Even though Uganda is situated on the equator, it has numerous climate zones depending on elevation. The mountains are generally cool, while the lowland regions remain warm throughout the year. Temperatures average about 26°C/79°F during the day and 16°C/61°F at night. The hottest months are from December to February. There are two rainy seasons, one from March to May and the other from October to November.
For most of our trip, we will be staying at Wingate Guesthouse in Kawanda. Wingate is owned and operated by our Field Director, George Nsamba. The guesthouse is quite comfortable with western style toilets, showers, mosquito nets, wireless internet, a dining area and a courtyard. The rooms do not have AC but every room has a fan. Rooms are set up for double or triple occupancy. Wingate is a walled compound with a security guard. This will be your “home” away from home!
Uganda’s electrical power is distributed at 220 volts cycling at 50 Hz with flat plugs. Check over the electrical devices you’re planning to bring. Many of them can handle both 120/60 and 220/50 and do not need voltage converters. Hair dryers are usually not adaptable and require a converter that can provide sufficient wattage. Even better, go au natural and leave your hair dryer at home!!
Note that there are “adaptors” and “converters”. Adaptors are passive devices that allow your plug to fit into the local outlets. Converters are active devices that transform voltage levels.
English is the official language in Uganda. Lugandan (in the south) and Acholi (in the north) are widely spoken and we will mostly likely be using translators when we travel into smaller and more remote places.
The local diet contains mainly of starch, grains and vegetables – rice, beans, posho (millett mash), potatoes, matoke, etc. – starch, starch and more starch! Kolping house has a variety of food ranging from local African dishes to grilled cheese sandwiches and pork chops. When eating in the villages it is recommended to be polite and eat what you can, however some of the food is of noticeably poor quality. We depend on our bodies to carry us through our tasks, but we also need to respect those we have come to serve.
Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting in Uganda. When visitors arrive, it is often expected that a beverage of some sort (water, soda or tea) will be offered and received. Etiquette is extremely important at mealtime. When a meal is ready, all those partaking wash their hands with a bowl/jug, and usually a prayer will be said prior to the meal. It is considered impolite to leave the room while others are eating. Often a bowl of water is available after the meal to wash hands again. When the meal is finished, it is polite to compliment the cook.
We typically travel by taxi van or small bus (locally referred to as a Coaster). These vehicles tend to be more cramped that what we are used to and are rarely air conditioned. Be prepared for extended time on bumpy roads, waiting in traffic, driving in very crowded conditions (inside the van and outside) as well as unexpected problems with the vehicles (maintenance is poor). Our drivers have served us well over the years and have become our friends – we are traveling in good hands!
Here are some tips for carrying cash & valuables: try not to appear wealthy, only carry what is necessary for that day, remove all excess materials, and carry your money on the front side of your body. It is required that you have a money belt or document pouch, which is worn around your neck or under your clothing to store your money and important papers. These are readily available at travel stores and wilderness outfitters. Bring a lock so that you can lock your suitcase while you are out of your hotel room.
Phone Calls: You will receive a family information packet prior to departure with contact numbers, trip itinerary and flight details. Team leaders will be carrying cell phones that will be available in the event of an emergency or if you just need to connect with home. It is easy to purchase minutes directly from the hotel to make calls to the USA. Texting is a good way to set up a time to connect by phone.
Internet: Internet is free at Kolping House but it can be sporadic. Team members often have time to email and update Facebook in the evenings. Internet services are not readily available in villages.
REQUESTS FOR MONEY, GIFTS OR PERSONAL INFORMATION
It is culturally normal in most developing nations, or the poor areas of other nations, for the locals to request donations of money and gifts from travelers. Often, they will request your personal contact information (telephone and email) so they can continue to request donations. As a team member, how you handle these requests affects the whole team and other teams that may be coming in the future, so we ask you to adhere to the following policies:
Please refrain from giving out money and to be selective when giving out personal contact information. Sometimes the team will have an opportunity to give an offering to those we are serving, which will be administered by the local leaders. We also sometimes do likewise for our translators and others who have served the team faithfully, such as drivers and translators.
When requested for personal contact information, you can provide them with our Ugandan Water Project website/email (ugandanwaterproject.com) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If a Team Member is moved with compassion to make a donation to an individual or for a specific local cause, we ask that they discuss this with the Ugandan Water Project team leadership who will consult with the local leadership.
It is important to understand that the tendency to ask for support is culturally normal, and should not be viewed as wrong or bad behavior on their part. In the long term, these individual gifts can hinder our greater goal of empowering the Ugandan people and equipping their communities to be self-sustaining.