Reflections on a Trip to Uganda
Betty Castor (with Sam Bell)

After learning about the good work of so many TEAA alumni, my husband, Sam Bell and I were challenged to travel back to East Africa.  We wanted to reinforce and support institutions already identified by others.  Prior to our departure in early December, Sam convinced his law firm to contribute 30 Dell computers to Nkumba University and MacKay College.  They were shipped from Tampa via Miami (and some world ports) to Mombasa and overland to Kampala.  We had hoped that the shipment would arrive while we were in Uganda, but unfortunately that didn’t occur.  In fact, we’ve had a very interesting fall and winter following the route of our computers!  We also had a first hand tour of the facilities that will house the computers, the security being installed as well as the technology staff that will handle them once they arrive.
We were well prepared by Henry Hamburger, Ed Schmidt, Pat Gill and Brooks Goddard, and Brooks even visited me in Tampa before our departure.  However, nothing could quite prepare us for the challenges of Kampala, which as others have noted has become a big, congested, dusty city.   Fawn Cousens once again proved to be an invaluable friend and adviser.  She and her husband, John, hosted us for a brunch, introduced us to Senteza Kajubi, Vice Chancellor of Nkumba, and instructed us in the marvels of cell phone communication, travel agents, and experts extraodinaire. 
MacKay:    Like others who have visited MacKay, we were both impressed with the wonderful and resourceful Head Teacher Gertrude Ssekabira.  She has a substantial educational background which is evident at MacKay.  Her top deputy, Anne Karemira, walked us over every square inch of the campus.  (I dedicated my first pair of shoes to the hike!)  The tour of the campus included a hike to the cave where MacKay hid when authorities tried to prevent him from teaching Ugandans to read.  Betty demonstrated her prowess with our new digital camera by taking a number of pictures of local children at the spring near the cave which is the only source of drinking water for the neighborhood. 
Although our visit coincided with the winter break, students remained at the school to take care of the pigs, which will be sold, the garden and assist with improving the grounds.  Gertrude’s philosophy of making the students responsible for all aspects of the building and grounds is one of the attractive qualities of the school.  We were also cognizant of how much additional support is necessary, especially textbooks and fees for students who excel, but come from very, very poor families.  The library must be improved and we committed to helping with that project.
Nkumba:   At Nkumba University, we met most of Dr. Kajubi’s staff, toured the campus and learned how far this fledgling university has come.  A new library is under construction (no OSHA here).  The AIDS education program, is one of which the staff is very proud.  They’re grateful for Pat Gill’s help with the curriculum!  The staff has been preparing for our computers and we met the individuals who will be installing them and supervising student use.  This is an impressive place, but again the needs are overwhelming, beginning with library resources.  We toured the entire campus and I (Sam) enjoyed seeing a tree there with a sign on it designating it as the “Florida Parliament Tree.”  As a former member of the Florida Legislature, as was Betty, we were impressed.  I trust that much more sound decisions are made under that tree than are often made in Tallahassee.
Namirembe:   During our stay in Uganda, we called the Namirembe Guest House (with its Million Dollar view) our home.  Amazingly, we had internet access at the guest house and in the village nearby as well.  (The latter was an internet café on a dirt street with a vacant lot across from it where a cow grazed.  This was a graphic example of the 19th Century meeting the 21st  Century.)  This is a great place to stay and the staff was very helpful.  We also had an opportunity to talk with many people who are very concerned about the political situation in Uganda, the rebels in the north and the insistence of President Museveni to stay in power.  His major opponent was incarcerated during much of the time we were there.  The Monitor, the daily newspaper, bravely reported the criticism of the President.  We’ll be interested in the outcome. 
Queen Elizabeth Park:   While staying at Namirembe, we arranged for a trip to Queen Elizabeth Park near the Congo border.  We traveled there by car driven by a wonderful young man from the guest house named Saison.  The cost of the entire trip, including the stay at the Mweya Lodge(sp) and all of the safaris for the two of us was $1000 US.  This was a reasonable price for the trip, but had to be paid in advance in Ugandan money where the exchange rate is one to 1800.  We went to the bank and left with a stack of shillings that bulged out of my pockets in a very obvious way.  Gertrude insisted that I buy a bag in which to carry the money since she was convinced that I was going to be robbed and she was probably right.
Rwanda:   Following our visit to Uganda, we traveled to Rwanda (without hotel reservations).  This is a country very much recovering from the genocide of a decade ago.  Upon arriving late at night, we found a taxi at the airport and located the Hotel Gorillas (which seemed appropriate).  We took the Kigali City Tour and were the only tourists on a very nice bus with exceptional guides.  The biggest attraction on the tour is the new genocide museum, which has recently opened.  It is an outstanding facility even though the subject is terribly distressing.  The country is obviously receiving substantial international funds for the recovery effort.  We traveled with ease on newly constructed highways in this country which is one of the most densely populated in the world.  While in Rwanda, we hired a driver and crossed the entire country approaching close to the border with Burundi. 
The most notable aspect of the countryside is that every square inch of it is cultivated with small farms or plots.  Jared Diamond in his new book, Collapse, has a chapter on Rwanda which attributes much of the genocide to this over population and over cultivation.  Everyone seems to feel the need to talk about the genocide and how it effected them.  It is hard to imagine that just 10 years ago, one eighth of the population was slaughtered by neighbors.  Can you think what our country would be like if that had happened here?  One terrible aspect of this horror is that the rest of the world sat on its hands and let it happen.
Christmas in Zanzibar:   Our trip continued with visits to Zanzibar and Ngorongoro Crater and back again to Entebbe. Betty passed quickly over our trip to Zanzibar and I can understand why.  First, we lost our luggage in Nairobi and had to spend two and one half days in the same clothes, part of which was on the hot, sticky “spice tour.”  The spiciest thing about that tour was us!!  This is also where we spent Christmas Eve.  Our Christmas Eve dinner, on the roof of the Emerson and Green Hotel was accompanied by Hindu bells and the Moslem call to prayer.  This was followed by a very, very erotic native dance group.  It was capped off by Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.”  It was, however, a Christmas to remember. 
Friends:   Our last days were spent with Gertrude Ssekabira.  One of my nicest surprises was locating Mary Barlow, a fellow teacher with whom I taught at Kibuli Secondary School.  She relayed to us the difficult times she and her family experienced in the forty tumultuous years since I last saw her.  In addition, we visited the Kampala Music School, where Damascus Kafumbe, our Uganda student friend who attends the Florida State University, studied for his major in music.  We, of course, became the couriers of packages, information and other memorabilia between other Uganda students in our area as well. 
End Notes:   We did not meet another American in the entire 20 days.  I can understand that in Nateete or at Nkumba University, but not at Ngorangoro or Queen Elizabeth Park or even in Zanzibar.  For me (this is Sam speaking) this was a life-changing experience and I am grateful to all the TEAA folks who helped to make it possible and who encouraged Betty to go back to East Africa again. The computer saga is not over, but we’re following it closely.  The next chapter is probably another call to Fawn for help.
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