So within 15 minutes of leaving the airport, I realized that even though I wanted to make sure I was
cognizant of not coming to Africa with the “ignorant American” view, I was most definitely the ignorant American. Entebbe road, which is the major road that takes you from the Ugandan airport to the capital city of Kampala, is smoother and nicer to drive on than 50% of the roads in Michigan. When it was mentioned that this road was paved when the Queen came in 2008, our local Global Health point woman laughed at me when I asked if that was the first time there were proper roads in the city. During the hour drive into Kampala, I was reminded very quickly of India. Street vendors, bazaars, and slums, intermixed with well-developed buildings and areas. Everyone is dressed relatively nicely: trousers and short sleeve button ups, many with full suits on. When looking at the schoolboys, every third one is wearing a soccer jersey. 80% of people, regardless of gender, have the same short-as-can-be haircut. There are signs of Indian influence everyone: Bank of Baroda franchises, a large temple, and a matchbook in Mama Riba’s (our host) bathroom that says and depicts baby Krishna. Our guesthouse was immediately a treat: avocado and mango trees in the yard.
On Day 1, our main event was to get through the traffic and take a “ferry” to Chimp Island. Lesson 1: next time you go to Africa, and someone suggests you take a ferry, please don’t wear socks, shoes, keep anything in your pockets, or forget snacks. Also, plan an extra hour for traffic. We took a ferry across Lake Victoria, which is fed directly by the Nile, to go see Chimp Island, Uganda, which feels like an epic scene out of Planet of the Apes. Seeing the chimps preserved in a natural habitat was incredible. Watching them during feeding is a lesson on behavior and intelligence: they would find sticks to bring their food to them from outside their fence while others would dominate as alpha males and steal others food. What really impressed me was that the staff was quite professional and knowledgeable, and had genuine interest in animal preservation as well as mental illness and disease in these chimps.
From there we went to see thousands of more animals between Ziwa Rhino Preserve and Murchison Falls, especially giraffes and even a pride of lions. What we learned throughout these travels, other than how extremely beautiful Uganda can be, with thousands and thousands of animals among the natural greenery, was just how nice every person we have met is. It has helped greatly that most people speak English, but everyone we have met has been extremely hospitable and accommodating. Sometimes it is easy to feel frustrated by the pace of people, especially at restaurants, when we come from a fast-paced society. For example, this story could be from any given day since I’ve been here. On our second day, we set out for a long trek and stopped at a nice looking café for brunch. The special here is called a Rolex, which is a chapatti (round bread common in India) with eggs rolled up like a breakfast wrap. We ordered 4 Rolex’s and sat down to await our food. About 15-20 minutes later, we see the man who took our order returning on a scooter with a grocery bag with eggs inside! This is how things work here. Fridges are not used commonly, and extra ingredients are not kept on stock because they don’t want to risk having bought food that could spoil. The benefit is that everything is truly fresh. Now that our initial travels have completed, it is time to go to Tororo, the town where I will be based and have the opportunity to pursue our research interests.