It hit me like a brick wall…

This is a guest post written by Jessica Duren, a journalist, who joined us on our recent trip to Uganda.  She is writing weekly articles about the trip in her newspaper.  We will add each one as she writes them!
It hit me. Like a brick wall, it hit me. My first taste, and smell, of the country I so longed to visit. Urine. That’s the smell that permeated the air as I walked out of the Entebbe airport and entered Uganda, “The Pearl of Africa.”

The sky was dark, and so were the people. Two guards stood outside the airport door, armed with machine guns. I followed my team members into the black night, trying not to step in anything wet. With no lights and people scrambling to find their vehicles, the moment seemed to stop for just a second. I took it in with a deep breath, and a glimpse of fear came and went quickly. It was as if someone snapped his fingers and awoke me from this dreamlike episode.

“Welcome to Africa!”

I thought, and continued to make my way toward the 12-passenger van we would rely on for the next two weeks.

After a long drive, two plane rides and a layover that totaled 27 hours of travel, my eager anticipation for my first trip oversees turned to pure exhaustion. Despite my sleep deprivation, as we drove through the streets of Entebbe I wanted to see everything. The roads were filled with people and a vibrant night life. Cars lined the roadways, and honks rang out almost systematically.

Our first night was spent in a hotel just 20 minutes from the airport. We ate dinner once we arrived, although it was nearly 11 p.m., and we all felt stuffed from the very efficient flight attendants who continually brought us food. The first meal was a foreshadowing of what was to come, rice, beans, baked chicken, and potatoes.

After sleeping under a mosquito net for the first time, I awoke early, ready for the day. I drank coffee on the beach of Lake Victoria, located directly across from the hotel. The waters rushed the shore like an ocean and even the giant bugs hanging in the air couldn’t ruin the moment for me. Monkeys met us outside the hotel to give us all a good laugh as we began our journey north.
We spent the day traveling through Kampala, the capital city; Jinja, another larger city; and into the rural parts of Uganda. The poverty was greater than I imagined. Tin shacks piled on top of one another lined the streets and up the hills. Trash was thrown everywhere as children and animals alike stood knee-deep, searching. My heart had already begun to hurt as I gazed out the window of the van for five hours. Poverty like this doesn’t exist in America. If it does, we should be ashamed. As anywhere, socio-economic classes exist within the borders of Uganda. Behind the tin shacks were small concrete homes with small lawns. As I scanned the landscape back, the homes became bigger and more beautiful. The ones atop the highest hills were most elaborate. I wanted to ask how anyone could possibly live there, looking down at the starving. It made me angry, and then I remembered we do the same thing here. Instead of living directly behind the have-nots, we separate ourselves into special neighborhoods. If we don’t see the poverty, we can’t feel guilty.

My eyes were open and ready to learn, to soak up the culture as much as possible. The roads were bumpy and almost nonexistent past a certain point. People drove on both sides of the road, on the shoulder, wherever. The biggest vehicle has the right-of-way, and all others should view their honks as a warning.

We arrived at our next hotel in Soroti, where we would stay the following four nights. The next day we would visit our first village, Bukedea. I couldn’t wait for the best part of the trip to start. Anxious, I slept.

Part 2 to follow…..

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