First Impressions


Today is my fifth day in Uganda and it feels like I have been here a month.  I feel like I have seen, experienced and learned so much already.  It is different, yet strangely familiar and easily comfortable, mostly due to my wonderful guide, Mary (our office executive assistant and my dear friend).  Today I am finally getting a chance to rest and catch up.  I went to church with Mary this morning.  It was under a pavilion and it rained pretty hard.  It rains then returns to being bright and sunny.  The weather is consistently pleasant—warm and breezy.

Wednesday I got into Entebbe airport around dawn.  I had been traveling for several days by that point with only a few naps in airports or on flights.  (BTW—British Airways–love.  On time, the flight attendants wear classy little caps, free ‘spirits’, plus wine with your meal and the meals were good!  But you know, I rarely have a problem with food.)

Mary and Francis, our driver for the day, enthusiastically greeted me and helped me load my three suitcases and one box (decorated by Melissa The Bear) into the car.   We drove to Kampala, about 45 minutes away stopping for water, biscuits (cookies—it is British, remember!), rolex (a patty with an omelet rolled up inside) and samosas at roadside stands.

Kampala is a bright, moving, dirty, lively city.  So many people walking about, with cars and boda-bodas (motorcycles) boldly weaving through traffic.  The earth and roads are bright red and everything is covered in a blanket of green vegetation from consistent rain.  Entebbe and Kampala are located right on Lake Victoria—that blue blob you will see on your map of eastern Africa.

Boda bodas on the road in Kampala

I had lunch with the interns and fellows (Mary—executive assistant, Ruth—legal fellow & my flatmate, Jason—community & church relations intern, Scott—communications fellow (in his 2nd year!), and Nicole—interventions intern).  Good group!  We are from the US, except Ruth who is from England, and under year-long deployments.

Mary and I withdrew Ugandan shillings and bought me a reloadable cell phone plus an internet stick with reloadable data.  That night our water and electricity went out briefly but Mary made dinner of chicken and veggie curry for Ruth and me under light powered from our inverter—a battery type thing that stores electricity so we still have power. We chatted to keep me up until nighttime in hopes of helping my body adjust to an eight hour change.

Nicole and Mary live just two flats down from Ruth and me.  They are nice and spacious apartments by global standards with western toilets and shower, plus the inverter.  There is a gate to get into our swath of flats watched by sweet guards whom we greet and thank with each passage.  There is a boda-boda and taxi stage in front of our apartments and a supermarket within walking distance.  The flats are well-furnished and bright with natural light and vibrant paint, furniture and curtains.  Trash created by the flats sit on the grass outside and is collected once a week.  Until then enormous birds which we call pterodactyls eat the trash all day.

Everyone is completely bilingual in English and Luganda.  They mostly speak Luganda but switch to English with ease when they see us mzungus (white people/foreigners—not a derogatory name, just a descriptor).  Our accents confuse each other but I am trying to reduce my sloppy American speak—to pronounce T’s clearly, not use contractions, speak slowly, and back off on the R’s like the British.  I look forward to increasing my Luganda!  Attempting Luganda goes far in showing that we are invested and eager to learn—and in getting better prices–everything is negotiable!

Everyone is a bit depressed because Uganda and Kenya tied in Saturday’s football game which means Uganda is not moving on in competition.  [BIG DEAL].  Today is a bank holiday to celebrate Independence Day (1962).  I am eager to get to the office and learn more about my role in designing the administrative reforms to our structural transformation project.

I will write about the IJM office staff retreat and my adventures in Jinja and on the Nile soon.

Mary and I attempt to watch Cards game with dodgey internet...St. Louis girls represent


About nataliemma

This blog [infrequently] documented my work as a structural transformation design fellow with International Justice Mission's Uganda field office. I spent two months researching in Washington DC before deploying to Uganda to design structural recommendations in line with IJM's mission of providing improved access to and distribution of justice to the world's global poor through local public justice systems. I'm a Mizzou grad, St. Louis native, and MBA with five years of operations experience in finance.

5 responses »

  1. Loved the update and new profile pic. YOur mom and dad leaving today Had a wonderful time. Can’t wait to hear more.Love Sally

  2. Thanks for the update, friend! I’m so glad you made it safely and that you’re enjoying the adventure so far! You’re such an inspiration and I’m happy to know you! I’ll be checking your website often and can’t wait to hear more about what you’re doing on the other side of the world. Much love!! -Bridget

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