Have you even gotten to a country and felt like deer in headlights? That’s exactly how I felt when I arrived –jet-lagged– to Entebbe, Uganda.
Let’s rewind a little bit…
My original plans for Africa were to start in Rwanda, not Uganda! Through one of my travel hacking tactics, I managed to find a cheaper flight with Rwanda being a layover, instead of the final destination. Success! I’ll just do what I’ve always done with that technique… “miss my connection” and stay in my layover country.
Well, this time, it didn’t play so smooth when Brussels Airlines found out about my plan when they tried to make me check-in my backpack, instead of taking it carry-on, as I intended. I’ll resume the whole situation to: according to Brussels Airlines I was committing fraud, and that by no means I can stay in Rwanda. They even put a Air Marshall on the flight -seriously, and AIR MARSHALL- to keep an eyen on me and make sure I didn’t miss that second flight. What a rebel!
Now, let’s focus on the important stuff. “What will I do in Uganda when I arrive there at midnight?”, was the first thing that crossed my mind. I usually plan on the go or one country ahead, so I knew what to do in Rwanda, but I had not a clue about Uganda. I didn’t even have a visa to enter the country.
I just had to wait and see…
Once the plane arrived in Entebbe, Uganda, I got off, passed through immigration -which allowed me to buy the visa on arrival- and went blank…
First thing I do is ask at the information desk what to do and where to go. They tell me to go to Kampala, the largest city and capital of Uganda, one hour away. KAMPALA?! Ha! I didn’t even know I had to go there.
A taxi driver heard me asking for information and offered to take me to Kampala, for $40. FORTY DOLLARS?! “Isn’t this Africa?! Isn’t that outrageously expensive for this country?!”, those were the two ignorant questions that came to mind.
I didn’t have $40 at hand… so I considering sleeping at the airport and get some form of public transportation in the morning.
Then, the unexpected happened.
A woman came close to me, after seeing my clueless face through the whole situation, and asked me if I needed help. I didn’t know what to think, I had no idea who she was, but I simply replied, “yes”.
She reaffirms that I need to go to Kampala, because there’s nothing in Entebbe. She asked if I had a place to stay, a way to get there, anything to do there… all answered with a shrug.
She then offered a helping hand and to take me to Kampala since she was picking some people at the airport and was heading that way.
At first I debated it, but I accepted.
I thought, “Oh God, I just arrived to a country in a continent I’ve never been and know nothing about, and the first thing I do is jump on a stranger’s car. Way to go Norbert!”.
But I went with my guts and went along with it.
On the way, we presented ourselves formally. Norbert, meet Robinah Sarah.
She gave me a crash course on Ugandan culture and history, things to do, and where to stay cheaply. She recommended me the best places to go, which companies to use, and how to catch the matatus and boda bodas (public transportation). We talked a bit about ourselves and other random topics. We had an hour to kill.
I learned that Robinah is the founder of a non-profit organization in Uganda called Set Her Free, which works to restore the lives of young girls formerly enslaved by the sex trades.
She talked briefly about how her organization serves as a home that provides not only food and shelter, but also formal education, technical training, counseling, medical care, mentoring, and resettlement opportunities. She gives them all the tools they need to overcome that unfortunate child labor experience and to experience a positive transformation.
I was highly impressed and inspired by what Robinah is doing, so we exchanged contact and kept in touch (we still do). Plus, in a caring way, she wanted to make sure I was alright.
Robinah might not have noticed –or maybe she did– but in one way, she did with me exactly the same thing she does with those women. She rescued me in a moment of need and gave me the tools to be able to move along on my own.
I have to thank Robinah for my whole experience in Uganda. Thanks to her I had a great experience around Kampala and doing the Murchison Falls Big 5 Safari.
It is people like her that have a great influence in how one experience a new destination positively and leave with the sense of wanting more from that place. I really look forward to go back to Uganda… and hopefully meet with Robinah again.