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Experience in Africa

January 25, 2009

August 30, 2008

My last trip to Africa was my fifth visit to the continent, but different in that I wasn’t traveling alone but instead meeting four of my friends from Artfully AWARE and to see where things would lead.

Emily, Zillah, Suzanne, Evonne, Justin and Hilary

Emily, Zillah, Suzanne, Evonne, Justin and Hilary

Flying into Entebbe International Airport is definitely the most scenic landing in Africa I’ve had.  We made our descent over majestic Lake Victoria.  The airport practically sits on the shoreline.  I was also flying in with several hundred delegates that were coming in for an AIDS conference, so the customs line was quite lengthy and slow, as just about everything in Uganda is.  Finally I was reunited with my AfA friends Hilary and Emily.  An hour later we finally arrived in Kampala at Red Chili Guest House, which would be home for the next week.

Day One of meetings turned into a bit of an ambush a la’ African style.  Luckily the three of us had all been in Africa before and were well versed in what was to follow. It would have been very overwhelming for a first-timer. Luckily Justin, our local AfA artist, was with us and took the situation into some sense of control.  What we thought would be an informal meeting with two or three reps from the Boys and Girls Brigade turned out to be a very large annual meeting of all the members of an Environmental Outreach Group, over an hour’s drive from town.  I will be the first to get involved with environmental consciousness, but this wasn’t the time.  There was alot of confusion and some obvious miscommunications, but in the end it was a good experience to learn from, even if it was our first meeting of the week.

By Wednesday things started running much better and we had almost doubled with the arrival of Zillah and Evonne.  Our second meeting was with the Kampala Kids League, a youth activity group run by a couple from the U.K. who were very enthusiastic about the prospect of partnering with a U.K. school.  They’ve done alot of good work in Uganda and have an excellent track record.  Later that afternoon we had another meeting with ACET (AIDS Care Education & Training), a really great organization doing valuable work.  They were equally excited about AfA and the possibility of partnerships as well as looking out for our best interests and giving guidance.  I had very good feelings about their Directors and their advice.

Thursday was another beneficial day with an early morning meeting with Hope, who is involved with an outreach programme and home up in Gulu that works with adults and children displaced by the civil war and living in the refugee camps.  Hope was extremely impressive and had such compassionate drive that we just knew she was a good person to link up with.  Evonne showed her the community books put together by the kids in the school she works at in the U.K. and plans were made for a joint trip up to Gulu the next week (that I unfortunately I would not be on).

Our next meeting that day was with Carol, who is quite simply “the coolest chic ever”!  A born and bred Ugandan, she went away to school in the U.K. and studied media arts. After her training was complete she returned to Uganda and formed UAMA (Uganda Arts & Media Assoc.).  Which in itself is wonderful.  She is young, funky, enthusiastic and dedicated.  She was willing to share footage with us for promotion as well as helping with video mapping.  I quite simply adored her!

Friday, our “official” last day of meetings in Kampala had the heaviest hitters.  We first met with the director of the International Hospital who showed great interest in having AfA involved, maybe sooner than we expected as they had a kids activity day– one week later!  We did our best to be ready for the situation and were hopeful for the future.

The next meeting was really the pinnacle and most exciting.  We were meeting with Steven Rwenzori, Director of the Ndere Art Center.  This is the site we would love to use for our festival of arts next summer.  If you could see the grounds with all its open fields of grass and lovely tree shaded areas you would definitely agree!  After much anticipation Steven finally came out to meet us. After hearing our strategy he could barely contain his excitement and passion!  It was exactly the boost we needed.

After a long hard week of meetings and talking a break was definitely needed and we made way for Jinja, the source of the Nile and white water rafting center for Uganda.  It’s only about 100 km from Kampala, but not such a smooth ride.  Seeing as there were four of us, it seemed better to just hire a car there instead of cramming into a minibus the whole way there.  As I said, everything in Uganda moves slowly, everything that is except for the driving!  I have been on many bumpy, windy, dangerous drives thru out Africa as well as India and Asia….but nothing compared to the driving and road conditions of Uganda!  It wouldn’t have been so disconcerting had there not been jack-knifed trailors left and right along the way.  I suppose I jinxed us when I tried to calm everyone by saying I’d never actually seen or been in an accident cos Sat. night that’s exactly what happened.  Nothing major and no injuries, but it did go to show that fast driving and wet clay are not a good mix.

After our weekend away we came back for one more day.  It was bittersweet because it was my last day with the girls and they were going on to Gulu and I was not. This was the first time I had ever been in the position of having to leave before I wanted.  Everytime before I was on my own time, but this time I had a job and responsibilities to return to, and it was very hard.

So the last day was alot of logistics and getting ready to say goodbye.  I decided I want to go to the craft market that is located behind the National Theatre.  Stall after stall of goods and handy-works were there….however the heartbreaking thing was that NONE of the goods were actually made in Uganda!  They were all imports from Kenya.  This was most troubling for me.  What’s even more troubling is that the feeling of the previous oppressor is still felt in the town.  There is tremendous potential in Uganda, but there is alot of scar tissue to work through.  These are good people with big hearts, but their hearts are full of pain and fear.  The land is beautiful and green, the air has a smell to it. Some circles call Uganda the center of the universe because of it’s equatorial position and you can feel it there.

Tues morning everyone woke up very very early to make the northern road trip to Gulu.  I saw them off and an hour later was overcome with the emptiness of their absence. So I slowly made my way downtown. I took it all in, the Idi Amin era buildings, the Hindu temples, the street vendors.  And finally I made my way to the Kampala bus station, which on site looks like pure chaos, but actually works. I squeezed into the last seat on a minibus to Entebbe and as we slowly crawled thru the traffic I got my final glimpse of Kampala by watching hundreds of people crowding around a cock fight.  And four hours later I was once again soaring over the beautiful Lake Victoria.

Suzanne Hyde

Travel Advisor and Events Consultant

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