I set out on day 2 much more confident. I was heading back to Makerere University to meet my advisor and wanted to drop off my application for research clearance at the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST). This time I remembered to apply sunscreen.
I was advised to take a matatu to Makerere where I planned to pick up a special hire taxi to take me to the UNCST since I didn’t know where it was. Matatas are vans that run up and down set routes stopping at stages to let people on and off. They’re the form of transport everyone uses because they’re the cheapest (a 15 minute ride can be 1000 Ugandan Schillings, which is about 30 cents). There’s so many of them! Each has a driver and a loader who takes the fare and calls out the name of their destination trying to herd people into their matatu. The goal is to pile as many people as possible into one van. Our GLA friend also told me how much the matatu conductor should charge me since they’re infamous for trying to overcharge mzungus (white people).
When I found the right matata, got on, and disembarked at the correct stop, I was so proud of myself! The ride was actually quite exciting. Next, I found the special hire taxi driver who had been recommended to take me to the UNCST. I hopped in and off we went. Little did I know that the UNCST was right next to the matata stop where I had got on that morning. I paid the taxi driver 30,000 shillings to take me right back to where I started! But on the bright side, he showed me where the UNCST was, I dropped off my forms in 5 minutes, and they said they would let me know if I was approved in less than a week. As Eden said, we’ll make dumb mistakes at first, but we’ll learn quickly and soon know how to navigate and live in Uganda.
Back at Makerere, I found the College of Engineering and met my professor, Dr. Moses Musaazi. He’s a professor of electrical engineering and a talented entrepreneur. He’s launched many new technologies, including bricks that do not need baking for building and improved sanitary pads. Dr. Musaazi was very warm and welcoming. His office is neat but filled with boxes of papers, tools, a small solar panel, and solar pumps he is playing with. We discussed my research proposal and what I wanted to do here in Uganda. He offered to help me find the right people to talk with and chemicals I need for water quality testing. He also wants me to build an aquaponic system for his daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
The Ugandans are very helpful and kind. I was in the Makerere library but couldn’t connect to the Internet (their wifi is not too good). A student offered to lend me his Ethernet cord and helped me find a port that worked. Ugandans are also happy to help with directions—the first day, when I was really lost, I asked a woman how to get to Makerere. She explained the way and was walking that direction so I followed her. After a bit she got in a matata and told me to get in too. The next stop was Makerere main gate; we hopped out and she even paid for my fare!
I’ve also noticed that Ugandans are very personal. I can send an email and wait months for a reply, but if I call or talk to them face to face, they are extremely responsive, warm, and helpful. They value personal relationships. Even when calling on the phone, they go through many pleasantries and inquire about your day before getting to the point of the call. While it may be annoying not to get an instant reply through email, this emphasis on personal relationships teaches respect for others and to care for them as actual human beings, not just someone who can get things done for you.
It’s also hard to get used to the Ugandan money—the numbers are so large! $3 is about 10,000 schillings, so while things are cheap, there are so many zeros to keep track of!
I felt so much more comfortable on day 2—I had a phone, a place to stay, Ugandan friends, my roommate Eden, and my professor. I understand the transport system and was becoming familiar with my surroundings. Everyday is a new, exciting learning experience—I can’t wait for my next adventure!