Well, it is just over 2 weeks since I arrived in Uganda. I'm slowly getting used to the heat and the dust - it's very hot here at the moment, the temperature is usually between 30C - 33C and it's likely to remain so until about Feb/March time when the rain should come.
After arriving in Entebbe on an overnight flight from Heathrow on Dec 17th, I spent 4 days in Kampala. Unfortunately as soon as I arrived I got a throat and chest infection, which kind of wiped me out for the first week. After meeting Sallie, my employer and owner of the New Court View hotel where I'll be working, in Kampala, we arrived in Masindi, my base for the next 2 years on Sat 20th Dec. To say it was a bit of a culture shock is putting it mildly! The combinaton of heat, dust, crowds of people, very bumpy roads and what at first glance appears to be real poverty, added to the fact I wasn't feeling great, really overwhelmed me. Though I have to say that everyone has been really welcoming and helpful and I'm now starting to settle in.
Masindi is a fairly lively and busy town, with a population of about 15,000, though it seems so much more. It's the final town before reaching Murchison Falls, a national park and the Budongo Forest, so it has a trading post feel about it. The town centre has lots of shops most of which are quite small and it's often quite difficult to work out what they sell until you're actually in them. It has a daily market selling locally produced fruit, vegetable, fish, meat etc. and fabrics and second-hand clothes. I found the experience quite claustrophic and overwhelming when I first went as it's in quite a confined space, is very dusty and there seemed to be huge numbers of people milling around.
I moved into my new house on Christmas Eve - it's about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. It's got 2 bedrooms, living room, dining area, kitchen and bathroom with hot water and shower! I have a 2 ring small gas stove, which VSO gave me, but I'm hoping to buy a proper gas cooker and a fridge in Kampala in the next few weeks. It seemed very isolated at first as it's on quite a big plot and behind a secure fence and gate. I''ve attached some photos. It needs quite a bit of TLC but I'm sure in time it will start to feel like home. I'm gradually furnishing it with lots of hand-me-downs from previous VSO volunteers, just waiting to have a wardrobe and wooden framed sofa set made - it's very cheap to get furniture made here, it's not great quality, but if it lasts 2 years it'll be fine. I have an 'askari' or night gurad who works from 6pm to 7am, he's sits in a little hut and guards the compound and the house. Some of the askaris here are armed with rifles, though I've been told that a lot of the time they have no bullets, but my guard has a bow and a bundle of arrows!!! Apparently they are quite effective, though hopefully there won't be any need to try them out. Security takes a bit of getting used to here, I have to have padlocks on my front and back doors and the compound gate - it's quite safe but there's always some opportunist about ready to see what the latest 'muzungu' (white person) in town has that's worth taking. I'll probably get a day guard as well, as I'll be out most days at work. There's the belief that because you're white you must have money, but generally people are very friendly and most say hello and ask how you are, especially the children who shout out 'hello muzungu, how are you?' everytime you see them!
I spent Christmas Day at the hotel and along with Maggie cooked turkey, ham and all the trimmings for some of the local 'muzungus' living in Masindi and some friends of Sallie's. The smoked salmon and Christmas pudding I'd brought from the UK went down very well. We also had traditional Ugandan musicians and dancers on the night - I've attached some photos, but unfortunately they're not great.
Last night I went to a New Year's Eve party at the house of a German and English couple who work as chimp researchers at Nyabyeya Foresty College in the Budongo forest, which is about 45 mins drive from Masindi. We stayed over at a small guest house there as it's not safe to travel here in the dark. There were lots of local research and field asisstants there with their wives and children, the Ugandans like very loud music and love to dance and it was amazing to see women dancing around with small toddlers strapped to their backs!
I started work at the hotel this week, and am slowly getting my head around how things work. I've had some good meetings with Sallie (she's an ex-VSOer, who's been living in Uganda for the past 12 years), the staff and Maggie, who is the wife of Chris, a VSO doctor here in Masindi and she works at the hotel. The staff have been very welcoming and so far seem genuinely pleased that I'm here. I explained that my role is to train them and to professionalise their existing skills and to provide them with new ones. There's a lot of work to be done, as the working practices are quite basic, especially in the kitchen. As of next week I'm going to work along side the kitchen staff for the forseeable future to try and improve how they work and also implement some new systems and procedures. The kitchen is a good size, the equipment is 'so-so', the knives are shocking (!) and the overall lay-out needs a bit of redesigning, but the staff seem willing to try new things so time will tell how it works out......watch this space!
I'm going to Murchison Falls National Park, which is one of Uganda's largest protected areas, tomorrow with Chris, Maggie, Sallie and her friend Thelma. It's about 3 hours from Masindi and we're going to stay at the Nile Safari Lodge, which is on the banks of the Nile for 2 nights. It's supposed to be a really nice place, so I'm looking forward to it. It's possible to do an early morning game drive and a boat trip right up to the falls, so hopefully, I'll have lots of photos to put on my next posting.