When I was a child and had all the time in the world, my most favorite thing to do was reading. I would read anything that would catch my eye. I was happy – the whole world would open to me and my imagination would take me anywhere. In such a way I was introduced to Africa for the first time. I was fascinated by the fact that human life has started there – the nurturing. Right there and then I promised myself I will see this place one day.
Time went by and I visited a lot of places, lived in different cities, countries, and continents, and met a lot of different people. One of my friends happened to work in South Africa. I would inquire about it every time he came back. He would always say – it feels like home. It’s welcoming and you feel like you belong when you get there. That was beyond my imagination but kept the fire burning.
Finally, I got a chance to meet people from Africa in the summer of 2015 at an international student conference. Luckily all participants at the conference became really close and soon after we started traveling and exploring each other’s countries. This presented me with the great opportunity to finally make my dream come true and visit the long desired Africa.
As any European who had never been to Africa and had watched lots of documentaries about it, and especially after checking into how many precautions and vaccines you have to take and discussing with my doctor, I was a little anxious about my visit. But the ticket was bought and the arrangements were made. So I decided – it’s now or never. I had to see for myself.
So there I was on the plane a day after Christmas with thousands of thoughts racing through my mind. The eight hours travel time flew by and there I was – in Africa. The first thing that I noticed was the heat and the humidity. It is really humid in Uganda, I guess due to the lake, but coming from winter there can be a shock too. The first couple of days you struggle to breathe.
But the beauty of the country is overwhelming – it may be just me, but palm trees are just mesmerizing to me. The fact that you can grow bananas, mangoes and avocados in your backyard still amazes me. And the stuff is real – nothing like what they sell in supermarkets on this side.
Since the topic I chose to write about is discovering Africa and Uganda in particular, I’ll just explain the differences that mattered to me. The first thing that you notice right away is that people are happy. We have been fed with information about how people in Africa are poor, miserable, hungry. You’d better think twice about that one. People in Uganda are happy! It’s actually quite catchy too. You find yourself smiling, enjoying life and actually not wanting to leave. But that’s another story I’ll have to write. I actually did not meet a single person who did not love their country and wanted to move to another country. Yes, not all people have the best life possible, but they stay positive, they work hard and they enjoy themselves. It in a way fills you with optimism and positive thoughts too.
The next thing you notice almost immediately is the hospitability. Don’t get me wrong – I do know what hospitable means – Bulgarians are famous for their hospitability. We take pride in it. But people in Uganda take this to a whole new level. They are very polite and considerate. They really care when they ask how you are, they mean it. And if you are lucky enough to be invited for a meal, you’d better be prepared to eat.
Oh, eating is another thing. Ugandans love food and eating it. The amount of food cooked, served and eaten is amazing. I guess abundance of food and fertile soil is something that contributed to the habits of preparing large amounts of food for each meal. Of course guests are served first, and you are expected to get a second serving. I also heard stories of how grandmas fill your plate with enough food for an adult and you are not allowed to leave the table before you finish it. And then, if you say you have a favorite dish – it will be cooked for you in the morning and you will have to eat the whole pan of your favorite dish for lunch and dinner. Who says grandmas cannot be a punishment… 😉
The other really interesting thing is the relaxed and laid back lifestyle. I loved that nobody was in a hurry, that you can be running really late, but as I was told – in Uganda it’s more important to show up when you’re invited to an event, not to come on time. Once you get that in your head – life becomes so much easier. And at the end, you actually start really enjoying it. Although it bothered me at first, you get used to being late easily and this I believe adds to the happiness of people.
The most important thing though is the connection, the belonging. Ugandans keep a close connection with family and even extended family. That helps a person know where they belong and that they can always rely on somebody. They also are very close to the earth. Producing your own food is something they take pride in. They have managed to keep that special connection too. I believe this is extremely important. I have heard stories of my people being disconnected from their land by force. The result is not good – people lose their focus and what is important in life. I believe that a nation that cannot sustain itself is doomed. So I suppose these two very important connections help Ugandans stay positive and focused.
So if Africa is calling your name, do not delay visiting it – you will not regret it!!! And Uganda seems like a good place to start exploring. I know that I will be going back