The Smell of Africa
Upon arrival in Entebbe (the airport for Kampala is actually in Entebbe, the old capital city which is 45 minutes from Kampala), I knew I was definitely back in Africa. It wasn’t because as a white woman I was in the minority, but rather it was the smell. On the drive to Kampala and my hotel, I was trying to figure out how to describe the smell and all I could come up with was the following: the smell is akin to driving in the country past a bonfire in which the burning scent fills your car and your nose. Yes, Africa smells like a bonfire.
As much as the smell is somewhat of a homecoming, it is also a reminder of the many troubles facing Africa as Uganda, like many other countries in Africa, burns its garbage in order to manage its waste. But, this isn’t about the environment or ethics, but rather my “welcome home.”
My previous experience in Africa was in Tanzania, mainly as a tourist operating out of Arusha, a small town near Kilimanjaro. In comparison with Arusha, which had dirt roads, no hi-rise buildings and only one supermarket, Kampala is the exact opposite. The center of Kampala is at the base of several hills which are actually different neighborhoods. The city has a number of hi-rise hotels and office buildings, paved roads, private gardens, a mall and a movie theater (which is currently playing Indiana Jones and Sex in the City). All this modernization adds to the complexity of the city, which in turn has left me trying to figure out how to get around!
However, my confusion and apprehension have been abated by the friendliness of the Ugandans. The smiles of Ugandans I meet on the street are quite welcoming as are the many greetings I have received of “you’re welcome” upon entering a restaurant or any place for that matter. This definitely helps combat the bit of homesickness I am currently suffering from – missing my family, friends and of course my adorable cat, Maddie (my support network).
I realize, however, that these smiles are not without strife. For example, my taxi driver last night spent much of the ride talking to me about Kampala, telling me about all the amazing restaurants (I am a gourmand) and overall sharing his love for the city and country. He then explained that his two children want to go to school but he cannot afford to send them as it costs around $3000 US dollars each year per child, even more for some occupations such as law. His daughter is very driven and scored a 22 on her tests (not sure what that is out of) but, the cutoff for government financial aid is a 24 leaving her without financial support and therefore unable to continue school for this year. My driver is hopeful, however, that next year she will be able to return. Unfortunately, her brother who struggles a bit more with his studies (he scored a 15) will not be able to return to school as the family can only afford to send one child and his performance does not show as much promise as that of his sister.
My cab driver is just one of the many people I hope to meet during my tenure here. It is also a reminder why I chose to come and work here – to help those who have a vision and a drive to succeed, but may not have enough available capital to do so. I just hope that as I start work later this week, I can also start to make an impact.
So, as I begin each day smelling Africa I know I am not at home in the US, but am assured that I am here for the right reasons and that through the friendliness of the Ugandans this will hopefully soon feel like home!/>