It occurred to me that I’ve now been in Uganda for two weeks and I’ve yet to write anything about what I’m actually doing here.
First off, my living arrangements. I’m staying in a house that has been in the hands of one graduate student or another for years. The Ugandans in the area – Nguru – where we are staying know it is as the “Mzungu House”; basically, the “white people” house, an oasis of wealth in a sea of poverty. Even though the five-or-so constantly rotating residents are students, so not particularly wealthy, we employ three people full-time. We have a maid that does our dishes and laundry and cleans, and two round-the-clock guards. (Plus an extremely racist guard dog named Pasha that some how grew up in Uganda hating Ugandan people). The interior of the house is quite nice, but there are limits to the extent to which we can wall ourselves off from the reality of life in Kampala: we still don’t have consistent power or hot water, and we still sleep under mosquito nets.
Outside, though, our neighborhood is very mixed; on our street, there is a row of well kept, nice houses and then a market that is surrounded by haphazardly nailed together one-room shanties occupied by squatters. Even though we are close to the center of Kampala, our roads are dirt (and really bad dirt roads at that) and it probably goes without saying that few of our neighbors have running water or power. It’s very strange to be in a city of 1.2 million people and have cows, chickens, and goats everywhere, but they make a constant, loud animal symphony (which is mixed in with calls to prayer from the nearby mosque, which are actually really cool except at 5 a.m.) We are also lucky to be near several elementary schools, so in the morning when we leave for work there are children in adorable uniforms who line the road to gawk at us, chanting “Mzungu! Mzungu!” I think if I could have a Ugandan baby (not half-Ugandan, only whole Ugandan) I would be willing to have children – they are incredibly cute.
We have been working pretty much non-stop since we got here, writing surveys and developing protocols for the economic games we’re playing. Our workdays have been at least 12-hours, so I’ve gotten out very little (hence the lack of pictures). We did get a chance to visit the Kasubi Tombs where the former Bagandan monarchs are buried, but they were somewhat of a disappointment, since they are supposedly Kampala’s main tourist attraction and were really just a few thatched huts.
It’s very safe here. Uganda has been described to me as “baby Africa” – a low key, stable place in Africa that is a nice respite from tourist-infested locales like Kenya. I walk around at night with a laptop in my bag and it doesn’t phase me. I’ll hop on a boda when the driver doesn’t speak English, and can confidently assume that, although I will probably mispronounce the name of where we are going, which will leave us to get horrendously lost, nothing really bad is going to happen.
Kampala is a cool city. It was built by British colonialists on seven hills, making it a bit like Rome, a comparison enhanced by the ridiculously nice village in which all variety of white ex-patriates live. When I first arrived, I thought the air quality was terrible because it’s hazy all the time, but I’m now fairly convinced it’s fog. Although Kampala has horrible traffic, it’s a factor of the fact that – as one Ugandan told me – “they built these roads when no one thought a black man would ever drive a car.” Even the biggest boulevards are no more than two lanes, making travel by motorcycle a must (you can cut between cars!)
I’m heading out into the field now. Ironically, I think that now the logistics are situated, I’m actually going to have time to update this occasionally, thanks to the bizarre fact that I get internet anywhere in Uganda when I can’t even get on half of Princeton’s campus.