My first two weeks in Uganda were a bit hectic. We arrived in Kampala late at night, after what felt like an endless flight, and I immediately felt the heaviness of the humidity. That has since disappeared, however, and I really enjoyed it. I actually like humid conditions. It was challenging dealing with jet-lag during the first week; I found myself exhausted during the early to mid-day and wide awake in early hours of the morning.
We stayed the first few nights in Kampala, where our mentor, Dr. Brodine introduced us to her Ugandan colleagues and the busy city. There were numerous restaurants with delicious (international) food. We traveled to Jinja, a smaller city in the southern region of Uganda, to visit other students from SDSU who are doing research here this summer. Together, we went to lunch and took a boat ride on the Nile river. The Nile actually begins in Jinja, from Lake Victoria, so we were able to see the actual source of the Nile, an area where some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were scattered.
By the time we visited Jinja, I had learned that navigating the traffic in Kampala can be challenging. There are very few street lights, and almost no road signs. I often felt like the only rule is simply to drive on the left side of the road. We had been in the country less than a week and I had already been in two car collisions (bumps). Traffic in Kampala, referred to as the “Jam” by locals, can be severe and can cause major delays. Because of this, distances are always given in Kilometers, rather than time.
As part of our cultural MHIRT experience, Dr. Brodine, took us to Murchinson National Park located in the north western region of the country. The drive was long but provided a chance to see the country. We drove on and on, through towns and villages, often having to stop for cattle crossing. Murchison was truly amazing. We were away from the city smog and immersed in the beauty of East African nature and wildlife. We woke up early to explore the park with a guide. We saw numerous animals; including lions, giraffes, hippos, water buffalo, Ugandan kob, hartebeest, baboons, numerous birds, and crocodiles. My favorite were the warthogs. They were often moving in families or groups and when startled or moving fast they would put their tails straight up! We also took another boat ride on the Nile to check out the falls (which the park is named after) where we saw more elephants, hippos, birds, and crocodiles.
Next, we headed to the eastern region of the country where Dr. Brodine dropped us off at our different research sites. It was another long drive, that provided more views of the country. This time, I noticed different campaigns along the route-signs aiming to keep young girls in school and increase HIV testing and treatment awareness. These signs reminded me of the drinking and driving signs we see in the United States.