Notes From the Field: A Day in My Life in Uganda
As the intern for Musana Jewelry, a non-profit that works with disadvantaged women to make jewelry that is sold locally and internationally, Meredith is getting involved with a little bit of everything, including social media outreach and product design and production. You can find more images from her experiences on her blog, The View from Lugazi.
It’s the dramatic, epic, unusual, and new that are most often chronicled by travelers. The weekend trips to the local temple or the hike to the magnificent waterfall are the events we remember to capture. But we often forget that the everyday details can be just as interesting. What do grocery stores look like in Japan? What sorts of cars are used as taxis in England? What kinds of chairs do people use in Uganda? (I can tell you: Their stools are so much more comfortable than what we have in the States!)
So what are the elements of my typical day in Lugazi, Uganda? There is no “typical” yet, and hopefully there never will be, but here’s an outline of how a day could progress.
I wake up at 6:30 AM with the sun, write a quick journal entry, and then do a circuits workout in front of the house. (Full disclosure: This has barely happened frequently enough to include, but let’s assume it will start happening more often). If the line isn’t too long and it’s not too late, then it’s time to take a shower with cold water and a bucket. Assuming the circuits workout took place, this is not only shocking, but refreshing, too.
Morning meetings for my organization, Musana, usually start at 8 AM, so it’s a mad dash to eat breakfast and get out the door in time. The best breakfast meal is porridge, but we also have eggs, French toast or pancakes with honey and peanut butter, omelets with onions and tomatoes, or Ugandan-style banana pancakes (deep-fried banana cakes). I throw a Clif bar in my purse for a mid-morning snack, and then we walk the five minutes from the Nakazedde neighborhood, where we’re staying, to Chinyoro, where Musana is located.
The daily meeting consists of Melissa and Harriet, the in-country director and the women’s representative, plus myself, the general manager, and one or two other advisors. Ugandan time is slower than American time, so this weekly leadership meeting to discuss developments in the organization is easily an hour long, if not more. Discussion is then opened up to the other seven of the women who are already working on their bracelets and necklaces for the day, and weekly announcements are made.
Often Eve, the most outspoken artisan of the group, who is also known as Mulalu (“crazy”), instigates some shenanigans.
Now it’s time to head to the capital city of Kampala to shop for supplies! It’s off to the taxi stand on the main Kampala-Jinja Road, where taxi conductors inevitably fight over which taxi takes the mzungus (“foreigners”). I’ve learned never to accept the offer of the taxi conductor with the empty taxi—taxis here operate more like carpools, and you could be waiting a long time for it to fill up and begin the hour journey to the big city.
Since most of our shopping will happen along the outskirts of the main taxi park in Kampala, we generally get dropped off right outside. This place is massive, and it’s probably not the best place to hang out at night. During the day, however, it’s a bustling center full of people trying to get to different corners of the city. We’re slowly learning where to find taxis for specific neighborhoods, and we are fully aware that it could take us a half an hour just to get out of the park.
Now that we’ve arrived, it’s time to visit retail stores for beads, stringing supplies, and tools. As our relationships grow, we are finding all the right stores for each item, even down to who sells the perfect pink seedbead. A recent discovery of ours is the textile district, where we get snaps put on a new leather bracelet design.
Lunch always comes late, but hopefully by 2 PM we’ve made it to our favorite local food spot: Peace Restaurant. It only serves local food, like matooke (“banana”), fried fish, pumpkin, groundnut sauce, rice, and papaya juice—and it’s all delicious.
The trip back to Lugazi can be a long one. It’s rush hour traffic, which means our taxi will probably sit on Kampala-Jinja Road long enough to turn off the ignition and listen to the pavement preacher remind us that God is forgiving. At least most of the drive home is beautiful views of the lush Ugandan landscape.
It’s a relief to get home finally where dinner is cooking and the facilities (even though they contain squat toilets) aren’t public.
The sun went down around 7 PM, so by 10:30, it already feels like well into the night. Once evening cleaning duties are complete (which could be a while, if I’m on dish duty for a house of 20 people), plus emailing, blogging, planning, tweeting, and reading, it’s time to crawl into my bunk and tuck in my mosquito net for the night.
Tomorrow is a networking visit to Jinja, Uganda’s biggest tourist city at the head of the Nile, to meet with store and restaurant owners—plus a few hours of leatherworking to get our new bracelet samples just right.
About The Author
Based in New York City and constantly dreaming of the rest of the world, Meredith manages her globetrotter's itch by exploring sustainable economic development in emerging markets through fashion. Previously a style blogger and currently a jack-of-all-trades for Musana Jewelry, Meredith's also got a love of statement jewelry and a weakness for a strong cup of Ugandan coffee. Keep up with her work on Twitter @musanajewelry or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.