Beauty. It is one of my favorite things to look for in the world. I’ve been attempting to capture some of the incredible beauty that I see in Uganda using my iPhone 5 camera and an app called Instagram (@kellthebelle). It is sometimes hard to put into words or pictures the richness of what I am experiencing here.
Many come to the African continent seeking to create something beautiful out of things that are not. On our plane to Entebbe alone, it seemed as though half of the passengers were Westerners—including four of us from our team—that were coming to Uganda with with a heart to alleviate some problems here. In the Nakasero and Kololo districts of downtown Kampala, its hard to throw a stone without hitting an NGO office building.
I don’t want to underplay that there is brokenness in Uganda, any more than I would want to gloss over injustice, poverty, and brokenness in any part of the world. My primary purpose in coming to Uganda is to seek justice and to love my international neighbors during my short eight-week internship with the Global Justice Program. But aside from my work here, I have also come to Uganda in search of beauty. And I have found no shortage of it here.
Where do I begin? I will start with the people. Ugandans are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet in your life. Most people are happy and know how to enjoy life, and that happiness flows over into relationships with others. I am comfortable with the Ugandan level of friendliness, since my mother is the type of person who goes into the grocery store and leaves having made at least three new friends. Everyone in Uganda is like my mother in that respect. People talk with you like they’ve known you for a million years within moments of meeting you. I love the “Ugandan handshake,”—when someone shakes your hand upon seeing
you, and doesn’t let go until the end of the conversation.
The depth of relationships is also valuable. When you meet with someone here, it is vitally important to be fully present with that person, spending time to fully understand what that person is saying and their perspective. It is the exception rather than the norm for people—even those in positions of high authority—to be quick in their dealings with others. I’ve noticed this in many places, including my experience at the court. In contrast, in most contexts in the U.S., we are often rushing, trying to be everywhere while never really anywhere, and rarely fully present with the person right in front of us. Taking the time to invest in others is an extremely beautiful aspect of Ugandan culture.
The tremendous importance of relationships overflows to other aspects of life as well. Many Westerners are frustrated with “African Time” – basically a sense of
time that trusts that there is enough of it to go around. Overall, African Time is rather refreshing to me. Americans tend to see time as something that is constantly in short supply, and much is sacrificed on its altar. Here, the sense that there is enough time even reflects in the way many people walk. My gait is considered slow by New York standards, moderate by Californian standards, and pretty fast by most Ugandan standards. Yet even when locals cross a busy street, many walk with an easy pace as if to say: “I see those speeding bodas (motorcycles) and public taxis, but no harm will come to me.” I asked one of my Ugandan friends from the court about the slow walking pace when we were walking one afternoon, as I struggled to slow down. He explained that many people walk slowly here because they always feel there is plenty of time to get to where they are going. From what I have experienced so far, I find
that the people and the way of life is the most beautiful aspect of Uganda.
Next, I find the land itself to be very beautiful. It is also probably the greatest source of true wealth in Uganda. First, the topsoil is a gorgeous, volcanic, mineral-
rich, rust-colored dirt. If you throw a seed in the soil, God allows it to grow abundantly. Secondly, there is water, and lots of it. Most farms appear to lack irrigation systems, since the equatorial climate provides enough rainfall and sunshine for food to grow all on its own. Ugandans will always tell you how proud they are of their perfect weather and sunshine, and it is best to always agree. Should climate change ever modify the rainfall patterns in a way that threatens food security, this country also holds the key to the Nile, which begins its journey out of Lake Victoria at Jinja. The dams at Jinja regulate this source of life for the desert nations further north.
This combination of rich red soil and abundant water supply makes Uganda one of the most fertile countries in the world. It is no accident that the produce here is some of the best that I have ever tasted. I shop once or twice each week at Nakasero Market, where local vendors bring in the food that is produced from the abundant land. It is a wonderful market brimming with delicious produce, and I’ve learned how to successfully barter throughout the market despite being a “mzungu” (white person). I buy tomatoes, onions, carrots, eggplant, avocados, mangos, guavas, pineapple, cabbage, collard greens, ginger, and other vegetables without English names. Much of the food in markets is grown near to the communities that it sustains. It is fresh, local, delicious, and, in my opinion, of much higher quality than some of the flimsy vegetables on supermarket shelves back home.
Even the prepared local food is extremely healthy. Aside from the delicious fried chapatti, a traditional meal in the Buganda Kingdom where Kampala is situated would consist of combination of carbs such as matooke, sweet
potato, Irish potato, posho, and rice, served with fresh fruit, local vegetables, and your choice of stew (beans, goat, groundnut, fish, etc.). There is very little oil, salt, preservatives, or sugar added, and the meals seem to be freshly prepared with fruits, vegetables, starches, and animals that are cultivated on the land. As a result, even prepared food in local restaurants is for the most part fresh, filling, nutritious, and healthy.
I could continue with writing about all the things that I find beautiful in Uganda because there are many more. I have not yet touched on the natural wonders and the wild animals that I have had the opportunity to appreciate here. But I will conclude with one final note. I hope that some day you will come to Uganda in order to seek justice and to help heal some brokenness. There is a lot of valuable work that you can do. But I also hope that you will come to Uganda seeking beauty. God has given this country many wonderful gifts, and I am extremely grateful to be enjoying many of them during my time here.