Since I began working in Kampala, I have had to consider my personal budget and make a few changes. Before I was hired at the bar, my boss informed me that he’d be paying me a “Ugandan salary,” normal for a workaday Ugandan, but a significantly lower rate than I’d grown used to. The work I am doing is in no way intellectual or particularly tasking, so my salary is 200,000 Uganda shillings (about $80) per month. Included in this would be a place to stay, a free beer and free meals each day from the restaurant. I took the job, figuring I could survive handsomely with the situation, and maybe even save a small sum. Continue reading
“I really don’t like that one,” She said, looking sour and pointing at me. She was an old Dutch hack talking quietly to a friend I’d just made named Rodriguez, a Burundian fellow I’d been practicing my French with for the past two hours. At least Rodriquez didn’t feel the same way she did. How could he? He’d just bought me a beer. It was my first night, a Thursday, at my new job, and I was learning the basics of bartending from my colleagues, a Welshman and a pair of Rastafarians. The lack of live music or other attractants kept the crowd small, so it became a good training night. Continue reading
It was fitting that the book I brought along on my cycling adventure around Lake Victoria was a 1912 edition of John Speke’s memoir of his own two-and-a-half year expedition in search of the source of the River Nile. During lonely sick days or lazy afternoons, I lost myself in his detailed account of trudging through swamps, leading mutinous men, and struggling to appease a series of chiefs and kings along the way. To read about a specific place along the lake’s enormous fringe which was opened up to the Europeans by Speke in the 1860s, and then to pass through the very same place on a bicycle gave my whole adventure context. Hell, it makes my ordeal look like a trip to the grocery store to buy cake mix.
I had fairly smooth roads, for one thing, and wheels to boot. Continue reading
Miles beyond Busia, over the border from Kenya and back into Uganda, they still say “Jambo!” in greeting. They still say “Asante Sana” in thanks, and they still count currency in Kiswahili. This makes it tough to shift gears back into the Lugandan language after having been in Kiswahili mode for so long.
But most things are Ugandan again. Plantains are steamed and mashed into matoke, the belly-filling staple food available at any roadside restaurant. The plantations where those fruits come from line the gently rising and falling roadways, and the white minivans with a blue checkered stripe zoom past my rattling bicycle at great speed, taking commuters to the next towns. Continue reading
I hate asking people for things, normally. I’d rather sleep out in the cold than knock on a stranger’s door, unless I was seriously concerned about my survival. My diet, when I’m in a financial bind, consists of what’s both cheapest and most nutritionally wholesome: fruit, seeds, nuts. And the very last thing I’d ever ask anyone for is money; I feel I ought to be able to earn what I need. Maybe I’m proud, maybe I’m stubborn, but I only wish to sustain myself in contentedness.
Recently I’ve had to change this mentality somewhat. Working with this community-based organization, PMK Save the Future Generation – Uganda, I’ve learned that one must ask for help in order to receive it. By trying to raise money for my circumnavigation of Lake Victoria, and the subsequent funding of a new community banking program for the organization, I’ve achieved a new level of humility by sending emails to friends, companies, organizations, and family asking for contributions. Continue reading
Worry gripped me. I lay awake some semi-sleepless nights thinking about the long route I will follow in the coming weeks on my dodgy, heavily used bicycle and began to feel nervous. People were depending on me now! What if I failed? If my idea to ride around Africa’s largest lake had continued – as it started – as a foolish lark performed solely for my pleasure, then there would be no problem. I’m used to hurling myself into unknown situations. But now people are watching me. They will want results. Continue reading
It is amazing how things begin to flare up once the first embers of an idea are stoked. Preparing for what was going to be a fairly small time fund raiser for an ambitious young organization in Uganda has led to buckets of new contacts, new ideas, and new connections. By now my simple, plodding bike trip around Lake Victoria at the heart of east Africa has been inflated to take on a new form. Continue reading