Contemporary Uganda

by Rebecca Bell, Assistant Project Coordinator

Contemporary Uganda is a globalizing Uganda. It is a place where you can get traditionally made matooke or a cheese pizza at the local restaurant, Stoneys ginger soda or Coke zero, or see a Hollywood or Bollywood movie at the cinema (and get your Nollywood fix on television). Even in the most remote villages, the influence of the outside world is visible, even if it takes a bit more searching.

Explaining this experience to friends and family back home, it is difficult to describe life in a small village. There are cows on the roads, children as young as five carry machetes in hand, and women carry babies on their backs and pineapples on their heads. Not exactly the picture of cosmopolitan culture. Yet in Kasana, ‘top 40’ hits can be heard blaring out of a small wooden hut near the market, illegally copied foreign movies can be bought on the sides of the street and I even took a matatu yesterday with a guy wearing a t-shirt from one of my favourite shops in Toronto. Heinz ketchup is available alongside local ‘Top Up’ at the local supermarket. These global influences are even more apparent the minute you step into the capital, Kampala.

IMG_4134_2Top Up Chili Sauce: We go through about a bottle a week. I have a theory that it helps kill any sketchy bacteria in our food- haven’t been sick yet!

This past Saturday, searching for some creature comforts, I went out to the latest Hollywood release, “Kingsmen” at the movie theatre, sorted through piles of imported clothing at Owino market (second hand H&M is a top notch find!), to an Italian restaurant for dinner, and finally an Irish pub. Moments like these feel a bit surreal- at any given moment, you really could be anywhere in the world. They feel even more surreal in drastic contrast to Kasana town, a little less than a two-hour drive away.

The multicultural dynamic here at the volunteer house also makes for interesting conversation and learning opportunities. Our project coordinator, Trine, is Danish. None of the current volunteers have ever visited Denmark and we often grill her with questions of what to see and do, what life is like and we whine about how jealous we are that all of Europe (and the world!) is at her fingertips. The rest of the current interns are Canadian; we await an American later this month! We hail from different provinces and try vainly to find ways in which we’re different. And we are, despite our citizenship. We discuss our travel experiences, our favourite Canadian coffee shops and destinations and our shared and not-so-shared political ideas. We share music from across the globe.

Shanti itself is an example of multiculturalism in the best way. Ugandan staff hailing from all across the country work with Ugandan clients and international interns to provide services like yoga! Yoga is definitely not originally Ugandan…

DSC00035Women taking a pre-natal yoga class at Shanti. I guess there is plenty of Indian influence in East Africa!

Although this experience is drastically different than, say, that of my parents’ generation of travels, I am constantly amazed at the ways in which outside influences change Ugandan culture and not overtake it. Ugandan traditions and languages are still alive and well, and they’re not going anywhere. But the influence of people and things from all across the globe are subtly changing the ways people live and interact. People are taking what works and leaving what doesn’t.

There is no one experience of Uganda, and that is what makes this such a personal and unforgettable experience.

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