Living in Kampala is not at all like how I thought it would be. With my expectations based almost solely on my previous trips to Sierra Leone, I was woefully unprepared for the glitzy shopping malls, fast food chains and huge supermarkets of Uganda’s capital city.
Of course it was necessary to try out a few of these luxuries, so without too much detail here are a few of the highlights I’ve enjoyed so far:
- ‘Terrific Tuesdays’ buy-one-get-one-free pizza at Nandos takeaway;
- Watching The Hobbit 2 in a 5D cinema with free popcorn and soda;
- Joining an orchestra and choir at Kampala Music School;
- Swimming at Rainbow international school;
- Making burgers with Michaela, an American volunteer also living at my host home; and
- Going to La Bonita theatre with my host mother on Valentines Day to watch the Ebonies theatre group.
It took a while to discover this side of Kampala, however, as my host home is in one of the cheaper ‘suburbs’ of Kampala, about a half hour taxi ride from the centre. Our house has ‘drop toilets’ or pit latrines, water comes from a standpipe so you shower with a jerry can (usually in the dark if you wash in the morning or evening) and all the food is cooked on a tiny charcoal stove just wide enough to hold a kettle or a saucepan (but not both so everything is cooked sequentially, which can take hours!)
That being said, at least we have electricity and proper iron beds – I’m always glad for the extra height when I wake up to suspicious rustlings in the night (so far I’ve found a large cockroach and a medium-sized lizard chilling out under there!)
And on a volunteer’s budget, it’s not really practical to indulge in Western luxuries, which can cost more here than in the UK and often leave you disappointed – like the time Michaela bought a wafer chocolate bar which looked and tasted more like stale bread than any chocolate I’ve ever eaten!
The Ugandan street food is much better in my opinion and ridiculously cheap: fried chapattis, half cakes, doughnuts, sticks of cassava, packets of groundnuts (peanuts), or fresh fruits like pineapple, mango, watermelon, bananas and jackfruit sell for 200-500 Ugandan shillings (around 10p). If you’re pushing the boat out, yoghurt and ice cream are also found nearly everywhere for a little less than 50p per pot!
I usually buy my breakfast from these stalls on my way to the office, which is a half hour walk from my house (45 mins if you go at Ugandan pace!) I could take a taxi or boda boda but I find it more interesting to walk, greeting the stall holders setting up for the morning, chatting with kids on their way to school and dodging the cows/goats/chickens along the way!
And I’m not lying about the cows…