Weeraba means goodbye in Luganda, and even though I have said it a thousand times here in Uganda, today it is especially hard. I am wrapping up my last week of my semester and getting ready to catch a flight back to the US. I can’t believe that it’s December, and that I have to leave Uganda so soon. It has been a truly incredible semester. I love the scenery, people, culture, food, academics, and nature of Uganda. I am excited to see my family, but I am definitely not ready to leave this country.
This last week has been amazing. Academics ended last week for us, so we spent this whole week together as a program in Murchison Falls National Park. On the first day we went on a boat safari on the Nile to the base of the falls. We saw elephants and giraffes grazing on the banks, while crocodiles and hippos swam in the shallows. The hippos were some of my favorite animals that we saw on the trip. The falls were beautiful from the bottom and on our way back we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets over the Nile that I have ever experienced.
We went on a total of three game drives that were all incredible. We saw over 50 giraffes every time we went out. They are such cool animals and I love to watch them lumber over the savannah. We also saw a bunch of elephants, various herd animals, monkeys, beautiful birds, and a leopard. The leopard was my favorite animal we saw because we were able to watch it run for a long time across a plain. It moved so fast and with such graze that is was mesmerizing.
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In Ugandan culture, it is customary to invite guests to your house for extremely large and delicious meals. Everyone here feeds us so well and you eat until you feel like you are going to explode at most meals. Even at restaurants food is cheap and comes in huge portions. A full plate of rice with meat and steaming sauce usually costs about 7,000 Ugandan shillings, which is equal to about 2 US dollars. Typical meals consist of a base like rice, cassava, Irish potatoes, matoke, or posho, and then a meat like chicken, beef, or goat, and a sauce that is either meat or ground nut based. Whatever combination of these dishes you get, your meal is bound to be delicious.
One of the most common base dish is matoke, which is my personal favorite. Matoke is essentially large, unsweet, green bananas, similar to plantains, that are cooked and mashed. While doing a rural homestay in Eastern Uganda, I got the chance to learn how to make this tasty traditional dish. First you must remove the thick peel with a knife and wash the sticky matoke. Once they’re clean you line an aluminum bowl with the lush green banana leaves and fill them with the matoke.
Next you make sure that they are wrapped tightly in the leaves and place the bowl and place it on a traditional mud oven. You know it’s ready when you begin to see steam and the leaves just barely turn black. Let it cool until you can touch it, then you can knead the leaves to mash and mix the matoke. At the end, you are left with a hearty meal base that is about the consistency of mashed potatoes.
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I have never been a soccer fan; when people say football, I think of my favorite team, the Broncos, and fond memories of NFL Sundays. Despite this, the Uganda vs. Egypt World Cup Qualifier that we went to a few weeks ago was one of my favorite things we’ve done so far.
All 15 of us on my program got general entry tickets, and armed with the knock-off jerseys and vuvuzelas that we bought from street vendors, we blasted pump up music and made our way slowly through the typical Kampala traffic to the Nelson Mandela Stadium. The swarms around us heading to the stadium turned the usually lively streets into a living Ugandan flag of red, black, and yellow as everyone pushed their way up the paths to the stadium sporting their country’s colors.
Once we were inside the stadium, the real fun started. Everywhere we go in this country, shouts of “Muzungu,” the local term for any non-African, follow us, but the stadium was a whole other level. We couldn’t even walk ten feet to grab a soda without Ugandan’s stopping us to take selfies of the muzungus in bright red Ugandan jerseys. Everyone was excited to see us and the energy in the air was electric. The whole stadium was general seating, so we found some spots near the back, where there was less attention drawn to us, to make our base.
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First things first, you need to understand that taxis here are not quaint yellow private cars like in the US. They are cramped white and blue vans that function as the country’s public transportation. To get where you want to go on them you need to know the general direction of your location and the nearest taxi stage that has vans going that way. There are never any signs and conductors often don’t speak English so even this first step can be a challenge. Make sure you ask a Ugandan friend for directions before setting off.
When you find your stage, you will probably have to wait a while for one to show up. While you wait men on motorcycle taxis called boda bodas will drive up and try to get you to go with them. Bodas are faster than taxis, but are more expensive and get in frequent accidents, so it is better to wait for your taxi.
Eventually a taxi will pull up and a conductor will slide the door open, jump out and start shouting at everyone to try and fill the van. Go up to him and clearly say where you are going. If he says no then wait for another, if he says yes then you can push your way onto the crowded taxi.
If you get the chance to pick your seat try to avoid the front two rows because the drivers and conductors often pickpocket distracted riders. As you squeeze your way to the back you will most likely bang your knee, head, or catch your skirt on something so be careful. Each of the four rows has three seats, but there are usually four people in every one so make sure you leave all concepts of personal space at the door. If you’re not sure about your land marks, try to sit in a window seat so you can watch for your stop.
...continue reading "How To: Take a Taxi in Uganda"