After spending 2 weeks in a rural village near the Rwenzori Mountains, we traveled back to Kampala, Uganda – one of the biggest (and most populated) cities in Uganda, for 2 and a half weeks.
When we got to explore Kampala – it was like watching everything we’d spent a semester studying – a complex culture and society, a language, a way of living – come to life. To me, the city was beautiful, despite all the things that would make many others turn away.
Kampala is BIG, and while we worked and explored different parts of the city, our group stayed in a home right in the middle of a district called Kabalagala – (that means “pancake” in Luganda) which is located next to the Katwe slum. It was this stark contrast that we saw every day – we lived in a home that was protected by a gate and even had electricity some days and then would walk outside the gate and be confronted with poverty and reality.
Have you ever seen the movie Queen of Katwe? We actually watched parts of it in class, as we spent a whole semester preparing for this trip. The movie is fine – it contains glimpses of Ugandan culture mixed with the very American ideal that you can do anything regardless of social status, economic position, or upbringing. But it gave us a glimpse of what we’d see, and at the time, it was just the taste we needed.
In reality, the slums surrounding the city were something we saw every single day, without the lenses of Hollywood or the glamor of Disney productions. We met real people who lived there and learned about the effect it has on their lives.
Uganda lacks a realistic trash disposal service, and when we were in Kampala, we’d pass by on the streets it wasn’t uncommon to see piles of trash every few steps – it’s simply their reality to throw a bottle or wrapper on the ground when they had finished with it. We’d drive through the city on the way to work with an organization called EDUKEY Gender Support, and there would be smog in the air, smoke from burning trash that would burn our throats.
We’d buy breakfast on the side of the street – almost always a Rolex which is a fried egg on Chapati, usually from Ronald’s rolex stand up the road from our house – and hope we didn’t get sick. We did a lot of walking – a car is a luxury the average citizen doesn’t have – and our shoes were quickly stained by the red dirt roads. We spent 6 weeks without air conditioning or cell service and yet I reveled in every single moment, even the hard ones.
And despite all of that… I loved this city anyway. I loved it for all that it was, and even all that it wasn’t. There were always people everywhere – people with stories filled with pasts and futures that I knew nothing about. Shop owners trying to find enough money to survive. Teenagers laughing on their way to school. Kids out playing until dark. The beauty of conversations and stories and the love that was so prevalent in their lives. The kids we’d meet who, at age 12, have seen and learned and experienced more than me, who were forced to grow up far too soon. I was constantly struck by how human we all are, with feelings and passion and the capacity to love. People are people, everywhere – that’s something that does translate across all cultures.
Junior, English Major