As one of the shiny new fighter jets flies over my house, no doubt practising for this Tuesday’s independence day fly-past, I’m mulling over the week-end papers, full of stories about Uganda@50 and what the last 50 years of independence have meant to Uganda. Is the country better or worse off as an independent nation? What does the future hold? Will the celebrations be hijacked by anti-government protesters? Will there be tears before bedtime?
I’m no expert on Ugandan politics (although the muzungu is very proud of her politics degree from SOAS) – so let’s leave the analysis to the pundits and have some fun.
So, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence, I thought I’d share with you my top 50 reasons why I Love Uganda.
1. Airtime. Everywhere you go, every shop, bar or streetcorner can sell you mobile phone credit, for as little as 200 shillings (a few cents or pennies).
2. Boda boda. There are 100,000 of these motorbike taxis in Kampala. Huge fun but use with extreme caution. Don’t expect them to hang around if you have an accident.
3. Birds, birds birds. I LOVE BIRDS! And Uganda has over 1000 species: pretty, beautiful, stunning, huge, noisy, elegant, comical, graceful, they’re all here.
4. Bus Journeys. Hmmm am I crazy? Frankly, any bus journey could be your last but one of my favourite memories is taking a bus from Kasese down to Butogota. 10,000 shillings for a free Safari as we drove down through Maramagambo Forest sighting elephants. Ahh.
5. Cappuccino. I love Ugandan coffee, just don’t serve me Star coffee powder!
6. Chimps at Ngamba Island. I fell in love with the hilarious chimps.
7. Dancing. Africans invented dance! Try keeping me off the dancefloor.
8. Dogs – ‘the boys’ Baldrick and Percy. These recycled street dogs light up my day. Always happy to see me, following me around until I give them what they want – food and a chance to escape the compound and chase a goat.
9. Driving in Kampala. Yes the traffic is a nightmare, yes the potholes wreck your car, but there’s something quite liberating about driving through this city at times. Careering over the wrong side of the road to dodge potholes can be fun, let’s be honest!
10. Dung Beetles rock!
11. Elephants – or more precisely elephant dung – brought me to Uganda. (Yeah I know, most people would just get on a plane!)
12. Food menus. Guaranteed entertainment. A menu is simply a guide to what may possibly be available at one given point in time. It does not reflect what is actually in the kitchen.
13. Fruit and vegetables. Huge, fresh, tasty and cheap.
15. Grasshoppers taste greasy and smoky (best dry fried in chilli I’m told).
16. Greetings! I love the time and care Ugandans take to greet each other properly.
17. Grey Crested Crane is Uganda’s iconic national symbol. The focus of this year’s Big Birding Day is protection of the Crane, that may well be extinct within just 20 years, if degradation of the wetlands is not stopped. NatureUganda is leading the campaign to Save the Crane.
18. Jane Bussman is a British comedy writer campaigning to have Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, caught. She’s on the ball and she’s hilarious.
19. Jinja, Source of the Nile, interesting colonial architecture, a market that is less congested than Kampala’s – and location for some memorable weekends at Nile River Camp.
20. Kampala Hash House Harriers have taken me to every bar, club – and slum! – across Kampala. The ‘drinking club with a running problem’ meets every Monday night.
21. Kibale Forest is where my friend Julia calls home, ideally at the top of a tree!
22. Lake Victoria. The world’s largest freshwater lake is where we taught our dogs to swim. Even as my feet crunched onto the tiny snails on the lake bed, I seem to have so far avoided Bilharzia! Can dogs catch it too?
23. Lions. Breathtaking – and a lot bigger in real life!
25. Mount Elgon. An unexpected wilderness experience, we climbed through seven habitats in four days and passed only two other groups of people. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I climb Margherita in the Rwenzori’s? NO!
26. Muchomo roasted meat. No ‘gizzards’ (entrails) for me. I’m an occasional “chicken on a stick” woman.
27. Mighty Murchison Falls. Isn’t it annoying when you’ve heard the hype, and feel disappointed when you get there? GUARANTEE: You cannot be disappointed when you get to the top of the Falls!
28. Music booming out from the church on Sunday morning can drive you to distraction. I love Ugandan music – but no idea what I’m singing along to!
29. Namuwongo. Once maligned as a no-go area of Kampala (I found out after living there for a year), I love Namuwongo. Squashed between the industrial area and smarter Muyenga, it’s where I first fell in love with Uganda.
30. Owino market has everything you could ever want to buy, but it’s hard work.
31. Power cuts can drive you crazy. But the romance of candlelight has its moments
32. River Nile. “Bring it on!” I screamed on my first expedition. Second time around, I invited a friend to take my place; third time rafting, and I bailed out as the biggest rapids approached! Feeling nervous, learning to trust your guide, screaming with laughter as you successfully (or not!) negotiate the rapids, you’ll certainly never forget a day on the Nile.
33. Rollex or ‘rolled eggs’ – an omelette rolled up in a chapati – is my favourite street food. Bigger than a snack, although no self respecting Ugandan could possibly call a Rollex a meal (since that should be served on a plate at a table). Rollex taste best at midnight in Kabalagala on the way home from a bar
34. Safari. Every Safari is different. To say that you have “done X Park” when you visited for a day or two just doesn’t make sense. I can’t get enough game drives!
35. Sense of humour. Ugandans can charm the pants off you. Difficult situations tend to be dealt with humour, so refreshing after living in London where people resort to shouting and swearing.
36. Simpson. My ‘Ugandan brother’ has been with me through thick and thin (in fact he became very thin when he was a student, going without food so he could afford the fare to university). He’s my hero! His graduation is 20th of October, and I have a front seat. I’m so proud of him. But wait – next up he’s going to be a pop star!
37. Smoking. Oh yes. Cigarettes are cheap and we spend most of our time outside. No stuffy rules to worry us!
38. Snakes. Would I like to find one in my shower? No, but they do fascinate me.
39. Sunrise and Sunset. A reason to get up early and a reason to have a drink in your hand
40. Tilapia. Best eaten whole, with your hands, on the lake edge at Ggaba
41. Totems. Having the Ugandan name ‘Nagawa’ – thanks to my friend Rashid – has been a huge icebreaker. It’s given me hours of fun. I’m therefore a member of the Nkima red tailed monkey clan.
42. Uganda Conservation Foundation. Anti-poaching and human wildlife conflict – a.k.a. anything to do with elephants – is the mission of UCF, whom I volunteered with for nearly three years.
43. Uganda Museum. Dusty and under resourced, the Museum is still a gem. I’ve fallen for its charms.
44. Uganda souvenir map. This great fun project keeps my creative heart thumping. I’ve just created a new Uganda souvenir map gallery page on Facebook.
45. Uganda Waragi is a triple distilled ‘war gin.’ Handbag size bottles available ladies
46. Uglish. Otherwise known as Ugandan English, this language gives us – expats and Ugandans alike – endless laughs. I tried to keep a straight face when Janero told me he had “pregnanted his girlfriend.”
47. UWEC Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (once Entebbe Zoo) has a cafe overlooking the beach. Everything seems to be sold out by the time I get there – but the view’s worth it. You can see virtually all of Uganda’s big mammals at UWEC.
48. Vultures are ugly but our health depends on them. Fascinating!
49. Weather. Even when it rains, the sun comes out a few minutes later.
50. Writing Diary of a Muzungu has kept me occupied (when Ugandan TV couldn’t) and kept me sane(ish) when life hasn’t gone to plan. Thank you so much to everyone who reads this. You make the late nights and the missed week-ends all worthwhile.
50 reasons why I love Uganda – and I could have found more! So tell me what would be in your top 50 things you love about Uganda?
- I know my Ugandan friends will scream MATOKE! (steamed green banana – compulsory eating!)