Stories From The Road: An Unexpected Welcome To Africa

Have you ever 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. Everything was fine on my flight from New York City to Brussels, but when boarding from Brussels to Rwanda, Brussels Airlines asked me to check-in my carry-on bag, saying it wouldn’t fit on the overhead compartment.

Looking Through the Plane Window

I knew it would fit because I had just gotten off from a similar plane of theirs, so I politely refused to check it. If I check my bag, it will go all the way to Uganda, and that’s not my destination.

They insisted again, so I had to tell them about my plan to get off in Rwanda.

They were NOT happy about it.

What followed was 1) airline drama, 2) completely unnecessary. According to Brussels Airlines, I was committing fraud and that by no means I can stay in Rwanda.

I don’t understand the fraud behind me deciding not to use a service I paid for. It’s not my fault airlines have what seems like irrational pricing for different routes. As a customer, of course, I always want to pay less for airfare.

But anyway, to make sure I wouldn’t get off in Rwanda, they assigned an Air Marshall to go with me all the way to Uganda. Seriously, and AIR MARSHALL!

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…

Kampala, Uganda

Once the plane arrived in Entebbe, Uganda, I got off the plane, bought a visa on arrival, passed through immigration, 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. I didn’t feel like spending $40 on a taxi, so I considered sleeping at the airport and get some form of public transportation in the morning.

Then, the unexpected happened.

A woman came 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.

I answered all of the above 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 in a country on a continent I’ve never been to and know nothing about, and the first thing I do is jump on a stranger’s car. Way to go Norbert!”.

But I trusted 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.

Kampala, Uganda

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 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.

Set Her free, Uganda
Robinah with one of the girls from Set Her Free. Image by Set Her Free.

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 experienced my first ever Big 5 safari at Murchison Falls.

Uganda Big 5 Safari

It is people like her that have a great influence on how one experience a new destination positively and leave with the sense of wanting more from that place. I really look forward to going back to Uganda, and hopefully, meeting Robinah again.

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19 thoughts on “Stories From The Road: An Unexpected Welcome To Africa”

  1. Actually I never been to Africa but I’ve heard a lot from the place. And these post is wonderful, you actually brought me to Africa. Thanks that you’ve shared.

  2. I am just impressed how you embark on the journey you described! You are an amazing person in my book:) You experiences in Ugandan are really unfrogettable and I love the pictures, so am hoping that you will post some more about it:) It is true that people like Robinah, are the ones who will always left in our hearts, no matter where on the globe we are! Norman you are my hero of the day:)

  3. I’m not sure I would have been able to keep my cool in such a situation! I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences in Uganda, though. My grad school advisor is responsible for a lot of the tourism infrastructure in Uganda (and usually takes students there every summer), so I’m always interested to read about travelers’ experiences there!

    1. Oh, inside I was almost freaking out, but thankfully it all worked really good. Oh, I published a post on the things to do in Kampala. I really liked the city and recommend going there… and to go to Murchison Falls too, for a Big 5 safari!

  4. How incredibly lucky you were. What could have been a very scary potentially threatening trip turned into a very wonderful experience and you met an incredible person to boot! I wish I could be this lucky when I go on a spontaneous trip.

    1. Well, it’s true that you can’t trust everyone blindly, but in this case my instinct told me I should give it a try, while still being cautious. Luckily it all turned alright!

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