I think, so it’s refreshing to see and hear these stories. People don’t need much to be happy, I believe. The basics: food, clothing, shelter, love! And to know that we can help those in need…is a feeling like no other. Thanks so much for sharing your stories with us, Stephanie.

Katy says:

Amazing day! I hope to see photos soon too. Maybe when she gets back, she can write an update.

Just reading this gets me excited about my own trip to Uganda!

[…] 27, 2009}   GUEST POST: Five weeks in Africa By Stephanie Bowen (Stephanie wrote Thoughts from Uganda for Recession Mama awhile back.  By popular demand, she is back with an update and […]

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