Kenya-Uganda Summer Project 2011: “I am not going to survive my Gap Year”

This is part of a series about the Kenya-Uganda Summer Project 2011. Read the other posts here.

Frances Sybilla Howell (UK, UWC AC 2010-2012)

8 year-old me, imagining 17 year-old me, thinks that with all those years of wisdom, I will be a proper adult by then, self-sustaining to the degree that I can afford mini-breaks to the Mediterranean and know how to fix any situation with a safety-pin. 8 year-old me doesn’t imagine that I will be cowering into my complementary biscuits and pillow, as angry passengers argue animatedly with the plane’s captain, in Arabic. 8 year-old me would be very disappointed to find out that right now I have no idea what is going on and I have no idea how to fix it with a safety-pin. And I’m still on the runway at Heathrow – I have been for two and a half hours. This is the source of the arguments. I have an hour stop-over in Cairo before my next flight, which I am now panicking that I will miss. So far, the search for evidential proof that I will survive my Gap Year is not going so well.

I do miss my flight. And at Cairo I am guided through a queue of more angry Arabic-speakers to a plane destined for Dar-es-Salaam. Where the Sphynx is that? I think. Six hours later, I’m in Tanzania. Alone. Scared to eat anything for fear of getting one of the 74202091 food-borne illnesses my, in hindsight, excessively hypochondriac Doctor has warned me about. After another stop-over in Kilimanjaro airport, I land in Entebbe, Uganda, fourteen hours late, where Sheila, the Project Leader and my beloved house-mate for the past year, is waiting.

Over the next few days, this airport becomes our second home-from-home, as we ferry our sort-of-fresh-faced friends to the Hotel where we are staying, where loud Nigerian music is played from 10pm onwards, and the glare of the neon lights’ decoration make me wonder if it is Christmas. I’ve never been to New York, but from what I can tell, Kampala, where we are staying, is one up on the ‘city that never sleeps’ slogan. In the early morning, there are men on bikes, ferrying room-sized bunches of plantains along the road, passing the cheery children walking to school in their uniforms, narrowly avoiding being knocked over by people jumping in and out of the minibus taxis a la Lara Croft. And in the evening, people are still in their shops and continuing their life as if it is still day time.

For the first twenty four hours of my trip I was brought to the conclusions that: everywhere in Africa smells a bit like rubber tyres and everyone in Africa is desperate to give you bottles of water. I remind myself that my experience is limited to airports. And while for all I know, the rest of Africa may still be like that, Uganda, the start of the most eye-opening experience of my life, definitely isn’t. And I am in love with the place.

-United Words Team-

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