Into the Bush: Life as a Ugandan

Days 4-8: Mukono/Lugazi and life off the beaten path.

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

leslieWe left Kampala for the town of Mukono with Leslie Weighill, founder of The Real Uganda on Tuesday morning. Here, it’s impossible to get lost, as instructions to an outsider would be overwhelmingly simple: stay on the paved road, for it’s the only one.

Infrastructure would be a strong word for what exists in Uganda, at least outside of the major hubs and tourist areas. The road we’re on is known as the Jinja Road, which connects the hubs of Kampala and Jinja, near the source of the Nile. The road is full of trucks carrying crops to market like matooke (plantains), “taxis” in the form of a VW bus equivalent, and boda bodas*. If I thought my throat was dry and choked up on the way from the airport to Kampala, boy was I in for a rude awakening. As someone used to breathing relatively clean air, you feel as if you’re breathing straight out of a tail pipe.

*boda boda: a small motorcycle that is the main means of individual transportation. Aside from commuting in and out with luggage, this is how we get around.

Once off the paved road (remember, there’s only one..), the ride gets a little bumpy and tricky to navigate. Boda bodas, taxis, tractors and big rigs alike all do an elegant dance to avoid accidents (though I personally believe they award themselves points for close calls..); and individual vehicles bob and weave around the divots, bumps, puddles and even temporary streams after an abnormally long period of rain. Generally speaking, the larger vehicle has the right of way, so as a pedestrian, you’re low man on the totem pole, and best be careful!

DSC_0413Leslie lives in a 3 bedroom compound in the town of Mukono. The toilets still flush and the power is still on, but it already feels like a different world.

You sleep protected by a mosquito net.

You don’t eat food that isn’t hot.

DSC_0418You don’t drink water that isn’t bottled or boiled.

The ability to eat a variety of foodstuffs is completely dependent on what’s in season (more on this later).

There’s no AC (it’s hot).

You wear ratty clothes on purpose because it’s dirty*.

*According to Leslie, it’s easy to come to Africa and take a picture of a disheveled looking African child with dirty, worn out clothes and no shoes. This is the image that comes to the mind of most Westerners when they think of Africa. This however is a gross misrepresentation. While living conditions are indeed harsh and certainly difficult, every child has their Sunday best. Every child has shoes. They don’t wear them around because A) they’re tougher than we are (my words) and B) its dirty.

Photo May 30, 5 52 38 PMWe spend the afternoon settling in, getting set up on a local data plan (~$26 for 5GB which doubled to 10GB with promotion), buying snacks and peanut butter (for extra calories) and discussing the program, and by the time we all get fed up being serious we spend the remaining hours playing games with Lucas (her son) and EJ (who belongs to Esther, who also lives in the compound).

On to Lugazi

The next morning, we’re met by Robert and Vivian, who together run Lugacraft Uganda and are to be our hosts for the next 2 weeks. They live in a town called Lugazi, which is the next major town on the Jinja Road. I should note that at this time, I’m beginning to have an upset stomach, which lasted for the better part of 3 days*.

*Symptoms included lots of stomach pain, nearly no appetite, very unpleasant and acidic burps and . Even the thought of food made me nauseous. We arrived at the decision that the culprit is the malaria medication (malarone), and making the mistake of taking it too late at night and not with food.

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We arrive in the village of Namengo, in the southern portion of Lugazi, at Robert and Vivian’s home. The homes are tightly packed together, and even as I’m writing I can hear conversation-level chatter of the neighbors, local African music is playing (reminiscent of a Caribbean style), and life is just plugging right along. The village is a small community – but it’s exactly that: community.

The Home

DSC_0599By Western standards it is compact, but it has everything we need and there’s certainly nothing frilly taking up space. The name of the game is conservation. As we learn is the custom, we remove our shoes before entering the 2 bedroom abode (remember, it’s dirty outside!). The rooms have beds and a “shower room” where water is gravity fed through a spigot that is used for bathing and brushing teeth. The living room contains two chairs and a sofa, small tube-style tv, and a 4 tiered cart with mugs, bowls, plates and utensils. A coffee table that doubles as a dining room table takes up the remaining space. Vivian handles the cooking outside in what I would call a closet-sized kitchen, which contains a charcoal stove, a few pots and pans and some utensils. As is customary, I’ve saved the best for last: we go to the bathroom in a pit latrine. Literally: a giant pit covered by a concrete slab, with a 6 inch by 8 inch hole in which we do our business. By far the best technique is to throw caution to the wind and get your bottom as close to the ground as possible – minimizing the amount of aiming that has to take place is key!

DSC_0555Compared to some of the villages we’ve visited with Lugacraft, and even to many of the homes within this village, we live very well. During the day there’s the same garbage soap operas (albeit worse than at home as they’re voice-overs from Spanish), and at night we end up watching either BBC news or one of the local Ugandan stations or a soccer match when available. It’s kept very clean, and the small geckos whom I’ve learned to befriend help keep the bugs in check. As an American, by far the most challenging part is not having clean water on command, and that the electricity shuts off without warning every so often (I kid you not, the power just went out as I type) – all things which we view as basic commodities that are generally at our beck and call.


Vivian is a tremendous cook, and we eat to satiety 3 times a day. At each village or home we visit you can always count on our host rolling out the red carpet and feeding us steamed corn or matooke. Even people with very little are always more than gracious to us as guests.

DSC_0400From a nutrition standpoint, we’re at the mercy of what is available at the markets. The majority of food is very carb heavy and (in scope) relatively limited in nutrients. To be sure, the food is naturally organic and very nutrient-dense, but the point I’m making is that what is lacking is the wide variety we’re used to in the States. For comparison, on an average day in the US, I’d estimate I eat 4-5 different types of fruit, 4-5 types of grains or starchy carbs, and as many as 10-12 different types of vegetables – in varying amounts of course. Thus far in Uganda, I’m averaging 1 or 2 fruits per day, 3-4 starchy carbs (white rice, cassava, plantain, bread), and I’m lucky to get 2 types of vegetables.

In an environment where just about anything will grow if planted, you’d think this wouldn’t be an issue – but when you remember that the name of the game is sustaining life for the masses versus being able to worry about the breadth and variety of your nutrients, caloric energy must come first. As a Westerner, this is difficult to adjust to, and even harder to explain to locals.


DSC_0437It’s not possible to overstate how very little goes to waste. 3 days ago I threw the plastic top to my water bottle in the trash, and it’s still the only thing in there. If it’s compostable, it goes back to the ground. If it’s flammable, it gets used to start a fire. Conservation when resources are limited is the name of the game.

Everyone is in it together.

Tomorrow, it’s back to the farming villages. In my next post, I’ll talk about the day to day schedule, and share what it is we do at Lugacraft Uganda!

On to Kampala, Uganda

Off to Uganda! Day 3 flying into Entebbe and staying in Kampala

I’m no stranger to flying at night. I’m used to knowing generally how close to the ground I am, judging how high we are and how much longer I’ll be stuck with my seat in its upright position. I know that once I come underneath the clouds I can start to see lights stretching far and wide – and as the altimeter continues to drop, the lights become closer and begin to move faster.

Finally, I can make out individual cars moving along the road and the tops of trees as we make our final approach. In most cities it looks exactly the same (beautiful), and makes a nice chance for a photo opp that never really comes out quite as magnificent as it looks in person. For this very reason, Las Vegas is one of my favorite places to fly into at night.

This isn’t the case as you approach Entebbe.

Blackness. All you can see is dark – with the occasional (single) light dotting the countryside more like specks than groups of high-powered LEDs.

Forgive my strange recollections (as it was closing in on 4am.. sans sleep..), but I sincerely was questioning where I was as I stepped off the plane in Entebbe, Uganda, home of Entebbe International Airport.

Between the sound of crickets chirping, feeling the clamminess of the temperate but humid air and the smells that seemed all so familiar, I could’ve been in rural Tennessee and wouldn’t have noticed a difference. Had it not been for the plane crew spraying down the inside of the aircraft before landing (which I must assume is deadly if you’re a mosquito), I might have actually assumed I was somewhere other than where I was – dreaming perhaps.

IcvrayfThe rest is par for the course (save for having to present my “Yellow Card,” proving I’ve been vaccinated against Yellow Fever), until we begin the long 60 minute drive to Kampala. Drivers sit on the right side (thanks British Colonialism), and I’d venture to guess that not a single car on the road would pass the most rudimentary of emissions tests. Within 10 minutes I already have a headache from the fumes being released.

The countryside is just as dark from the ground as it is from the air. Gradually more and more developments on the road from Entebbe to Kampala begin to pop up, and even though it’s 430am, I can’t help but notice that a large number of people walking the sides of the road – and it’s impossible to determine if this is residual from the night prior or if many are just getting a good jump on the day.

I have to admit it was a little nerve racking not knowing if anyone would even be at the hotel at this hour (and then what to do for 3 hours..) or if any room would even be situated, but my nerves were calmed when we were allowed to check in, even at that ungodly hour.

But first, coffee.

DSC_0335 (2)First thing is always first in the morning, or in this case, the early afternoon. There’s a coffee shop not far from the HBT Russel Hotel in downtown Kampala called 1000cups Coffee. It’s set within rows of vertical plants so that it’s hidden from passers-by on the street; and this makeshift divider provides plenty of shade and the feeling of privacy while still allowing the breeze to freely roll through. There are a few men sitting scattered throughout, mostly just leafing through a newspaper or chatting with one another. It is here that we’re introduced to what is known as “Hawaiian toast,” which is essentially an assorted fruit sandwich with peanut butter and Ugandan honey. If you’re a fan of peanut butter and banana, this is a homerun.

DSC_0360 (2)After paying 40,000 Ugandan Schillings (~$11 US) for two filling sandwiches with sides of fruit and two coffees (good luck finding that in the US!), we take it upon ourselves to get in a good walk, taking pictures of local monuments and some of the sights (found throughout this post) along the way, being greeted by nearly everyone we meet as “ahhh, Mzungu!” (a term used for anyone of seemingly-European descent).

Never in my life have I been such a commodity. In a country where everyone looks mostly the same in height, build, hair, eye and skin color, I am the outcast. I stick out like a sore thumb.

To have a word for “people like you” can be marginalizing, and I can see now, with much clarity, why it is such a problem to prejudge and place people into categories. To be clear, being called Mzungu doesn’t bother me – I tell myself this is what Justin Bieber must feel like – and my response is always a smile, wave, and a “hey!” The real issue is that there are a number of assumptions tied to my being a Mzungu, not the least of which are that I’m a wealthy and powerful man from a foreign country that is to be idolized for being “from the outside,” and that I am to be feared. Those of you that know me well can attest that there’s only one of the above assumptions that’s even close to true. The fact of the matter is that still, I’m protected by my white male privilege everywhere I go. While few people alive are were affected directly by British Colonization, which ended in 1962, the principles of racial hierarchy and patriarchy are alive and well.

To me, change starts when we all realize that we have far more in common than we think; not a single one of us is better or above another – even when we look nothing alike. Let’s make a promise to each other to change that. People who have never met a white person shouldn’t live in fear of what we’re like. That, together racism and discrimination, are without a doubt learned traits.

DSC_0337 (2)I find the landscape to be far more picturesque during the day. With the remainder of the light (~ 5 hours worth), we venture to an area a few miles away from downtown Kampala. I take great pleasure dodging and weaving through minute holes in the traffic (as the locals do), where the number of close calls are too many to count. As much as it looks like chaos, I’d actually call it more of a waltz than anything else – somehow nobody gets hit. Contrast that with the cars in Cairo, each of which looks like it had just barely survived a demolition derby.

DSC_0364 (2)You see lots of things in different cultures that might make you uneasy. Uganda is of course no different, but after so many adventures, you learn to take most of it with a grain of salt. In Egypt its the sight of a man yelling with and eventually shoving a police officer, in Uganda its the non-chalantness of the men in uniform carrying weapons. You begin to learn that not everywhere is like where you’re from, and that’s great! Life has survived before you were there, and it will very likely continue after you leave. People will act this way with or without you – so you might as well just soak it all in.

As the sun sets, we agree not to attempt a walk back, and discover that Uber is not only a thing in Kampala, but also definitely the cheapest (and safest) mode of transport. For just 8,000 UGX, we catch a ride back to the hotel. We hop out early to take a walk through the famous Nakasero Market, which is still crammed with vendors pedaling their produce. Everything is lit by candle, and it’s so busy that the intended “walk” turns into more of a dance, bobbing and weaving between the mobs of people. It amazes me the hours these people put in to make a days living.

Nothing more on tap once we get back, however, for the next morning we’re off to Mukono, a village about an hour away, to meet with Leslie, the founder of The Real Uganda.

Next stop: Mukono/Lugazi. The REAL Uganda.


Itinerary, expenses, donation update (and some travel tricks I’ve learned along the way!)

It’s set.

23 days. 3 different airlines (read why below). Time on the ground in 4 countries with wildly different cultures. Here we go.


  • Thursday May 25: GoBus from Boston > NYC
  • Friday May 26: Egypt Air from NYC (JFK) > Cairo, Egypt
    • 35 hour layover in Cairo (more on long layovers later)


  • Sunday May 28: Egypt Air from Cairo > Entebbe, Uganda
    • 2 days in the capital of Kampala before reporting to the program on June 1


  • Thursday June 15: Ethiopia Air from Uganda > Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
    • 18 hour layover in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa

  • Friday June 16: Ethiopia Air from Addis Ababa > Cape Town, South Africa
    • 3 days in Cape Town before departing back to Boston

Cape Town

  • Monday June 19: Emirates Airlines from Cape Town > Dubai (quick stopover) > Boston


GoBus to NYC: $18
Flight NYC > Entebbe (booked as one trip): $584 (from Boston would have been $756)
Entebbe > Cape Town (booked as one trip): $499 (back to Boston would have been $765)
Cape Town > Boston: $581

Total of all travel: $1,682

**Donations to GoFundMe were raised explicitly to cover travel expenses to and from Uganda, and for the program itself (includes meals and accommodations with the host agency). I have personally financed the remainder of the expenses and accommodations outside of Uganda**

Donation update:

To me, it’s most important that word gets out and people can follow along and be a part of this trip, so THANK YOU to everyone who’s shared the story or taken the time to read through. So far over 150 people have read my story, and this is only the beginning!

My GoFundMe page has raised just over $2,200 of my $3,000 goal, which is insane! Reminder that 100% of proceeds beyond travel to and out of Uganda, and to pay for lodging and food with the program are being used to pump into the local economy. At the end of my time on the ground I expect to have a clear understanding of where capital can best be applied in the local economy and based on the needs of my hosts.

Travel Tips & Tricks:

I’ve learned that just a little extra legwork can go a long way in planning travel. Here are a few things I learned this time around:

When to fly/What site to use:

Don’t waste time with Orbitz/Expedia (unless they’re giving you a deal!). Google Flights can be your best friend, showing you the cheapest one way tickets, and showing you the way that prices fluctuate departing/arriving on different days. This is especially helpful if you have flexible travel dates. It is [generally] cheapest to fly mid-week, avoiding the majority of business/vacation travelers.

CheapoAir can sometimes be challenging to navigate but can help you find some cool stopovers or cheap ways to fly on discount carriers. Just be sure to read carefully! Sometimes it gives you fares that involve switching airports!

To Round Trip, or not to Round Trip:

It may be advantageous to book legs individually instead of all together. Google flights may be the golden tool when it comes to finding cheap air travel, but it isn’t able to piece legs together on competing airlines.

Example? Booking my fly-tinerary as one complete trip would have cost $2,126 vs the $1,682 that I paid.

How to book a long layover:

After years of watching The Layover, I knew exactly what I would do if I had 24 hours in various cities around the world, but I never learned how it was possible to have enough time to even leave the airport.. Here’s how:

Find a flight with a stopover you want. If you book a one-way flight to Uganda from NYC that has a “stopover” in Cairo, you can likely book a layover. Find the cheapest rate, and remember the dates for the next step.

When you book the flight, instead of selecting as a “One Way” ticket, select “Multi-City,” and input your destinations and dates as they were on your “One Way” flight from the prior step; the rate will be exactly the same.

Now you can experiment with different dates to travel from Cairo to Uganda, many of which will leave you with a final fare just marginally above your original one-way quote!

Example: NYC > Cape Town, South Africa

One Way: New York City to Cape Town on June 12: 1 stop in Dubai for $1,006

Multi-City: New York City to Dubai on June 12, to depart for Cape Town on June 14 or 15 (24-48 hour layover): $1,029


Stay tuned!

Be Yourself, but 100x LOUDER

Here goes nothing…

This is it. I’m going to Africa.

Not just Africa – Uganda. The 25th poorest country in the world. Where roughly what the average American makes in a bi-weekly check, the average person takes home all year. What’s more [or in this case, less..] is that income is seldom guaranteed to come in regular intervals.

This isn’t poverty. This is extreme poverty. In 2013, 34.6% of the population survived on less than $1.90 per day.

Why am I going? What will I be doing? Keep reading and you just might find out!


Living On One Dollar is a short documentary about extreme poverty. For the sake of context, four college students travel to rural Guatemala to document their experience surviving on $1 per day, per person for 8 weeks. Seeing the stories of the locals and learning about how they overcome their daily challenges inspired me to learn more.

After navigating through the site, I followed a link to The Global Volunteering Network, which offers 63 different volunteering opportunities in 14 different countries across South America, Africa and Asia. As soon as I saw there was an opportunity to work on an Organic farm in Uganda – I was sold.



Have you ever been moved by someone’s story? By what someone has endured or overcome? It shouldn’t surprise you that the world is filled with these types of people. In the West, we’re generally protected by a bubble of privilege that we seldom acknowledge, and many of us don’t even realize it’s existence. It’s not necessarily our fault – how could we be expected to understand something if all we have to base our lives off of is the summation of our experiences and the stories of others – but I feel very strongly that it is not just a civic, but also a moral duty to increase our knowledge of the world around us.


On May 27, 2017 I fly out from NYC and finally arrive at Entebbe International Airport just outside the capital city of Kampala, Uganda in the early morning of May 29. Until the 31, I’ll be staying at a hotel in Kampala and exploring the city and learning as much as possible about the urban culture. From June 1-15, I’ll be just miles from the source of the Nile River on Lake Victoria, in a rural part of Uganda near the Mabira Rainforest.

Mabira Forest

I’ll be working side by side with Ugandan farmers helping to promote better nutrition, sustainable farming methods, and income generation.

One point that stood out to me was that I am going to help “chase pests”.. My first thought? What in the world kind of “pest” is large enough to have to CHASE away?! What am I getting myself into???

Being a part of the program, I’m given a private room and meals at the headquarters of the organization. Electricity is intermittent and there is no running water.

To decompress after such an engrossing experience, I’m going to spend the long weekend in Cape Town, South Africa before returning stateside on Monday June 19.


Many ways! I want to bring you with me. The whole reason I’ve set up this blog is for you to be able to follow along as I prepare, travel to and from Uganda, and to give a glimpse into life below the poverty line. This won’t be the first time I’ve seen poverty – but this will be the first time I’ve been immersed in it. Follow me, share my stories, and share in my experiences with me.

If you want to become more involved, I’ve also set up a GoFundMe page for this trip. 100% of the funds go directly to this experience only (I am personally financing the South Africa stint), and anything raised above and beyond the target I’m bringing with me to pump into the local economy during my stay. While there are many large organizations you can donate to, I firmly believe there is no better way to help than to physically become a part of the economy.

In closing, I have to admit I’m half excited, but the other half of me is scared out of my mind. As the date inches closer, I find myself reading and re-reading the advice from a former volunteer named Tia:

This is Africa. Expect heat, rain, sweat, tears, LAUGHTER, exhaustion, lots of walking, and the time of your life. Jump in head first, and even when you are scared push through it. Be yourself but 100 times louder!

This is it.