Who will you see on your next visit? What will they say to you? What will you eat? How will you greet them? What will you learn about the people in particular and the tribe and culture in general?


Who Will You See on Your Next Visit? 

When I first came to Uganda, I was only eleven years old, and even I could tell there was something different about this country. I was happy, because the something different was good. I just couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew that I loved it. It wasn’t until years later, when I was interviewed by an eleven year old boy for his school project, that I finally found the why to my happy stay. This pupil found me in a craft shop, and asked if he could ask me a few questions. Until he walked up to me, I hadn’t realised that there was a whole class, including the teacher, wandering around the mall, stopping and talking to strangers.

He asked how long I had been here, and I said about ten years. Then he asked me the question I had asked myself for ten years, and had never found the answer:  what I liked  the most about the country. I was shocked by the answer I gave; for it was so honest and true.

I said:

The people.

The people here are welcoming, hospitable, and generous. I know I just used three words to say the exact same thing, but those are the words that describe the Uganda that I know.

The mountains may be tall and snow peaked, the river runs clean for miles and miles. The crested crane is elegant and the gorillas are a beauty.

The people? The people are gloriously resilient, unashamedly accepting, and to me especially, insistently benevolent.

In a small space holding over fifty five different tribes, each with its own culture and customs strengthened, and then weakened by so many conflicts over a short period of time, you would expect to find Uganda to be the epicentre of diversity of cultures. And it is . But that’s not what defines it.

In 2012 I made a friend who came from Hong Kong, and had the most active Facebook page I have ever seen. She took so many pictures of every little thing, but, to my surprise, only posted pictures of with one theme:

The people.

The food was delicious, but the person who had prepared it was more important. The music was intoxicating, but the musicians were the subject of a long Facebook post. The public transport was an adventure, but, to her, engaging with a taxi conductor in Luganda, however minimal, that was what she loved the most. What brought her back again and again was one thing and one thing only:

The people.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to visit Arua, in the North West part of the country. Being my first time there, I was excited. And so I posted on Facebook. Within 20 minutes a friend we went to school together commented that she lives a few minutes from where I was staying, and I should stop by if I have time. It so happened that I had time the next morning and I arrived in time for breakfast. Her whole family of brothers, sisters and mom were busy in the kitchen and in fifteen minutes I had a plate set on a table in front of me. Good old fashioned bread and tea. Which was perfect, until I realised that my breakfast was different from everyone else’s around the table. They were having maize grains cooked with beans. It looked so exotic, and I wanted it! So I did the unthinkable, which I don’t advise you to do, except in a very extreme situation: I pushed my plate to the side and asked for what they were having. Imagine their shock, for a Kampala girl to want village food and not city food! I wondered if they received many visitors, because I couldn’t understand how anyone would pass up that fine opportunity.

Which leads me to the question. Who will you see on your next visit? What will they say to you? What will you eat? How will you greet them? What will you learn about the people in particular and the tribe and culture in general?

Was it only Kampala and Arua that showed hospitality?

In 2015, I got the chance to find out, when, with friends,  I went on a road trip to the West. Beautiful scenery, graceful animals. Hilly countryside and mist that cuts visibility to just a meter in front of you. That is the chilly hilly West. With lake Bunyonyi, so deep and mysterious, and having so many bird species that tourists virtually camp on its banks for weeks at a time, I was most intrigued by, yes, the people.

We visited a family of one of our friends, unannounced, and I had my concerns about the whole idea.  I should never have worried. Because, once again, I was thrown right in the middle of the warmest welcome, and even though I pronounced the greetings all wrong, they all were more than happy to respond correctly, never letting on that I was less than fluent, if at all. They offered soda and biscuits to this Kampala girl, but our friend was witty and asked for the local brew of millet, sweetened with honey. Yes. This was the real deal. This I could not wait to enjoy. And enjoy it I did. I may have seen hills and water and birds and trees, but that family, I brought them back to Kampala with me. I don’t remember a single bird I saw. But I remember a great grandmother patiently telling me a short story in Rukiga.

I have eaten bamboo with rice and matooke. Yes. It’s called Maleewa in Lugisu. In 2017 I was lucky enough, through a work project,  to journey to the East. The same recurring theme of the people was very eminent when one of my colleagues told his mother that he wanted to check on her while in town. She of course invited all of us for services home-cooked meal. We were nine strangers in this sweet lady’s living room, being served more than enough food and and told stories we would one day tell our own children. It was magical and yes, the East has beautiful waterfalls and amazing sunsets. But I don’t remember any of these. I remember stranger opening her home to me, so that I could experience the texture, flavour and scents of her culture. Wanyala Maama.

So I ask you this:  Who will you see on your next visit? What will you say to  them? What will you say that you learned from them?

Uganda is a country with water, land, animals and plants. But our most important tourist attractions are us. We are Ugandan. And we are ready to welcome you, any time, anywhere, and show you our true unadulterated culture: Hospitality.

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