There’s an intensity in the cities of East Africa, always someone yelling at you to buy a product, take their matatu, or visit their tour office. It’s lively, it’s loud, it’s colorful and it’s chaotic. Tribal peoples walk down the street next to muslim women in full veil, next to modern African women in home made clothes made of eye poppingly bright prints. The streets are enough to make you head spin, especially if you head out during twilight when the street vendors are out roasting meat, frying fish and fries on the sidewalk. It’s chaos and sometimes you just have to say “This is Africa.”
Uganda however, was lovely.
In a small wooden shack along a busy street in Kampala we stopped to look at a drum makers shop. Surprised to see mzungu‘s interested in his work, he proudly showed us his instruments, sharing with us unfinished products in the back of his store. The flimsy shack was dark and in the back near his workbench lay a well used mattress with a mosquito net. A small toddler ran around the place pantsless laughing as we beat each drum to hear its timber. Purchasing two drums, we hardly negotiated at all, him having given us a very fair price, and handed over the money into his astonished hands. Grabbing each of our hands between his, he thanked us profusely a large smile crossing his face expressing pure gratitude and pride.
For us, that experience was Uganda. Friendly, honest, genuine people trying to make it. Like so many countries in Africa, Uganda suffered under a brutal dictator, Idi Amain, the atrocities of whose regime we in the western world cannot truly grasp. Any yet, unlike so many other places in Africa, there spirit of the people has not been broken. Ugandans were for the most part, hopeful for the future, looking forward to expanding and growing. Government corruption wasn’t accepted as a way of life, as it has been in so many African countries, and we saw examples of growth all over the country. In so many developing countries we’ve seen the negative side of international aid – governments that stop providing services for their citizens because the NGO’s do it, communities which have been handed things for so long that they’ve lost the will to do it themselves, people who expect to be given rather than work, but we didn’t feel this at all in Uganda. In our short time in the country, we found the atmosphere to be the opposite and in that sense it felt more prosperous that some of the larger, wealthier countries we’ve been in.
That’s not to say that Uganda doesn’t have its fair share of problems- and it does- but its a wonderful country and for us one of the best travel destinations so far in Africa.