Tag Archives: Kampala

2014 Banff Mountain Film Festival comes to Kampala

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is being held in Kampala Uganda at the National Theater on the evenings of the 2nd and 9th September 2014. The tour consists of an incredible collection of short adventure films from across the world.

You can buy your tickets from the theater box office.

Not convinced yet?

Check out this preview:

See you there!

BANFF

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Talk by adventurer Julian Monroe Fisher in Kampala. 27th Feb 2014

The Mountain Club of Uganda (MCU) are putting on a FREE talk by the world renowned adventurer, Julian Monroe Fisher. The talk will be at 7:30 in Athina Club in Kololo, Kampala.

Please do share this event with friends and family.

Hopefully see you there.

Talk

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Hidden Gems Travel Tales – An Anthology

Hidden Gems Travel Tales - An Anthology of Travel Writing EntriesOne of my travel articles has been published in the book “Hidden Gens Travel Tales – An Anthology“.

It will be available for free download on the 5th an 6th October 2013. The rest of the time it will cost £0.77 with all income going to the British Red Cross.

To buy the book click here.

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My love affair with Kampala

I am on an elongated honeymoon with city in which I live, Kampala. A rational mind living in this city would see the congestion, the number of motorbike accidents, and the levels of petty theft, but the mind of a lover is anything but rational.

My mind sees green hills, standing pert overlooking the beating heart of the city centre. It sees the taxi buses that serve as the blood flow of the city, bringing life to each of its extremities.  It sees the millions of people swarming through this landscape, each like an atom of the body, for a limited period, an inseparable part of this wider being – Kampala.

The irrationality of my mind was brought into focus a few days ago when I was walking back from work over one of Kampala’s hills. On this occasion the weather was close and heavy. It had been raining most of the day and it felt like there was more to come.

On this day, a thick mist was rising from the sodden ground and dancing in the air with the heavy low clouds. Walking through this was like entering a steam room as the thick air stuck to the inside of my lungs.

For most in Kampala, their thoughts in these few minutes were on finding shelter before once again the heavens opened. My mind though, was caught in that moment, enjoying it, literally breathing it in.

I stopped and stood, just for a few seconds, and watched the moisture lift from the ground and glide through the overhanging tree branches. Through the mist I caught glimpses of other houses and people making preparations for the inevitable downpour. But for those few seconds, it felt like I was alone in the city.

The air of Kampala was slipping into me, dissolving the distinction between the two of us, for a few seconds making us one.

Of course the sky then opened dropping heavy thunderous balls of rain. Every other resident was dry under shelter as I was striding through the streets with thick red mud clinging to my feet.

Somehow though, I didn’t mind, I still enjoyed it.

As with every honeymoon, I know this will all end. I know there will be a day where I will be walking the streets and feel my wallet slip from my pocket as the sun burns that bit harder onto the back of my neck  and I will long for nothing more than the soft comforting embrace of the temperate valleys from which I am from.

But that day is not here yet and so, just like every other lover around the world, I will continue forwarded, blinkered by the beauty of all that sits around me appreciating it to its fullest.

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Fish and Chips in Uganda

Think you know about fish and chips? Think again. I used to think I knew about fish and chips, that wonderful institution of the British diet, until I visited Uganda that was.  

“This is good, I mean really good”, said my partner glancing up from the massive plate of fish and chips that sat between us.

I however was not wasting crucial seconds with peripheral tasks such as talking; after taking another swig of my ice cold beer I was straight back in, my fingers pushing together the crumbling bits of perfectly cooked Taliapia.

As we scoffed down our freshly cooked food, the smoke from other barbecued fish drifted through the packed restaurant and out into evening sun. We were sat with views out onto the very northern tip of Lake Victoria just outside of Kampala.

The restaurant in which we were sat was lined with charcoal barbeques cooking that day’s intake from the lake. All around us small groups of local guys were huddled around old rickety wooden tables on which large shared platters of fresh fish rested.

We had been lucky, when we arrived after a day’s walking, all the tables were taken. Within seconds of entering into the shade of the restaurant though, what looked like a full table had been rearranged and we had been squeezed onto the end.

We shared our table with three Ugandans, two locals from Kampala and another just visiting from the Karamoja region in the east.

All three of the men sat with that happy contented look on their faces that gave away the culinary experience they had just enjoyed. Looking around I could see this same look on faces of men all around me. Each sat leaning back on their plastic chairs, one hand on their belly and the other around a cold beer bottle.

I struggle to think of an image that better embodies the Ugandan understanding of contentment.

As I ate, I listened to the guys sat at our table chat about how Ggaba had the best fish and chips, not just in Kampala or even Uganda but, so their beer induced conversation went, in the world.

As they spoke I found myself thinking though, “What about British fish and chips – our national dish?”

Then it dawned on me, these fish and chips were, by far, the best fish and chips I have ever had in my life. No country pub, inner city chippy or homemade meal from the UK had ever come close. They were simply delicious and they were supported by the most wonderful of ambiences.

In a conciliatory backlash to my own thoughts, I joined in the conversation with the comment, “these fish and chips are even better than in the UK you know.”

The guy on my left responded, “Really?”

I half joked, “yeah, and we invented the dish.”

My new Ugandan friend from Karamoja, a restaurant worker himself it would turn out, swiftly responded, “ahh, I am afraid that is a common misconception my friend. Fish and Chips were bought to the UK by a Jewish immigrant in the late 19th century.”

I responded dumbly, “oh”.

A later Google search would tell me that there is at least an element of truth in his assertion. Who would have thought that it would take a Ugandan to educate this Brit on his supposed national dish?

I left the restaurant that evening with the sun slipping behind the hills. The air was light and there was a low level of noise in the fruit and veg market that surrounds the harbour.

I don’t think I could imagine a nicer place for a wee Ugandan style culinary master class.

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Filed under Food and Drink, Travel, Uganda

A moment, nothing more

This is just a moment of my life, nothing more…

I was sat with a cold beer in hand. The evening air was still warm and insects collected around the lights that were illuminating the garden in which I was sat. There was live music in the background but I had predominantly let it slip over me as I sat with some friends chatting happily. Half a dozen new friends in this new country sat in my immediate circle, all their shadows cast inwards from the overhead light. Dotted around the garden though were a dozen other similar groups, most of whom were newly made friends of mine.

What caught my attention and drew me out of this social haze though was the silence, the break in the music. The silence rippled into other’s conversations and soon heads were turned to look at the silent small stage.

One friend, the person who had perhaps made the biggest effort to make me feel welcome when I arrived to this new country was on the stage. She was due to leave in the coming weeks to head back to her home, Holland. The stage lights shone up on her and those who had been dancing looked up expecting, waiting, and anticipating.

Then it happened, that moment….

She broke out with the impromptu band with the most earth-shatteringly-good voice. Everyone was either in silent awe or whooping in delight. She held a presence on stage that is hard to describe. Her voice though carried in the night air, each note hanging for an improbably long time. The dancers in front of her half danced and half stood transfixed.

Personally, I sat towards the back, unable or unwilling to move. I sat transfixed as her voice glided effortlessly around the silent circles of friends. I sat back on the garden furniture and sipped my beer. I think that I was, in that moment perfectly contented.

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A visit to Hospice Africa Uganda

This is an article that I wrote for ‘ehospice‘ about my recent visit to a hospice in Kampala.

An incongruous collection of books sit on the shelves next to hand-made jewellery and other bits of bric-a-brac. I stand and flick through the books for a minute enjoying being out of the hot Kampala sun. As I rummage around looking for a bargain the shop assistant, Joy, begins to talk to me about her role at Hospice Africa Uganda.

Joy is one of a dedicated team of volunteers who make it possible for the hospice to carry on offering palliative care services to patients with Cancer and/or HIV/AIDS. Joy, a recently retired surgical nurse, is clearly someone who is driven by the need to help others. When I ask her why she gives up five days a week to help at the hospice she explains:

Read the full article here >>

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A visit to Royal Pride school in Kampala

Heavy balls of rain lash down, their weight and intensity exaggerated by the tin roof under which we shelter. Looking out, the playground which minutes earlier had swarms of children playing in is now inches under water.

P1000317Godfrey, the headmaster of Royal Pride School looks out and predicts that it will “stop in 30 minutes”. I wonder to myself how he can know this, but chose not to question and stare out at the black brooding sky.

I begin to ask Godfrey about his school. He tells me that it is only eight years old and takes in about 280 children. Looking at the 8 small classrooms, 4 of which look under disrepair, it is hard to imagine that so many kids could fit into such an improbably small space.

Inside one of the small classrooms we are met by a swarm of children running and shouting, each waving their exercise books at me showing me their work. As I start to run out of unique adjectives to praise each child’s work, the teacher steps in and starts the process of trying to calm the children. It proves to be close to impossible while the ‘muzungu’ is still in the room so I follow my colleague out into the court yard leaving cries of “Muzungu muzungu” behind me.

Uganda September 009Back in the headmaster’s office I ask what the biggest challenges are to the children’s education. Without hesitation, Godfrey responds, “The biggest challenge that these children face is not education, but finding the money for their education. It costs them 30,000 Ush [£7.30] a term. I want them to come for free, but I need to pay the teachers a small salary”.

Indeed, a small salary it is. Some of the teachers earn as little as 90,000 Ush (approximately £22) per month.  Despite the small salary, all of the teachers look engaged and enthusiastic interacting with the children.

With no electricity all of the teaching is done with a blackboard at the front of the class. From the headmasters office I can just see one teacher writing, “My name is…” on the board while a hoard of youngsters eagerly copy.

For many children education of this description is nothing more than an aspiration. 18% of children don’t enrol into basic primary education. Of those that do attend, there is an average dropout rate of 66%.

Uganda September 008I ask Godfrey about this high dropout rate and he tells me that one of the best ways to keep kids coming to school is to offer food. Twice a day at Royal Pride kids get a bowl of porridge as well as access to running water.  This enough to keep them coming back, as Godfrey explained:

Many of the children who come to the school don’t have the basics in their houses. They don’t have water, or food. We can give them that”.

Inevitably, teaching in this environment can be a challenge. The teachers have to think about basic sanitation as much as they do mathematics or English. I asked Godfrey if the teachers stayed at the school for long. He answered saying, “When a teacher comes to work here, we sit down together and discuss the types of children we have here. They have to know what kind of community we are in.  We have to put aside our own time to go and visit each family at home”.

The more I talked to Godfrey the more I became inspired by the incredible work he was doing with these kids. The place struck me as much as a social project as it did a school.

P1000314

I asked Godfrey what drove him to want to be a Head Teacher of a school. Godfrey is only 32 years old and I was curious as to what led him to Royal Pride.

With a wry smile, Basiime Godfrey looks out into the driving rain and says:

This is a long story. I have no mother, I have no father. I was with an organisation”. He breaks off for a second to compose himself before continuing, “Sorry, when I speak about this, I feel like crying”.

Tears start to dwell up in his eyes and roll down his cheeks and I tell him that we don’t have to continue. He takes a step back and says, “Where I came from, it was a sad situation. I was living under a tree. Some people came to us and paid for [me to] go to school. This is all I want to do.  I’m sorry…”.

I break off the interview at this point and let all the pieces drop into place around us. Godfrey turns away from me and wipes tears from his eyes. Water drips down onto some paper work through the tin roof as we stand in silence.

Godfrey is someone who has worked tirelessly for these kids because, as he had said to me earlier, “I know what it’s like for these kids”.

As I walk up the hill away from Royal Pride there is open sewage running down the hill to the valley bottom where the school is located. Kids who are not in school peer out at the white people walking in the rain and openly stare in amazement.

I stare back and raise a half smile. Only now does it dawn on me that the kids at that school are the lucky ones.

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A Sunday Morning in Kampala

“Praise the Lord, feel his love rushing though you. Feel him touch your soul. You are saved brother, you are saved”.

I wearily look up from my scrambled eggs and rather soggy toast. The church next door to my hotel has been going for over 3 hours now.

At one point there is a rather terrifying scream before there is an impressively drawn out chorus’ of ‘hallelujahs’.

I leave the last bit of soggy toast on my plate and make my way out into the mid-morning sun.

I sharply step sideways off the potholed concrete road into the red earth gutters as motorcycles and 4X4s swerve perilously close. All the time trying to keep an eye on the on-coming traffic and an eye on the fabulous views that stretch in front of me.

The sprawling city centre sits in the distance as I make my towards the notorious ‘Kabalagala’ area of town.  I pass men opening their shops opposite bars that are still going from the previous night.

The bass from a reggae bar seeps out onto the street. It feels like electricity is passing through the tarmac. As I pass each bar I peer in to watch the revellers who are still going, still enjoying the bars of Kampala – the city that truly never sleeps.

Short skirts and crumpled suits zigzag across the dance floors and prop up the bar as they refuse to accept that their night is over.

I walk on only stopping to buy some mango on the side of the road. The seller beams a smile back at me as I hand over about twenty per cent more than a local would – the ‘muzungo’ price.

With sticky fingers I finish my mango and make my way past one of Kampala’s 24/7 traffic jams. Nut sellers squeeze through improbable gaps in the traffic risking their life, quite literally, for peanuts.

These nut sellers seem to move with ease in and out of the traffic as I wait trying to find a break in the wall of traffic to cross into the shade on the other side of the street.

In the shade I am conscious of how quickly the sun has risen. On the equator sunrise is like sitting in a bath as it fills up with hot water – immersing you, the heat surrounding you.

The sun now shines hard on the red earth and strips through any pretence that the new day has yet to start.

This Sunday morning will be spent sleeping off last night’s excess for some, praising the lord for others and for me at least, exploring the maze of streets in the city centre.

As I make my way into the centre, a small minibus with its bumper hanging off stops to offer me a lift. On the front windscreen the words ‘TRUST ONLY GOD’ are printed. On this occasion I decide to take the advice and say I am happy to walk.

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Can tribal traditions bring together war torn Uganda?

As Uganda recovers from a conflict that has left thousands dead and millions displaced, I met Rwangyezi Stephen, director and founder of the Ndere centre but perhaps best known for his role in the 2007 blockbuster ‘The Last King of Scotland’. His aim? Nothing short of building a new Uganda based on traditional values

In 2005 the International Criminal Court announced that Joseph Kony, the leader of Lord Resistance Army, was a wanted man.

His Crime? To recruit thousands of child soldiers and to displace millions of residents across the north of Uganda.

It is estimated that his movement, the LRA, was responsible for the deaths of 300,000 Ugandans. The ICC arrest warrant for Kony stated that the

LRA is an armed group which has established a pattern of brutalization of civilians by acts including murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses and looting of camp settlements; that abducted civilians, including children, are said to have been forcibly recruited as fighters, porters and sex slaves and to take part in attacks

The LRA developed out of the Acholi dominated Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA) and a sense of internal tribal divisions within Uganda.  Specifically, a feeling amongst the Acholi that they had at best been tolerated, and more likely that they had been discriminated against by the central Ugandan government.

Rightly or wrongly, Uganda is often held up as the example of ethno-conflict.

With this in mind, I was interested to meet the actor Rwangyezi Stephen, the founder and director of Kampala’s Ndere centre.

With a beaming smile Stephen introduced his ‘culture centre’ as proof that “different and diverse cultures and tribes can come together to live and work for peace”.

The Ndere centre has its origins in a music and dance troupe that was founded in 1984. On the surface, the troupe simply bought together the different singing, dancing and musical traditions from across Uganda.

In practice, the Ndere centre and Stephen’s vision was something much more radical.

The aim was to transform the colonial myths surrounding the traditional performing arts in Uganda that suggested they were ‘evil or backwards’ into a modern celebration of the culture. A celebration that disadvantaged young people could take part in and use as stepping stone in life in modern Uganda.  Many of the young men and women there were receiving an education only because of the centre.

Like a pied piper, Stephen leads us through the perfectly green grounds of the Ndere centre. We pass a lively bar/cafe and a small shop selling traditional crafts with employees’ positively beaming back at us. Brimming with excitement and a literal bounce in his step, Stephen takes us into a small theatre where some his cast were waiting.

We sit opposite a score of young men and women who sit quietly chatting. Everyone waits for the master of ceremonies to take the next step.

Methodically, Stephen introduces each of them by name and by where they come from. The process is drawn out, theatrical but ultimately entertaining – something that I would learn to be a theme of the Ndere centre.

The process serves a point however – it illustrates the diversity of the performers.

Patiently, Stephen explains to this muzungu audience about the importance of music in traditional Ugandan culture. As he talks he picks up musical instruments made of bits of wood, old tins and plastic pipes that are scattered throughout the theatre.

For the next two hours we watch on as Stephen sweeps us through a whirlwind tour of Ugandan history, politics and culture. With each note from each instrument he or one of his cast draws out, another subtlety and distinction between the different peoples within Uganda is illustrated. It is an education for most of us muzungus, but I suspect, stating the obvious to some Ugandans.

What was obvious though for anyone to see was the confidence with which this collection of young men and women performed. The confidence clearly stemmed from an enjoyment of the art form they were performing – the performing arts from across the tribal divisions within Uganda.

To illustrate a point, Stephen asks why we thought Ugandan women could dance like they do and Europeans struggled to emulate. Some suggested practice, others confidence and a few murmured something about cultures.

Stephen’s answers was much more simple…start by bending your knees. As he said this he grinned and said “see” as he proceeded to shake his hips from side to side. The white, very bottom conscious crowd looked at the floor not sure how to respond.

Sure enough though, before long, Stephen had a room full of muzungus up dancing – well most of us anyway.

The session came to a close with an impressive display of improvised music played by dozens of young men and women.

I left the centre feeling inspired by Stephen’s enthusiasm and passion.

As I was walking out of the theatre back into the afternoon sun I caught up with Stephen to tell him that I thought what he had established at the Ndere centre was really impressive. His answer though was telling, for the first time that day, enthusiasm dropped from his voice as he said:

“I wish my government agreed with you. We do not get any government money to support this work, but we also struggle to get the performing arts taken seriously. You know, I used to perform with these instruments and people would walk out. ”

At the Ndere centre I found young adults raised in a war torn country not only living, studying and working together but young adults enjoying each other’s company and traditions.

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In the quiet of Kampala’s suburbs, the memory of the Al Shabaab bombings lives on

The leafy suburb of Muyenga in Uganda’s capitol city of Kampala is home to a scattering of charity head quarters and gated houses. It sits over 4,000 feet high  above the congested bustling city centre.

It is in this suburb that I find myself, by chance, spending my first week in Kampala.

Walking up the hill from the crowded city centre you pass a row of lively looking pubs and restaurants all contributing to Kampala’s reputation as the “city that never sleeps”. It feels warm and welcoming.

Nestled within these pubs and clubs though is a reminder of the area’s recent past. The Ethiopian Village restaurant, stands as a physical reminder the atrocities that took place in the summer of 2010.

In 2010, Al Shaabab terrorists detonated a bomb in the closing minutes of the 2010 world cup final in the Ethiopian crowded restaurant. The explosion in the Ethiopian restaurant coincided with an explosion at the city’s rugby club. These attacks left 74 dead.

At the time Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage of Al Shaabab said that they were “sending a message to Uganda and Burundi” that “If they do not take out their AMISOM troops from Somalia, blasts will continue”.

Ugandan currently supplies one of the largest numbers of troops to the on-going peace mission within Somalia.

Uganda has recently threatened to withdraw troops though after a UN report suggested they had been arming M23 rebels – a group that is lead by an ICC indicted warlord and has been accused of war crimes.

Here in the capital, the threat of Islamic terrorists is still talked about and still worried about. One Kampala resident said to me that the threat internally from the inter-tribal conflict in the north is not worried about in Kampala but that “Al Shaabab could strike at anytime, anywhere”.

Despite these concerns, there have been no comparable attacks in Kampala since the 2010 atrocities and Kampala enjoys the reputation as one of the safest capital cities in Africa.

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