Africa - Kenya, Uganda
On the way to Africa, my Ugandan boyfriend (at the time) and I had an eighteen-hour layover in London which we did on purpose to break up the flights. We took a double decker bus tour and explored the city center, then we met my brother’s friend and wife for dinner. It was quick, but it was fun.
When we finally arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, his father picked us up from the airport. It was late, and we were exhausted. When we arrived at the hotel, his father told me specifically to quickly get inside which I did not take as the best sign. The hotel was small, noisy, no air conditioning and the bathroom was suspect, we didn’t sleep a wink. This was the first day that I cried.
The next day, my boyfriends father gave us a tour of Nairobi. It was dirty, loud and crowded. We took a taxi to the train station and the driving was unexplainable, I was happy to arrive alive. The train station looked like something out of the nineteen fifties and when the train arrived it did too. We got a room on the train with bunk beds, it was very “vintage” and cool. We settled in for our fifteen-hour train ride to Mombasa and after departing we heard the dinner bell and went to the dining car. After dinner I was so excited to sleep; however, I wake up several times as I fly up and down on the lower bunk from the bumps. When the sun finally rises I am eager to see the African landscape, so I begin to gaze into the horizon looking for elephants. But all I see are goats and cattle, we are out in the middle of nowhere yet every once in awhile you see a little kid waving at the train. They look so happy and I don’t know where they have come from. As we begin to get closer to the city, the culture shock begins to take root. There are shacks everywhere, sticks holding up tarp, children in their bare feet running around in trash, people wearing torn clothing, trash burning in the distance, dust everywhere, it’s raining, the smell is overwhelming – it is the saddest, most shocking site I have ever seen. I fight to keep back the tears.
We got a taxi from the train station, I was petrified at this point what our hotel would be like, I was finding it hard to breath. We passed little stores selling food, shoes, clothes – everything is old, dirty and falling down. We begin to go down this dirt road overrun by potholes big enough to swallow a car. I can’t breathe. After what seems like forever, we arrive to a gate where a security guard checks the car for bombs with a mirror. I can’t breathe. We get out of the taxi and walk inside a most beautiful hotel where a woman greets us with watermelon juice and a towel dampened with rose water. I can breathe. The apartment is lovely and has a big balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean. I didn’t want to leave.
After another sleepless night and the power going in and out we headed down for an amazing breakfast, the coffee was delicious. We called our taxi driver, Juma, and asked him to take us on a tour of the city. He tells us the history of Mombasa, stops at a hotel with a veranda overlooking Mombasa where we stop for photos and drives us into town. It looks so old and as if it will crumble at any moment or be swept away by the ocean. Since I have arrived in Africa, the staring is almost unbearable. People literally stop in the streets to watch me pass, no one smiles, just stares. I am uncomfortable and overwhelmed. Juma tells me not to get out of the car without one of them, he also tells me when I should not get out of the car at all.
We go to Fort Jesus which was built in the early eighteen hundreds, where they used to bring slaves for the Americas to buy. A difficult concept to grasp. We then head to old town; the streets are so narrow I don’t think the car will fit. It is hot and muggy, smells like wetness, trash, salt and body odor. We arrive at a place called Akamba Wood Carving. There are rows of shacks with thatched roofs and dirt for a floor. This is where a tribe called Akamba live, around five thousand and they carve wood. We walk through and some of the men are carving, they are very nice and show us what they are doing. I bought a beautiful bowl and some elephants.
On the way to our next stop, I see a man washing himself in a puddle on the side of the road, a muddy puddle. I get overwhelmed again and find it hard to breathe. I wanted to go home. I have never experienced culture shock before and was unsure how to deal with what I was seeing. The conditions are worse than I ever could have imagined, the dirtiness is unimaginable, the torn clothing, overpopulation, the mud, the shacks, the stares, lack of shoes. It is all very devastating. We stop in town to get some authentic Swahili food, it is crowded and a buffet to go. A lady helps me to get my food, she smiles at me, really smiled at me and I was so thankful that I will never forget her. The food was amazing, and I have yet to find chapatti as good as I had in Africa. Juma then took us back to our hotel, I was thankful for the day with him and felt very safe for which I was thankful. Our food was delicious, and it was nice to be back in our apartment, the power went out around nine and it was another restless night.
Juma came back a day later to take us to the beach! The drive was beautiful, and the scenery was much different out of the city. It was a beautiful day and Juma said he was taking us to a white sand beach, it was pretty when we arrived but covered in seaweed. We ventured to another beach which was in a club, there was a cabana, the water was calm, and it was seaweed free. I walked into the water and allowed myself to be engulfed in the Indian Ocean. It was serene. Once we arrived back at our apartment we didn’t leave again for two days. We both started to get colds, or were having allergies, or maybe we were both just afraid to leave. Luckily our place was lovely, comfortable, the food was good, and I brought a lot of magazines.
Next stop is Jinja, Uganda. I wasn’t sure how often we would stop on the bus, so I decided to dehydrate myself and it was a good thing I did. We didn’t stop for over eight hours. We arrive by a twenty-four-hour bus which seemed like the first bus ever made. I’m not sure I can fully describe the air quality here but when we finally get to our destination, we are congested, find it difficult to breath and have black gunk coming out of us.
When we arrive to Jinja we are received by his father who takes us to a hotel on Lake Victoria. The sun was just rising, and the lake was stunning! We went to a restaurant that my ex used to frequent when going to school, it seemed to bring back a lot of memories for him. We took a boda boda (motorcycle) that holds one to three people. It was scary especially with the three of us on it. On the way back to the hotel we took separate boda bodas. As we are riding there is a white girl running for exercise, the driver asks me if I know her. I laugh and tell him no, he says “yes you know her, she is your friend”. It was quite comical. We went to the Source of the Nile and took a boat ride, it was beautiful. There were many birds, monkeys and lizards. We decided to watch some Netflix but when we logged in the screen simply stated, “Netflix has not come to this part of the world yet”.
We hired a driver and ventured off to Murchison Falls National Park. We didn’t realize that we needed to be to a ferry by a certain time to get to our hotel, when we entered the park at dusk we were informed we wouldn’t be able to reach our hotel. The ranger suggested a place to stay along the way, therefore we went to find it, but it was just a camping site (in the middle of the park with the animals). We found a lodge; the chain was up but we saw lanterns lighting a path, so we walked down. It was pitch black, I was convinced a lion would eat us. We find a bar/restaurant and very friendly British man. We tell him our story about missing the ferry, not eating all day and he tells us to sit down then gets us dinner. He only takes cash, which we have little. He tells us not to worry, we can sort it out. After dinner, he is taking us to a cottage for the night, I kept hearing bullfrogs and asked him about them. He says, those aren’t bullfrogs, they are hippopotamuses and to walk quicker as they do attack. The cottage was lovely. When we awoke in the morning we could see how beautiful our surroundings were. The restaurant was on the Victoria Nile and it was stunning. We were able to get the ferry and go to our original hotel, it was nice and had a pool. We went for a drive and began to see the animals…giraffe, water buffalo, antelope, cob, warthogs, baboons and elephants! I was so happy to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. We took a long drive the next day as well, the scenery was breathtaking, and the animals were plentiful. We took a boat ride to see the Murchison Falls and saw hundreds of hippos, they were everywhere. The boat ride was lovely, and the falls were very pretty.
The final stop was Entebbe, we met a friend of my ex’s and he took us around town. We could see Lake Victoria once again and it was beautiful. We spent our final days exploring the town and spending time together as he was staying for a couple of months and I was going home alone.
Africa was an unforgettable trip, looking back I can remember how terrifying the culture shock was, the awful air quality, the burning trash, the poverty. Also looking back, I remember how beautiful and breathtaking Africa was and I loved it. I remember how it made me grateful for all that I have and even at the worst of times if I have shoes on my feet, somewhere to sleep and electricity I am a very lucky girl. I cherish the time I got to spend in Africa and I hope to return to see its beauty again one day.