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Kampalafornia

Bridget Connelly

Chobe Safari Lodge was such an escape for all of us. The animals, the Nile River, the waterfalls, the people — it all felt very surreal. We weren’t quite sure if anything else would top it. But we still had Kampala, Uganda and Malawi to explore. The long, hot, bumpy, car ride back from Northern Uganda to Kampala left us all a little worse for wear. The guys had to be back for work and Meghan and I were going to “relax” after that early morning journey. It felt like we were living out the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We were nonstop!

The quaint French hotel we checked into in Uganda had gardens, a wine cellar, and pool/patio area calling our name. Not quite what you expect in Africa, but after that car ride, we were ready for this hidden luxury. We got our suits on and made our way down to the pool. As we vegged out for no longer than 15 minutes, Meghan and I were already itching to do something. Its funny how that works - we were craving doing nothing but laying poolside all morning, yet the moment we got comfortable we simply could not! Not in a country like Uganda. There was too much we needed to see and do and not enough time. We got up, got our tennis shoes on, and off we went!

Outside the walls of our little oasis were countless individuals living and working in, for lack of a better word, poverty. In every nook and corner, there were little children running around - some without clothes, some without an adult nearby, no older than 1 or 2. It was truly heartbreaking to walk around and take it all in. And we were in a developing city! There are many areas even worse than what we were experiencing. It’s a reality that so many people face each day. In some cases, homes are just a few unstable walls no bigger than a decent sized restroom. We had many stares — perhaps from the clothes we were wearing, or over the thought that we might be willing to give someone something, or maybe because of the sullen looks on our faces. The living conditions in these overpopulated areas were disheartening, but even more so is the amount of smog in the air. Meghan and I walked around for around 30-45 minutes and felt ill from inhaling all of the pollution outside. It is so thick you can see it on your skin and hair after being in the outdoors for less than an hour. I couldn't fathom having to breathe it in every day and to think of all of these little ones that do regularly. It was simply tragic to think about. I notice, that even in these harsh conditions of life, people still make the most out of what they have been given in life. Families and communities engage with one another, take care of one another, and somehow it seems that the majority still maintain contagious smiles on their faces. Children are playing with whatever they can find, using their imaginations and running around without a care in the world. Women cook for one another and their families, and teach their children how to be strong and independent. Men work harder than I’ve ever seen in order to provide and take care of their families, without so much as one complaint. They teach them how to survive in their ever changing unstable environments. From observing their demeanors and activities, we were learning as much as we could. We came back from our walk feeling pretty sick from the fumes. Our stomachs were also upset realizing that there are too many people in the world living in these unlivable conditions, and deeply longing to see a change in their lifetimes.

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On the other hand, there are certain areas of Kampala, where it doesn't quite feel like you are in Africa. We went to a mall with a Starbucks-like coffee shop, boutiques, a movie theatre, even a froyo place (win)! There are also some of the most delicious restaurants I’ve eaten at, cocktail bars with craft cocktails out of this world, and an Irish pub/club (major win). But what is really special about Kampala are the friends we have there that call it home. Our friends friends Courtney and Laren were kind enough to have us over to their home one night for cocktails before a big group dinner with the best group of people I could've imagined being together with in Africa. Their house is a sanctuary. Just nearby is the hustle, bustle and chaos that can sometimes be Kampala, but when you pull into their house, one word comes to mind: serenity. They have a lush green backyard and a big back porch that I could have sat on for hours on end. We had drinks together, listened to jams and watched the sun set. The glow of the fading sun fell upon their home while we finished our last drinks and gazed into their jungle like back yard. The golden hour was upon us and it was perfect.

Following a spectacular Italian feast, we had one final final(s) at a nearby cocktail lounge. It had a 70s California vibe to it. We sipped on Moscow Mules, put our iPods on the speakers and talked late into the night with new and old friends. Friends it felt like we had known forever. All the while I couldn't quite grasp that I was in Africa — Kampalafornia seemed fitting in those moments :)

In the morning, Meghan and I took a day trip out to Jinja, Uganda, an hour or so outside of the city. Jinja is home to the source of the Nile River. A place that is so peaceful and powerful. A place I had only read about but never thought it would come to fruition. As if being at the Nile River wasn't enough to make the day unforgettable, we decided to do one more adventure…

Now if you know me well, you know  I’m not much of a “get yourself dirty and play with machinery” type girl.  I would probably rather lay out and not make a mess of myself, but I mean when in Africa, right? So we went and signed up to go ATVing along the Nile River. Now Meghan and I can drive, we aren't that incapable, so we figured it wouldn't be too hard. But when we arrived, they informed us all of their automatic ATVs were out. We were going to use the manual ones — great. Harry and Lloyd shifting gears, on narrow dirt roads, through villages, along the Nile River....I mean, sure! They briefly, briefly showed us how to drive them. We proceeded to get our gear on — helmets, scarves, overalls. It was go time. Suddenly we were doing 360s in muddy holes, flying down dusty roads, and exploring through tiny villages. All the while not truly knowing what we were doing. Pretty positive we just shifted when we remembered too or when it was making a strange noise…apologies to whoever boards those bad boys next! Although it was slightly terrifying at first — being in control of such a powerful machine, without much training, we never stopped scream-laughing. The villages were small with not much to them, but again everyone was working hard, doing their part, and smiling and waving as we “drove” past. On a quick break, we stopped along the Nile and just soaked in our surroundings. The children playing in the water, the fisherman out on their boats, the sun beating down on our dirty happy faces — trying not to forget any moment of this unbelievable ride. After we finished drinking our water bottles, two little boys came up to us and asked for them. Our guide explained that they love them and use them to make toys. As we gladly gave up our bottles we could see the look of pure joy they expressed. They were ecstatic. It really made me think about all of our “necessities” we need to be happy and something as simple as a water bottle absolutely made their day. We finally made it back to the base with our ATVS. I had the most massive smile stuck on my face - it honestly felt stuck from how fast we were going. Oddly enough the scarf they gave me was not a fashion statement either. It was for protection from the dust getting in my nose/mouth. Forgot that minor detail and had one damn dirty mug, but it WAS worth it. 

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On our last few days in Kampala, we shopped, we had some refreshing happy hours at a stunning hotel, and of course had a girls night out dancing. We left Kampala feeling a little dirtier and dustier, but humbled and full of gratitude. Gratitude for new friendships, for new places and for new enduring memories. See you soon Kampalafornia :)