19 Lessons from Living and Learning in Uganda

By: Claire Gatto- Volunteer Coordinator Intern

Shanti Uganda Teen Girls

1. Talking about your bowel movements creates an instant connection with fellow travellers.

2. Get used to kids and often men, yelling “Mzungu!” (white person) at you.

3. The fine balance between drinking enough to not faint and not drinking too much when you’re stuck in traffic on a taxi ride that can range from 1 hour to over 4 hours on a hot, sweaty, crowded bus ride.

4. Uganda has a serious soft spot for country music. Shania Twain and Celine Dion are huge here.

5. Don’t be hungry when you arrive at a restaurant. Meals, or just fries, often take over two hours to arrive at your table.

6. Just when you think you’re healthy and have moved past any kind of travellers’ sickness, another bug or illness is just around the corner.

7. Know that you’re truly embracing the fragility of life every time you hop on a boda boda*.

8. Always keep small bills on you as boda boda drivers are habitually reluctant to search for change.

9. Expect to have a personal shopper alongside when you are grocery shopping in villages.

10. Try not to faint while witnessing the first birth you’ve seen.

11. Birthing mothers are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

12. Gender inequality is throughout the world, it just manifests in different ways. The west is not different from the rest and there is still so far to go for empowering women.

13. When in doubt and feeling helpless, seeking help from older women is a safe bet as they’ve been around the block and know what’s what.

14. Don’t put off trying something new. The sooner you start doing things on your own the sooner you’ll be more comfortable.

15. Keeping up with local, regional and continental news, as well as news from back home, is helpful to tune in to current issues and to lessen the culture shock upon returning home (or so I’m hoping).

16. Be direct and polite when you are communicating. A sense of humor and levity can make interactions for negotiating prices easier and potentially less expensive for paying the mzungu price.

17. Timing is all relative. Being on time means different things for different people.

18. Kids love high-fives.

19. It’s surprising how being a white foreigner gives you access to places that you may not expect. That said, use your privilege of being a foreigner (specifically if are white and 20ish) wisely and strategically with self-awareness above all.

*Boda bodas are the fastest and cheapest form of transportation and notoriously the most dangerous. They are a version of small motorcycle that skim and squeeze in between cars, trucks and oncoming traffic where you bargain for the fee. Trying to avoid paying a mzungu price is fruitless.


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