A Change In Scenery

Prequel: I’m Scott Romeiser and I am a sophomore chemistry major at ESU. This summer I got the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Uganda. Below is a summery of my trip.

Nearly every person dreams of going to Africa, however, very few actually get the opportunity to experience one of the most underdeveloped, mysterious, and stereotyped places in the world; the Dark Continent. The six weeks I’ve spent in Uganda (in Eastern Africa) have (dare I say it) been the best weeks of my life. In this long-awaited blog entry, I will highlight what my group and I did during our stay in Uganda.

Once our 24+ hours of transit were over and we were finally in Uganda, we stayed in Red Chilli Hostel, which is basically a hotel for confused foreigners who need to get acclimated to the country in a western-ish environment before they continue into the bush. During our first day in Uganda, we went to the largest slum in all of Uganda, Namuwongo. Really all I can say about the slums is that it’s a bunch of shacks that are so close together that people are literally living on top of each other. There is no plumbing, there is no sanitation, there is no school; but what the slum does have is a brothel. Fun fact, my tour guide for the slum tour, Rebecca (she is 14), called the brothel a “club” and I was like “do you go to the club?” (thinking that it was like Brickyard or Bourbon Cowboy in Emporia) then she told me that it was a place for prostitution and other bad things. Interestingly enough, Rebecca told me that you had to be 30 to get into the “club”; however, I know for a fact that that is not the case because teenagers (or even younger girls) make up the bulk of the prostitutes. Basically, in summary, American’s lawnmowers are housed in better conditions than the thousands of people living in the slums.

The next day we started the 14-hour (it was supposed to be 8 hours) trek to Ruboni Village in Western Uganda, situated in the middle of the Rwenzori Mountains. During our journey, we crossed the equator twice, ate some sketchy goat, and watched one of our chaperones puke out of a moving vehicle because of the sketchy goat. Once we got to Ruboni, we went to the community camp and crashed in our surprisingly comfortable beds.

The Rwenzori Mountains are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The steep sloped mountains poke into the clouds. There are areas on these mountains that seem inhabitable, however, nearly every inch of land is cultivated.

There is a stark contrast to the beauty of the mountains. The people of Ruboni live in mud houses with a thatch or metal roofs. The houses are normally one room and they are very small—about the size of a dorm room. The people have to fetch water from a well and carry it to their house (walking up to 3 kilometers uphill) then once they get it to their house, they have to boil it. The people also have to produce all of the food they eat—they grow maize, matoke, bananas, potatoes, and pumpkin and have to raise chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs, and cows (if they are rich) to survive. The people only have one income (unless they have a special skill like blacksmithing or tailoring) which is coffee, the only cash crop in the area. Harvesting coffee is not an easy task, and the price they sell it for is practically nothing. The next time I drink a cup of Ethiopian coffee at Starbucks I’ll remember the sacrifices a person made, just so I could spend an outrageous amount of money on a cup of coffee I don’t even need.

After spending 2 weeks in the Rwenzori Mountains, we traveled 14 hours to Murchison National Park via dirt road. We visited the most powerful waterfall in the world, Murchison Falls, boated on the Nile, and went on Safari. The entire park was so beautiful. While we were staying in the park (our hotel was of course Red Chilli) Hippos would roam around the grounds and scare all of the white people—it’s interesting, the entire time we were in the park, it was like we were not in Africa anymore. There were so many white people and honestly, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because all of the white people weren’t being sensitive to Ugandan culture. Literally the park was full of little kids not respecting their elders, public displays of affection, and booty shorts. The entire reason we were in Uganda was to experience the cultures of the country and the fact that the park was a place where there was no culture honestly shocked me and I didn’t like it. Oh well, at least the safari was cool.

After 2 days on safari we went to Kampala, the largest city in Uganda, where we would spend the last 3 weeks of our time in Uganda.

We stayed in a house that we rented. By Americas standards, it would be a good starter home, however, by Ugandan standards, it’s luxury seeing as a huge portion of the country lives in “homes” with no plumbing.

While in Kampala we helped with the facilitation of Edukey Gender Support Organization and we also did some touristy things like swim in Lake Victoria and white water raft the Nile!

At the end of our stay, it was very hard to tell all of the people we’ve made connections with goodbye, especially the kids. Actually, in hind sight, it wasn’t hard at all to tell people goodbye, I was so ready to leave and see my family. What was hard was the realization that I could leave this country. I could leave this place of gender suppression. I could leave this country with rampant pollution. I could leave this country where there are many infectious diseases that are present. I could leave this country where the standard of living is impossible to fathom. I could leave this country where the victim of sexual assault is silenced. I could leave this country where starvation is a huge issue. I could leave this country where an education is not a right but a privilege. I could leave this country that has corruption in its government. I could leave, but the friends I’ve made couldn’t. I’m privileged enough to be able to go to a developing country, see how these people live, and then leave, never to return. Do you know how messed up that is? This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to come to terms with. I will dig deeper into the realm of privilege in a later blog.

All in all, I’m glad I got to go to Uganda and I will remember the experiences I’ve had for the rest of my life.

ruboni

Picture: this was the view I woke up to every morning for two weeks. Ruboni Village, Uganda.

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