Three experiences that taught me a thing or two about Ugandan culture

Two days of travel, two days of briefings. We’ve learned about the important international development work of the Canadian Co-operative Association, the history and mandate of the Ugandan Cooperative Alliance, and the goals of the Integrated Finance and Agriculture Project. The team has hashed out ideas for gathering and sharing compelling content. We’ve started bonding and we already have inside jokes. And today we’re heading to Masindi to begin our work.

After our briefing yesterday we revisited the Orange store to upgrade or fix our Internet connection sticks (can you tell I’m not a techie? I have no idea what those things are really called) and our SIM cards. Although this took longer than expected I was happy to conduct this type of transaction as it gave me another view into life in Kampala. Our driver waited for us for nearly an hour so we gave him a great tip. He even helped us cross the street, which is a major undertaking in Kampala – akin to a live game of Frogger at high speed.

Orange store in Kampala

View from the Orange store in Kampala

We next visited a craft market where I picked up souvenirs for my nephews and nieces. The shopkeepers were nice, each saying, “You are welcome into my store.” They were not too pushy and had a good sense of humour about bargaining. I’ve noticed that humour is a big part of my conversations with Ugandans, and I’ve never heard the word “welcome” so often as I have in the last two days.

Shop at Ugandan craft market

Shop at Ugandan craft market

Next we visited the Gaddafi National Mosque. From the minaret of the mosque is a lovely panoramic view of Kampala that is worth every one of the 308 steps you must climb. The women on our team had to cover their hair but Jim didn’t (Rolf stayed at the hotel). Our guide was really nice and answered every one of our questions about the mosque and Islam quite candidly.

View of Kampala from Gaddafi National Mosque

View of Kampala from Gaddafi National Mosque

Team learning at Gaddafi National Mosque

Team learning at Gaddafi National Mosque

Rayanne, Karen, Adele, Deborah and Lacey at Gaddafi Mosque

(Left to right) Rayanne, Karen, Adele, Deborah and Lacey at Gaddafi Mosque


Reunited (and it feels so good)

At long last, (two whole days), I’ve connected to wi-fi. It’s been hard for me to be cut off from the Internet and I’m grateful to Rolf for figuring out that my room number was preventing my connection to the hotel’s server. (I was going to call this post “I love Rolf Traichel” but since he’s married, I thought I’d better not.)

Yesterday another CCA volunteer, John, took Cindy, Jenn and I for a walk through old Kampala, which is teeming with people. I now understand why some newcomers to Canada push their way through crowds. If you didn’t do so here you simply wouldn’t get anywhere, and I pushed along with everyone else.

The photo below and attached video are of a matatu park in old Kampala. Gotta run – it’s time for another team briefing from CCA.

Matatu park in Kampala

Matatu park in Kampala

The day that ended with pasta wine

Today the team and I met for breakfast under the trees outside the Speke Hotel. Then we walked to the Uganda Cooperative Alliance offices for a briefing. It was interesting and everyone here is so nice. I’ve just met these people and already I know I’ll miss them in two weeks.

On the team with me are leaders Laurie Tennian and Karen Timoshuk with the Canadian Co-operative Alliance, and Lacey Chyz, Rayanne Brennan, Cindy Corrigan, Jim Harris, Adele McGuire, Jennifer Nelson, Rolf Traichel. All super committed to co-operatives and funny, smart people as well.

I have stories to tell but my Internet connection isn’t working and continuing to use mobile will cost me a lot. I bought a dongle and SIM card from Orange but my laptop isn’t recognizing it and I’ll have to hope I can stop in there again for them to fix it. Thank goodness for Bell and cellular roaming.

We had a fun dinner together at the Speke Hotel. My wine tasted like pasta, which fueled an already funny conversation between people who were slaphappy from fatigue. And speaking of fatigue, I’ve had only a few hours sleep in three days, and my bed is calling to me. Goodnight!

police stations in Kampala

Police station across the street from UCA

Colour me OMG (and tired and wired)

OMG, I’m in Africa! We landed in Entebbe and took a bus to the Speke Hotel about two hours ago (a wild ride with some interesting traffic moves, but that just added to everything). It’s dark but nevertheless my first views of Entebbe and Kampala were so exciting. I’ll try to do them justice but not tonight; I have to wake up in three hours for breakfast and a cultural briefing, and I’ve already been awake for 35 hours. (Did I mention that my first flight was cancelled? Thankfully WestJet rerouted me through Edmonton and so, four flights later, I’m here.)

I’ve spent the last hour unpacking and doing battle with both wi-fi and a rogue mosquito. My hotel room is very basic but clean, and the hotel staff is so nice.

But before I sign off, I have to announce another OMG moment: I watched the sun set over the Sahara Desert through the plane window. Wow, wow, wow.


Put me in a metal tube and launch me into the sky

This is it: The Big Day. I’m blogging now from Vancouver International Airport, where I’ve just downed a California omelette to help my stomach deal with the malaria medication, which is bearable but not great. I’m flying to Toronto, where I’ll meet the rest of the team, then we’re all travelling tonight to London and Entebbe.

I know people have travelled to Africa before. And I know people have taken much wilder journeys than mine – witness Hilary Clinton, who has just flown to the Middle East to try to stop a war. But although I myself have been to interesting places like the Arctic, this trip feels different to me. I feel like I’m making up a story when I tell people I’m flying to Uganda.

I’ve already had one adventure today. My taxi driver asked for my help when I return to Canada because, he said, I seem like a sympathetic person. He told me he thinks he’s being followed and that he needs help with detective agencies. A little alarmed, I explained that I am not the right person to help him and instead directed him to contact the police. I hope he’ll be okay. That was the second-most interesting cab ride I’ve ever had, after the cab driver in Kansas City who was high during our ride.

It is surprisingly difficult to snap a shot of a plane flying when one has first to grab one’s iPhone off the table and turn it on. But here’s my best attempt at showing you the view I am seeing now. Except that that plane is long gone.

Preparing for the trip of a lifetime to northern Uganda

My name is Deborah Chatterton and I work for Vancity, a financial co-operative and one of the largest credit unions in Canada, as a communications consultant. In July 2012, I received a notice from the Canadian Co-operative Association that, for the first time ever, it was building a communications team to tour an international development project. I competed for and won a spot on the team, which includes seven other communicators from Canadian co-ops.

The day after tomorrow we’ll be leaving Canada, en route to Entebbe. Our two-week journey will take us across northern Uganda, where we’ll meet farmers and other members of the Integrated Finance and Agriculture project. We’ll learn how membership in this co-op has affected their livelihood, and upon our return we’ll each communicate their stories 10 times. I’ll be blogging daily if Internet connections exist in the little towns I’ll be visiting.

A native of Montreal, QC, I’ve been fortunate to live and work in five cities, including Manchester, UK. I’ve travelled across Canada and the US, and I’ve been to Mexico, Jamaica, the UK and France. I’ve done some adventure-based travelling, including winter camping in sub-zero temperatures. But I’ll be the first to admit that this trip is unlike any I’ve ever taken, and I’m very excited, and a little nervous.

To prepare, I’ve done a lot of shopping and have bought everything from the clothes I’ll wear in Africa, (long skirts, which I never wear at home), to an international power converter and bug spray that includes DEET. I’ve also had five shots (we’ll, six actually – but one is the flu shot because I’ll be facing a Canadian winter when I return). I’ve also taken two oral vaccinations and will begin a third, the malaria vaccination, tomorrow. I’m as prepared as I think I can be for something that is completely outside of my experience.

I look forward to meeting my fellow travellers, and to changing the picture on the header of this blog to one from Uganda. The current picture (see below) of the waterfront and Science World is what I see outside my office building on False Creek in Vancouver, BC. I put it there to represent what I’ll be leaving behind on Wednesday.

Wish us luck!

Nighttime view of False Creek, Vancouver, BC

Nighttime view of False Creek, Vancouver, BC