First GHE Interns’ First Ugandan Impressions

We are Mari and Niels, 25 and 23 years old and both students of International Cooperation at UCLL in Belgium, ready for our Ugandan adventure at Lake Bunyonyi. These are our first impressions from the country, after a week of acclimatisation in Entebbe and the first week on the ground at the lake. 

Mari:

After a long but comfortable flight I arrived in Entebbe airport in the middle of the night on the 23th of January together with a group of Belgian students. My visa hadn’t been accepted yet as I was a bit late with the application. When I told that to the woman behind the high desk, she gave me this look… I didn’t hear her squawking because she was behind double glass, but I imagine she did squawk. She sent me to the back without further explanation and I ended up waiting for three hours before they returned with my approved visa.

When I eventually got out of the airport building, the driver was still waiting for me to bring us to ViaVia [external link] where I was going to stay the coming week. Driving out of the airport there was a huge Pepsi sign welcoming us to “the Pearl of Africa”. It was 4am and it was pitch black out but I glued my nose to the window searching for any piece of information that I could take in. I had barely slept in the last two days but still I felt all this built up energy running through my veins. The realization that this new adventure had finally begun, the excitement to get to know a new country, meet new people, try out new dishes. When my head finally touched the soft pillows of the ViaVia I fell into a deep peaceful sleep.

At ViaVia I was able to do some wildlife watching even without leaving the premises. On the second evening when we were having another drink after dinner, we were alerted by Maximus (Pieter’s giant but well-behaved dog) that a little genet cat was hunting in one of the trees. The poor animal was probably looking for bird eggs but instead she found a group of humans and a large dog starring at her and waving a flash light in her eyes for half an hour. However, it left me with some good pictures to impress the family at home.

I was a little surprised by the initial contact with the Ugandan people, as our taxi driver did not say more than two words despite my inviting greetings and questions. The people I had met seemed a bit reserved and wary at first. However, when I got to talking a bit more with some people from ViaVia I learned quickly that Ugandans are generally very friendly and welcoming if you give them a chance to warm up a bit. I can genuinely say that I already made some friends…

After a couple of days of strict quarantine and chill, we finally got the chance to do some sightseeing in beautiful Entebbe. Our first trip was going to be to the botanical garden and I was a bit disappointed at first, because I was more excited to explore the animated streets and markets of Entebbe that I had been reading about. However, I learned quickly that a botanical garden in Uganda is not what it is in Belgium. When we reached the banks of Victoria Lake where people were hanging out, having a barbecue, dancing to some upbeat music and taking a swim.

The next day we also did a sunset boat cruise on the lake which was really such an amazing experience and it ended perfectly when we were able to spot a shoebill patiently and graciously watching its soon to be next meal. 

Niels:

The next part of our journey started on Sunday very early in the morning. Together with Brent who was going to a placement in Kabale Town, we left ViaVia at 7.30 under a clear and gentle sun, ready for a long ride. Along the way, we had two stopovers, one at a petrol station for a modest breakfast and a second one 5 hours later in Kabale Town, to withdraw some cash and, in my case, to buy an MTN SIM card. Despite our fears of a long and tiring journey, we arrived earlier than expected and didn’t encounter any issues on the way – apart from a small meeting with a police officer, partly thanks to our driver, John, and the great state of the roads.

The first impressions of Lake Bunyonyi were amazing, each bend that we passed revealed another breathtaking view and we got a warm welcome from Brenda, our manager. We got a small tour of the site and got briefed about our program for the next two days. Then, our top guide Owen took us to a local bar for a drink, after which we enjoyed some much-needed rest. 

Day one of our internship started with a delicious rolex at 8am. Afterwards, we packed our bags and prepared to leave for an exciting two-day trip. We left Edirisa by foot and walked to Rutinda, a close-by market for fresh food (we approve of the pineapple), clothes and other useful items. We were also invited to a local bar where we tried a local brew. Obushera, made of sorghum, is served in huge cups which many people share. Unfortunately, our Western taste buds found this not so delicious as the pineapples. 

From there we continued via canoe to Anna’s place, who taught us how to make beautiful bracelets. The last trip of the day was a 30-minutes canoe ride to Tom’s Island. Tom is a vibrant and colourful islander, very generous and welcoming towards any visitors. Once again, we enjoyed a nice meal, after which we conversed around the campfire before setting up our tents for the night. 

The second day started even earlier, with breakfast at 7am with a great view of the sunrise from our little island. After breakfast we quickly packed and rushed into our canoe to get back to Edirisa and meet our boda boda guys. We were taken on another lengthy ride on the backs of motorcycles, curling around the many hills and mountain tops of the lake until we reached Echuya Forest, home to the Batwa, the ancient tribe of Pygmy people who had lived there.

Their chief guided us to the Holy Place in the forest, introduced us to the community and gave us an express class in archery. We resumed our travel and headed to Kabale Town, exploring the town centre and its (super)markets. The last stop in town was the Bakiga museum by Festo Karwemera, where Owen gave us an extensive explanation about the local culture. 

We got back to Edirisa at 7pm, accompanied by a setting sun, revealing the Muhavura volcano rising above the lake’s terraced hills. We got home to sweet crayfish and quickly fell asleep after two interesting, but physically exhausting days.  

The next day we were allowed some rest, until Miha called in the afternoon to welcome us again and we discussed some topics of work we could start on. After doing some afternoon work and preparations Brenda now took us for a drink in a neighbouring restaurant, after which we returned home and went to bed. 

These were our first days at Lake Bunyonyi, which was full of pleasant surprises, good food and warm-hearted people. Today we had our first rain and we can’t wait for our adventure to further develop!

photo by Mari Goossen

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      1. Ha ha, we wish but that’s not gonna happen any time soon i think. hopefully when they lift the lockdown i might come and have a taste.

  1. Tom of Tom’s Homestay is an absolute legend! So thrilled that we got to camp at his place one night. Honey will never taste the same as the way he served it to us: fresh (with the honeycomb still in it) in a large bucket.
    Welcome to Uganda!

  2. It is Johanna!!- great to see a photo of him, he hasn’t changed. It’s a cool story of your lives there ! ha ha
    Sorry about the immigration impression of Uganda. Yes! Ugandans are fun & cool people but watch out for the ones that might ask for small cash until you are out of cash!
    Give the kids pencils and not money 🙂

    @Oven Thanks for showing the volunteers around.I hope you ate some things from “ovens” too

    1. Hmm, don’t give the kids anything. If you have pencils, give them to the teachers to distribute… 😉😉😉

  3. Hi Mari & Nils. Nice to see that you’re feeling so settled already! Miha asked me to provide some feedback on your photography, which I’m happy to do – but not sure whether you’d prefer it in a message or here, publicly. 😊

    1. Hi Marcus! Nice to (virtually) meet you, I would say a private message might be better, what way do you prefer?