I heard the car horn honk and the gates rattle open as Mark, a retired driver for the Ugandan government, pulled into the Garden House driveway promptly at 3:30pm. My limbs were a little shakey and my heart unsteadily beating as I packed last bits of fruit into the food basket, and tossed my toothbrush into the side pocket of my backpack.
At the airport
I arrived to the airport at 9:10pm and after grabbing a beer and a croissant to munch on while I waited, I was happy to find that I had (free!) wifi in the airport canteen. Typing “KLM 561” into Google showed me the flight would arrive at 9:44pm, so I sat directly in front of the clock, among the other waiting bodies and impatiently watched the soccer ball move back and forth across the television screen mounted on the wall. At 9:47pm I checked the flight status again – Landed. Gathering my things, I spent the next 20 minutes kicking dust around outside the departures exit, while casually sneaking peeks through the large glass windows near baggage claim. My heart jumped when I saw the first person emerge to retrieve their bags, and I was glued to the windows until I saw a lanky body with a bun attached to his head jaunting over to the luggage belt. After another ten to fiften minutes and a number of exchanged impatient WhatsApp messages, awaiting the excitement for real verbal commuication, Jake stepped outside into the hot, humid, Ugandan air and we hugged and kissed and smiled real big, looking at each other in the flesh for the first time in 5 months. We walked to Mark’s car, arm in arm amidst the giant luggage held between us while millions of flying insects swarmed the lights lining the sidewalk. After loading up the car and pulling out a chilled bottle of champagne, we popped the top to the start of a glorious Ugandan vacation. Cheers! We rode through the nightly traffic – boda bodas zooming and weaving between us, pedestrians walking among shops and meat and chapati stands to chatter with neighbors, flashing lights alerting other drivers of passing vehicles – and snuggily sipped champagne on our way to the lakeside hotel I happened upon through airbnb, Yellow Haven Lodge. After driving down some twisty turny roads we arrived at the lodge and settled into our room for the next two nights.
Day 2: We woke up to the birds chirping over a beautiful view of Lake Victoria. The design and atmosphere of Yellow Haven is truly wonderful and peaceful amidst busy Kampala! Jetlag got the better part of Jake the first night, but I think we made up for it as best we could with a tasty breakfast – spelt bread toast with Autumn Berry Jam (courtesy of Holly!), fried eggs, sauteed greens and fresh avocado! The day was spent lounging on the sofa, noodling on my new ukelele, playing and singing along to Beatles songs, nibbling on bits of fruit, and simply enjoying the ease of being together again. In the late afternoon, we found our hosts Joan and Ronald down at a picnic table and inquired about taking a boat ride on the lake. After an impromptu performance of an Andrew Bird song for some of the guests, Jake and I got changed and headed out onto the dirt path leading to the edge of water. We rode along, beers in hand, and talked about the islands of Lake Victoria, the deforestation, community development strategies, economic growth in Africa and sustainability and the future of our planet in regards to damage control and the potential of the colonization of other inhabitable planets. We pulled into a nearby dock on our right and were allotted 5 minutes by our boat driver to walk around Ggaba market, where we picked up two tilapia and had them gutted and de-scaled for dinner! Jake was so interested by the process of payment – we paid one guy for th fish, another guy for the degutting/descaling, and a little boy for a plastic bag to put the fish in. Each person did their part and received payment for their portion. After a little longer riding on the lake, we made our way back to Yellow Haven and prepared the fish and some sweet potatoes on the picnic table outside while sipping on some red wine Jake picked up in Amsterdam. Jake brought his Beatles chord book along too, so we played tunes and sang along while our fish was cooking!
Sunday night was Pizza Night at Yellow Haven, so while the chef was getting pizzas ready, he offered to throw our fish and potatoes in the oven, but because we were just so hungry, we also ordered some butternut squash soup from the Yellow Haven restaurant to start. Garlic-y delicousness! The chef even added some lemon to our fish, which we satisfyingly picked apart and ate until we decided it was time for dessert and a movie. One avocado ice cream, one cardamom ice cream and 30 minutes of The Producers later, I was sleeping like a baby. Jake groggily powered through the rest of the movie, us both tucked into our mosquito-netted little bit of paradise.
Day 3: At 6:45am I woke up fairly energetically, looked over at Jake snoozin’ away and trotted downstairs to make myself a cup of tea. After pulling the navy curtains, I setlled into a canvas chair by our giant open window overlooking the lake, and watched the sun begin to rise. Jake slowly stirred in bed. He peeked open an eye, and at the sight of the sunrise, and sound of the dawn chorus, he was awake and setting up his GoPro and audio recorder to capture the morning hours.
We sat there awhile in silence, breathing in the new day, grateful for the surrounding serenity. The pinks, purples, and yellows reflected on the water silhouetting the islands dotting the lake. At some point, when our hunger had overwhelmed the pleasantness of the overhead sun, we moved downstairs to pick through our groceries. Breakfast was a repeat of Day 1 (with the addition of sauteed carrots) which we enjoyed eating outside under a canopy of greenery, watching some of the birds go by, sing little tunes and then carry on their way. Philip, our driver for the day, arrived in the late morning and we headed for Bukoto – the neighborhood of Kampala where I live.We arrived at the house where Jake met Simon, Beatrice, Fabian and Sofie – Malaika was snoozin’ and Noanne was in France at the time. We took a stroll around the compound so Jake could see the garden (and our big Jackfruit tree!), noodled some more on guitar and practiced a duet in preparation for jam session that evening at the National Theater. In the late afternoon, I succumbed to sleep while Jake journaled on the veranda and upon waking, we decided it was time for dinner! We headed over to Kabalagala for dinner at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant where we split two injera platters with an assortment of veg + meat to accompany the spongy, sour bread. The jam session had already started when we arrived, and after getting beers, Jake wasted no time putting our name on the list of performers. He played guitar and we both sang – Two of Us by the Beatles.
It was my first time performing music on any sort of stage (apart from elementary school recitals) and honestly I was so nervous I was shaking a little bit! We forgot the words at some parts, but through some giggles we made it through the rest of the song. 🙂 Jake stayed on stage to play bass for a little while, and afterwards we were wrapped up in conversation with Destreet, Lawrence, Ricky, Scoffield, Rasmus, Mattieus, and Lena. Jake was making friends left and right, I could hardly pull him out of conversation when Ricky and I were ready to go home. He filled his notebook with scribbles of music to look up online, and contacts to reach out to regarding music projects. Good to know that if we ever live in Africa he definitely will have LOTS to do!
Day 4: The night before we had discussed riding around on our bodas in Kampala with Ricky because he runs a Kampala-tour company called Kampala Boda Boda City Tours. We had originally planned to leave around 12pm, but it was (obviously) necessary to make brunch crepes, so Ricky joined us and enjoyed trying tasty jams from Urbana, IL! Ricky explained the concept and workings of SafeBoda, a boda company started by two guys who live in the Beach House (other house owned and rented out by Beatrice), to Jake and after our bellies were happy, we set off for the day. I rode my scooter and Jake sat on Ricky’s boda with a GoPro attached to his helmet (what else did you expect?) to capture the chaos and beauty of the Kampala streets. We visited the Bahai Temple, Gadaffi Mosque, the president’s palace, and Owino Market.
My favorite part of the tour was Owino Market, except on the way there! We were riding through a very busy part of town where a semi truck was blocking the round-about, leaving only a little room to pass. Ricky and I filed in one after the other, but my handle bars got stuck on the bumper of the truck right as the driver was starting his engine! Jake, of course, got the whole thing on camera and Ricky hopped over to help me before a crowd formed. We had a good laugh afterwards! 🙂 At Owino Jake bought a neat blue button up shirt, I bought an avocado and we also had a nice experience bargaining over a pair of jeans. Ricky interjected into the debate, which oddly enough aggravated a vendor that was not involved in the transaction! After physically pulling Ricky away from the argument, we climbed through the vendors, over uneven footing, watching for puddles, out into the evening sunset. Apart from getting stuck near Owino Market, I think Jake was pretty impressed with my boda driving! 😉 When we got home, we were so hungry we quickly rounded up the troops (Simon, Beatrice, Scoff) from the Garden House and headed to Just Kicking, a sports bar, for burgers, steaks, and beers. It was St. Patrick’s day, so in the spirit of the holiday, we split a Guinness Tower.
After finishing beers and settling on an early night, Jake and I walked over to Iguana so I could show him Marius’s restaurant/bar and Beatrice’s clothing shop. We grabbed a safe boda from there and headed home for another night of well deserved sleep!
Day 5: On Wednesday Jake drove us up the hill by our house to Bukoto market where we picked up fruits and veggies for brunch and our weekly family dinner. At the market we tried to get someone to take a picture of us with Jake’s camera, but the concept was lost in translation as two Ugandans at the market primped their hair and clothes to get ready for their photoshoot! After the hopes of explaining that Jake and I wanted a photo together were diminished, I snapped a photo of Jake posing with two market vendors, us both still laughing at the entire situation.
Brunch consisted of eggs, peppers, onions, olives, morning glory greens, and feta! Massages seemed like the next natural step, so we grabbed some bodas to the Fairway Hotel, took a dip in the pool and got massages. Jake spent the duration of his massage encouraging his masseuse to pick up some guitar lessons. The masseuses used this amazing hot sponge with oils – wow! One thing wonderful about Uganda is massages are so affrodable – only $20 each for 1 hour. We made a quick stop at Acacia Mall for last minute groceries, beer, and ice cream cones!
I was so happy that we had enough time to do two big dinner events while Jake was here, of course so he could meet everyone, but also because some of my fondest memories with Jake are when we are frantically hosting a dinner party or preparing a big meal. Maybe one day we’ll open a restaurant/tap room! Earlier that day we’d asked Sofie to get a chicken from the market for us, so we made a roasted chicken, fried okra, cucumber tomato salad, and green beans and carrots. Simon made a pasta cream dish and Josef made potatoes. For dessert I made a tres leches cake! The funny part of it all was that I had estimated we’d start dinner around 6pm, and we didn’t eat until about 9:45pm – just like old times! 😉 In the midst of cooking, Ronnie, the tour guide for our upcoming trip, sent his wife, Christine, over the house to pick up the rest of the payment for our trip. After getting that out of the way, it really felt like our vacation was about to begin. Such a wonderful week in store for us! ❤
Day 6: We woke up late and I started the day by cutting a giant papaya. After getting decently far into our packing for the trip ahead, we made some brunch – toast, morning glory greens, jam, and avocado. Fabian had just gotten a new blender so we also sipped on fruit smoothies! Around 3pm, Abdul came to pick us up! We took a few pre-departure pictures and hopped in the air-conditioned (woah!!!) van.
Jake and I took turns sleeping and holding each other up so we wouldn’t fly while going over the speedbumps. There are an absurd amount of speedbumps in Uganda. It’s amazing how quickly the lush vegetation takes over just outside of the Kampala perimeter.
We drove through banana plantations, through valleys and over big hills while listening to music through a headphone splitter Jake picked up on his way to Kampala. We spent about 5 hours in the car and after passing through Fort Portal, we reached Jeal’s village. Jeal is Beatrice’s mom and she participates in a homestay program, so we decided to experience the village where Beatrice grew up and get to know her mom a bit. She met us out on the dirt road and helped Abdul navigate to her house, where she welcomed us in and continued preparing dinner. It was a good thing we were hungry, but we could have used about 5 more stomachs to eat all the food Jeal had cooked! We had matoke (steamed plaintains), sweet potatoes, chicken in sauce, beans and tomatoes, irish potato chips, and kalo – all eaten with our hands. Kalo is a sticky millet dough that you eat by rolling it in your fingers, pressing a hole in the middle and scooping up sauce. Jake and I were very fond of the kalo! We insisted that Jeal teach us how to make it the next day for dinner and she laughed and smiled really big. By the time we finished dinner it was close to 10pm! We headed off to sleep in Jeal’s peaceful home, happy to rest amongst the sounds of crickets and nighttime.
Day 7: We woke up around 8:30am and I started cooking some onions, tomatoes, eggs and spelt toast on the charcoal stove while Jake took a shower. There is definitely a technique to cooking on that stove, and I wasn’t quite as experienced as Jeal.
Jeal gave us a massive plate of avocado and chapatis to go with our breakfast, which I can’t believe we were able to eat after such a big dinner the night before. We were learning that Jeal shows her love through food, lots and lots of food! After taking a quick walk around Jeal’s compound and farm, it was time to get moving.
We had heard that we could visit the crater lakes near Jeal’s home, so we set off after breakfast and walked with Jeal to her brother-in-law’s house down the street. We met some of Jeal’s family, ate a banana, took some family photos, talked about religion, and then prayed.
The family’s prayer expressed gratitude for Jake and my safe arrival and our visit in Uganda, and hope that we would be engaged and have lots of children. Preface: We were asked about marriage and babies a lot! Kiza, Jeal’s neighbor, and his friend arrived at Jeal’s brother-in-law’s house, on two bodas – our transport for the day!
Jake and I climbed onto Kiza’s boda and Jeal led the way to the crater lakes. Riding through the village on the bodas was one of my favorite experiences in Uganda so far. The dirt roads roll up and down big hills, amidst so much green! The tops of the hills overlook small homes and big gardens lined with banana trees, cabbages, tomatoes and pastures for grazing cows and goats. We made it to the first lake where some kids were fishing, and then headed stopped briefly at the second lake.
Jeal told us there was a waterfall in the area, and the Find the Waterfall Adventure began. We continued riding until we asked some people outside of their home where it was. They directed us back from where we came, so we stopped on the road again and asked a teenage boy, who said he’d take us to the waterfall for 25,000 Ush ($8.30) per person. Jeal argued with the boy and eventually we drove away, refusing his offer. After about 30 minutes of riding around, Jeal said she heard water, and we continued down the road, hopeful! Nearby we found a church service going on inside a small hut near the road. Hearing the music, Jake and I insisted that we stop for just a moment to see. The crowd in the hut quickly welcomed us in and soon we were dancing elbow to elbow with singing men, women, and children moving to the beat of the drums.
It was total magic. After about 10 minutes, we received blessings from a woman in the church, and continued on our Find the Waterfall Adventure. Jeal directed us down the same road where she heard water, and we walked through a village until we found a little boy to take us to the waterfall. He barely spoke, but he shyly agreed to take us at no cost and his two friends even joined in the waterfall parade. We walked downhill and uphill, through a grassy field, down a big dirt plantation ground and over some rocks to the waterfall.
Jeal kept up the whole way, and even though she insisted “This is as far as I’ll go”, she was always walking along beside us. 🙂 We sat on rocks in the stream, took some photos, and splashed the water with our feet. Kiza and his friend really loved taking photos on Jake’s camera and used the waterfall scenery for an impromptu photoshoot. We spent about twenty minutes at the falls before hiking back up the hill to the bodas.
We gave each kid 2,000 Ush (70 cents) and they were so excited! The ride home was relaxing and when we finally got home, Jake and I were exhausted! We paid Kiza and his friend 25,000 ($8.30) each for taking us around on the bodas and thanked them for such a fun day. Jeal laid out some mats for us in the yard and we napped and read with Abdul and Ronnie while Jeal told us her life story. Her husband, Beatrice’s father, passed away from AIDS, and she tried to take care of their children while she herself was also sick from AIDS. She told us about the pressures she faced to remarry in her village, and the days where she couldn’t even rise from bed to feed her kids. She thought many times she would die and not be able to raise her children. When she was very sick, (my understanding of this part is a little foggy) she managed to get medication and she slowly started improving. Now, she’s very proud to be a survivor. She’s even the spokesperson in her village for people with AIDS. She told us this story, and even through the sad parts she smiled.
When we were done lounging, Jeal took us on a walk through the village. We found some kids carrying jerry cans who were on their way to collect water, so we asked them to show us the water source. This made all the kids very excited, and they started jumping and singing and playing all the way down the path to the borehole. We met an elderly woman along the way who blessed our marriage and wished for many children for us. We giggled with the children as some rogue cows came into the path, and made the children giggle extra hard when Jake and I took turns pumping water from the borehole to fill the kids’ jerry cans.
Jeal continued our walk through her farm and up to the house just as the sun was setting. Jake and I each had a quick shower and then prepared to start making the kalo for dinner that night! Jeal has a few helpers around her home – her daughter, two of her sons and some neighbors. A younger woman boiled the water on the charcoal stove for the kalo, and then added a big pile of millet to the pot. Her son hung around while she cooked and prepared the traditional basket for the kalo. A big wooden spoon was used to stir the doughy mix in the pot and Jake and I took turns stirring it.
It’s really hard to stir because the mixture is so sticky, the woman had to take over because we would have ruined it – haha! For dinner we had kalo, matoke, beef stew, dodo greens, irish potatoes, posho (maize flour mash) and these small wild mushrooms in a sauce. The night was clearer than the night before – the stars were beautiful! Jake and I packed up our things and went to sleep in preparation for an early morning departure to the Rwenzori Mountains to begin our 3-day hiking trek!
Stay tuned for Part 2 🙂