This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright program—it was started by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 to promote mutual understanding across cultures. After WWII, exchanging students, professors, knowledge, and skills with other countries was seen as a way to promote peace. If we can understand people from other cultures, and they can understand the US, then we are better able to help each other.
Makerere University and the US Mission in Kampala hosted an event to celebrate the anniversary and encourage Ugandans to apply for Fulbright scholarships to the US, so me, Eden (the other Fulbrighter in Gulu), and Hannah (the intern at CVI) hopped on a bus to Kampala. Hannah and I had front row seats—right next to the driver—so we saw how he sped down the road and barreled past all the land cruisers, trucks, bodas, bicycles and every other vehicle on the road. In Uganda, police checkpoints (complete with yellow spiked barriers) periodically populate the highways. To prevent speeding, the buses are supposed to hit each checkpoint at a certain time or they are fined. Oftentimes, drivers just pull over and kill time while local people sell food to passengers through the bus windows. The bus drivers wait so long they have to speed to reach the next checkpoint in time!
The Fulbright Anniversary event was very well done—the Makerere University main hall was packed with Ugandan professors and students who had participated in Fulbright or were interested in applying. I was surprised that “business casual” meant all the professors were dressed in full suits, but Ugandans dress to impress, especially in the city. The auditorium was decorated for the occasion with a table up front for distinguished guests, and the schedule was planned to the minute! We were entertained with many speeches (always an integral part of any Ugandan ceremony), a video of past Ugandan Fulbrighters, and an incredible student choir who sang the Ugandan and US national anthems and the Makerere University song.
One of my highlights was meeting the US Ambassador to Uganda. She planted a tree to commemorate the occasion then everyone headed to a reception at the Makerere Art Gallery. There we talked to many students and encouraged them to apply to study in the US. The first Ugandan Fulbrighter was also there—she went to the US in 1961 and had an amazing story! I was surprised how many Ugandans had received Fulbrights to the US; they all testified that the program impacted them greatly and enabled their work in Uganda to have a bigger difference.
After spending the last few weeks in Lukodi and Gulu, Kampala was crazy! There are so many people jostling each other, sellers grabbing your arm to get your attention, matatus jamming the roads, and boda drivers constantly calling out “Mzungu! Mzungu!”(mzungu means “white person”). We went shopping in town (the center of Kampala that houses the markets) one morning, and the number of stalls and shops was overwhelming! I was looking for a Uganda Cranes (the national football team) jersey. The guy didn’t have the color and size I wanted, so he had me sit while his assistant ran around to all the other football jersey sellers looking for the right one to bring back. They’ll do anything to get your business, but I had a nice chat with the shopkeeper while waiting. He and many other Ugandans like Trump because he’s “a strong man” and promised to oust Musevini if elected. Musevini is Uganda’s long-time dictator who should be prosecuted by the ICC but stays in power by rigging elections. Although he’s popular among young Ugandans (he’s the only government they know), many Ugandans think he’s corrupt and not doing what’s best for their country.
While in Kampala, I saw my first boda accident—a boda crashed into the matatu in front of it. The passenger managed to jump off, but the driver and his bike started falling right into the path of my matatu. We swerved and narrowly missed them. Bodas drive crazily fast through narrow gaps in traffic, so accidents are common, but it was unnerving to see one myself. Thankfully, everyone seemed ok.
We also went to a movie theatre and watched Queen of Katwe—an inspiring true story of a girl who grew up in the slums of Kampala and how she fought to become a world champion in chess to escape poverty. The movie accurately depicts Ugandan life, and it was really neat to watch a film in the city where it was made. The theatre was packed, and it was interesting that the Ugandan audience laughed at scenes in the movie that would shock US viewers. Queen of Katwe is currently showing in the US, and I highly encourage Americans to see it and learn what daily life is like for many Ugandans.
Before the movie, we stopped in a grocery store to get snacks. Hannah and I walked in and were overwhelmed! After being in Lukodi, this store was massive! We couldn’t believe it when we saw M&M’s, Snickers, oatmeal, a whole selection of ice cream bars…pretty much everything in a US supermarket was in this store. While I enjoyed the opportunity to buy whatever I wanted and catch up with Kampala friends, the city was too crazy for me. I’m glad to be back in Lukodi and Gulu with the CVI girls and beautiful sunsets over the palm trees. I can't believe I've already been in Uganda over a month--time has flown by so quickly! While there are definitely things I miss about the US (like apple cider donuts, pumpkin bread, and fall foliage), I feel comfortable in Uganda and that I understand how things work here now (mostly!). Uganda feels like home.