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30 Things I’ve Learnt About Uganda

  1. Drink lots of Waragi (cheap, local gin) and Tonic. Apart from tasting delicious it also contains quenine, which is a natural anti-malarial. Despite smothering myself in a 97% deet, the mozzies just can’t get enough of me. After hearing stories of people on anti-malaria medication STILL getting malaria, it seemed a good excuse to up my G&T intake.
  2. Just because you’re volunteering in Africa, this does NOT mean you should rock braids. White girls with corn rows just looks wrong, wrong, wrong. My colleagues keep encouraging me to have my hair braided but I’m convinced this is just so they can laugh at my expense. The only way you can rock braids without looking ridiculous (and it’s still risky) is like this…

Not a good look, ladies!
Not a good look, ladies!

  1. ‘Now’, ‘Just Now’ and ‘Now Now’ mean very different things. Use ‘Now Now’ if you mean ‘yes, come this instance as in RIGHT. NOW.’
  2. Carry a motorcycle helmet everywhere. Boda bodas are the quickest way to get around in heavily congested Kampala, but they’re notoriously unsafe and without a helmet, you’ll be blinded by dust, choked by pollution and put yourself in more danger than necessary.
  3. Iron your clothes, bedding and towels after hanging them on the line. I’ve heard horror stories about Mango flies which can lay eggs in human skin.
  4. Impress the locals and learn to travel ‘lady-like’ on a boda boda. But be careful, sitting sideways on a scooter as it weaves manically in and out of dense traffic is quite a skill and straddling one, if you’re wearing jeans, is a lot easier.
  5. Cheese is ludicrously expensive in Uganda. Bring some in a cool bag on the flight if you’re likely to suffer withdrawal symptoms like me. Failing that, imported (but budget-hameroggingly expensive) cheeses can be bought at La Petite Village.
  6. Don’t presume anywhere has loo roll. Or soap for that matter. Bars, clubs, shopping centres are the worst culprits. Always take your own personal supply.IMG_3769IMG_3769
  7. Ugandan bread tastes like cardboard. Seek out Brood or La Patisserie for artisan loaves which taste as good as back home.
  8. Power cuts are common, so always surge protect your appliances or risk your laptop being frazzled when the electricity comes back on.
  9. You CAN swim in water with balhazier (water-born parasite which can cause paralysis and is much-feared by tourists), just nip to the surgery to take the medication after 6 weeks of contact.
  10. Always close your window at traffic lights or prepare for a barrage of street hawkers who will try and sell you anything from phone chargers to mosquito nets. Politely declining will not deter them and you’ll soon have a crowd of people dangling their wares in front of you.
  11. It’s near-impossible to get cash out using a Mastercard so come with a Visa if possible.
  12. Fruit, veg and meat are dirt cheap out here but imported food stuff like tinned tomatoes, condiments and chocolate are extortianately expensive so eat like a local where possible.
  13. As much as I try, posha (Ugandan staple food made of water and maize flour) is just not palatable. Even covered with ground nut sauce, it’s texture is hard to stomach. No wonder they only serve poscha and beans in prisons here! 

Pocha (the white stuff top right) - probably the most tasteless and nutritionally void food of all time
Pocha (the white stuff top right) – probably the most tasteless and nutritionally void food of all time

  1. Corruption is rife. Expect to pay ‘fines’ to traffic police for all manner of imaginary offences. As a muzugo, you’re an easy target.
  2. Carry small change for paying boda boda drivers, market stall owners or street food vendors. It’s embarrassing, dangerous and problematic whipping out large denominations.
  3. Dress conservatively. Ugandan women will rarely be seen in short skirts and legs are perceived as particularly provocative. Cleavage, on the other hand, rarely gets a second glance.
  4. Living in a hot, land-locked country means you’ll crave a pool to cool off in. The best are Emin Pascha, Speke Resort and Kabira Country Club. IMG_3616

Emin Pasha’s lush pool

  1. Treat yourself to regular pedicures. The roads are dusty and the heat will soon leave you with cracked, hard feet. For 30,000 shilling (£7) you can get a luxury manicure and pedicure at Sparkles in Garden City. Money well spent.
  2. Hostels in Uganda, as with most of Africa, leave a lot to be desired. Red Chilli Hideaway is probably the best but go for room 217, which boasts the best views and avoid the dorms if you budget allows.
  3. Crocodile steak – sounds exotically delicious, tastes like rubber.
  4. Always make small talk. It’s considered rude not to say ‘hello, how are you?’ before asking directions, for a taxi ride or ordering food. Always make small talk. It goes a long way.
  5. Lonely Planet need to commission a guide book for Uganda. I feel a bit lost without one.
  6. Uganda uses the same power sockets as the UK. Bonus! But for 2-plugs you might have used elsewere in Africa, just push in a plastic pen-cap to open the 3rd hole and you can still make them fit. Nifty trick to avoid having to buy an adaptor.
  7. The Red Pepper is the most repulsive, salacious tabloid newspaper I’ve ever read.
  8. Do pack tampons. Or accept the fact you’ll be waddling around with a chafing, sweat-soaked sanitary towel in 30 degree heat.
  9. Trekking with gorillas will leave an almighty dent in your budget. But it’s one unmissable experience you can’t leave Uganda without.1888473_10101096410776425_772561663_n
  10. Don’t take any valuables to Owino Market. Thieves are highly skilled and work with artful precision – they can swipe your watch off your wrist in a split-second and vanish into the crowd.
  11. The Bahai temple and Gaddafi Mosque offer some of the best views of the city. Whilst you’re welcome to take photos inside and outside the mosque, the Bahai temple only permits photos in the grounds. The 10.30am service at the Bahai Temple every Sunday is well worth a visit.
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