15 American university students, their professor, and traveling staff arrive at Entebbe Airport. We lug huge suitcases over the cobbled dirt parking lot towards a small van, dodging cars and other travelers. The time is roughly 2pm, the sun is hot behind a veil of clouds, a gentle breeze flows through our airplane clothes. After being greeted warmly by Martha and Amodo, our country coordinators, we head to Kampala. As we enter the city, I see many kiosks on the side of the road selling food, mobile phones, games, clothes, and anything in between. The streets are crowded with cars, bodo bodos, street merchants, and children walking to school. I notice that there are a lot of primary schools. There are also a lot of white colored mannequins with large booties.
We settle into the Nob hotel, our home for the next two days. Orientation includes a health and safety briefing, a survival Luganda language class, and a lecture on colonialism and political history in Uganda.
In one orientation activity, we partner with local university students to complete a neighborhood exploration day. During the activity, our partners Shadiya and Ronnie took us to Makerere University to learn about the education system. We spoke with a recent graduate who has returned to the university to pick up his transcript 4 months after graduation. He explained that there are too many students so there is a slow processing speed for transcripts, but he is trying to go to the US for graduate school. His dream is MIT. Three education students looked curiously at our group so we asked them if they had some time to answer a few questions. They want to be schoolteachers for high school students. They are not in classes right now because the lecturers are striking for higher waging and the students are striking because they are not getting lectures.
We wandered on and bumped into Shadiya’s friends from the law department. Both student organizers, we learned more about the protests and struggles of being a student at Makerere University. Although it is the best school in East Africa and the 4th best school in Africa, professors are not getting paid enough. On-campus living conditions are not great. The strike has been going on for a month. It is illegal to protest in Uganda, so they have both been arrested multiple times, once even this week. They are inspired by Mandela, MLK, and Bobby Wine, the people’s president. They call for unity amongst students to demand change. We asked one of them what he wanted to do if he was made President of Uganda today and he said he would start by following the laws (unlike the current president).
Kampala does not feel like any place I have ever been before, but at the same time, it feels like any place one may find them self. There is nothing out of the ordinary. There are international restaurants, KFC, and Ugandan cafes. Most Kampalans are from Uganda, but there are also people who have immigrated, seeked asylum, or live as ex-pats. The weather is warm and the sun shines everyday. So far, Kampala is treating us well!