Thursday, June 19, 2014

First full day in Kampala!

Hi there,

My name is Christina and I am here in Uganda with our group from Groton.  I thought I would briefly introduce myself- I graduated from Groton in 2012 and that summer traveled to Kampala and Rukungiri with school as well.  I had the absolute time of my life on the trip experiencing very new and different cultural things from the language spoken to the local food we ate.  I fell in love with the sincerity and kindness of the people here and jumped when the opportunity arose to return as an alum.  It is so exciting to be back and with such a fabulous group of students; I am thrilled by all this trip has to offer and am looking forward to being able to share this adventure with our students and teachers.

Yesterday was a long, long day but after hours of transit, we finally arrived in Entebbe to balmy warm weather a little wearier than when we began!  I met the group in Brussels and from there we traveled to Uganda where we met two more of our trip leaders and organizers from Venture Uganda with a very warm welcome.  We had a brief hour bus ride to our hotel and then turned in for a night of much needed sleep.  We were all so impressed with how smooth the trip went.  The flights were great and we all made it to the Minister's Hotel in Kampala tuckered out but happy to have finally arrived.

We got off to a reasonable start today with breakfast at the hotel and a brief run-through of the itinerary and some tips and advice about our stay here.  After breakfast we made our way to a nearby shopping mall where a few students picked up some snacks for the road tomorrow and some foreign chocolates etc.  The big hit was Stoney's- a very spicy version of ginger ale which everyone wanted to try.  It was eye-opening to see a foreign grocery store and to experience the life around it.  We all noticed the mix of people and cultures- both local and expat- walking around the mall and it was fun to be in a place with similar tendencies to home but which was, on the whole, entirely different.

We then made our way to lunch- a nice medley of Ugandan delicacies.  We tried matoke (plantains) and millet, a starch with a gooey consistency which always gets mixed reviews!  After a delicious meal we traveled to the Nakawa Market, the highlight of everyone's day.  It was great to hear during our recap tonight of the day and our opinions and reactions to our experiences how much the market mattered to most.  A lot of students commented on some aspect of it- some talked about vendors, others the display of goods.  The market itself was quite something to see.  It was bustling with men and women bartering from their stalls decked with umbrellas and overhanging tarps.  Little kids too young to be in school sat on their mother's laps as they peeled plantains for the infamous matoke dish cooked in banana leaves and customers drifted in and out.  I was struck by all the colours of the market- there were enormous burlap sacks filled with what Ugandans call ground-nuts or peanuts in a deep red colour alongside beans in greens, orange tones and reds.  We met a lot of very excited Ugandans who were quick to start a conversation.  I think everyone enjoyed the friendliness, something that will only continue to follow us during this trip.  Ugandans are naturally very warm and I remember loving this; the connections we were able to make with locals in Rukungiri had such an impact on my time here and my life since then.  Those connections are certainly a huge part of my desire to come back this summer.

After the market, we came back to the hotel for a language lesson in the local Rukungiri dialect.  We learned how to greet each other with the generic Agandi (hello how are you?) and njeye (I'm hoping I got my spelling right here!  This means fine), not to mention webare (thank you!)  We will continue to work on our language skills as we gear up for our two weeks in southwestern Uganda.

On the whole, today was exciting.  The kids have gone up to sleep at this stage after a long and busy few days.  We had a quiet evening at the hotel with a nice dinner and some ice breakers after lots of sharing and recapping of the day.  It was so gratifying for me to see how much everyone enjoyed jumping right in and experiencing Ugandan culture here in the capital first hand.  I am so proud of the students for their open minds and willingness to learn- it is not easy to step out of a lifestyle you've grown accustomed to at home and into one that is completely unparalleled.  A few people noticed how we got some looks and stood out which I think are all parts of this experience, of our time here.  It is new to be in a visible minority bracket and we will continue to feel that throughout this trip.  But, that said, while I am glad that we can all openly talk about how we feel and the sensations we gathered from the day, there is so much more to come!  Tomorrow we embark on our journey south to Rukungiri- here's to a great trip!  More to come when we get to Jim's House tomorrow evening.  In the meantime I'd like to post a few pictures thanks to Grace who took them today while we were out and about.

Bye for now,

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