After months of preparations and a few final weeks in the Netherlands which felt a bit like a farewell tour, we have finally landed at Entebbe Airport on Saturday January 14th 2012, at around 09.00 local time.
Somewhere in the early fall of 2011 Marloes accepted a job with Dutch Solar Power company SolarNow, for which she – when it was still the Rural Energy Foundation – had been in Mali a few years before already. Her job here in Uganda will be boosting the sales of Solar Home Systems, mainly for the rural markets. As Vincent works freelance as a Marketing & Strategy consultant, and serves most of his current clients through the Internet anyway, it was not too difficult to tag along and move base, just pack up the laptop and go.
After we arranged a whole bunch of things before departure, such as getting the required vaccinations and moving our personal stuff into storage, the last few weeks before departure were mainly revolving around saying goodbye. One week before we left we threw a farewell party, where in total about 100 of our friends and family came to say goodbye. This was a great evening and it was a lot of fun to see all these people one last time before we were about to leave. The last week was spent having some final goodbye meetings (having dinner in Wolfheze at Vincent’s parents, doing drinks and lunches with friends) and buying loads of small stuff we needed to take with us.
The Wednesday before departure gave us a bit of African chaos, or at least we thought so (we have been here now for one month, and without any incidents on the ground so far actually). What happened was that we went to Leiden to meet some people and buy some travel supplies, after which Marloes would go on to the Hague and Vincent to Amsterdam. But, just as we arrived and Marloes parked the car, a robbery of a jewelry store took place, including some shooting in the crowded streets – right around where the car was parked. The result was that we couldn’t take it for hours because of closed off streets and police investigations, so the day schedule went up in smoke, and we were even more eager to leave for a sunny and relaxed place. On Thursday we moved out of Amsterdam to Utrecht, to stay at Marloes’ parents.
After some stressful final packing, a whole bunch of people showed up at Schiphol Airport to wave us goodbye. A very big and nice surprise! After the final hugs and receiving some small presents to take along on the plane (a big bag of drop, yay! and some nice booklets, including a homemade survival guide of the Tinholts – brilliant!), it was time to leave.
The moment we walked through the customs gate we suddenly realized we were done arranging, planning and saying goodbye – no way back anymore at that time. Thanks to Marloes’ brother Marten, we had access to the KLM lounge at Schiphol where we could chill out and grab some complimentary Champagne to drink to our upcoming adventure, before boarding our flight with Kenya Airways to Entebbe via Nairobi.
Then, perhaps because it was Friday the 13th – we don’t really know – but the flight wasn’t one we will quickly forget. About one hour into the flight, we were cruising up somewhere over Germany, it was announced that there was a medical emergency on board, followed by quite a scuffle and running around. Eventually it emerged that someone in the back of the plane had actually died while we were up there in the air, leaving the aircraft crew rather panicked and unorganized. The flight just went on anyway, but the atmosphere on board was pretty eerie. The moment we landed a number of local authorities boarded the plane and we had to wait a while before we were allowed to get off, as they obviously had to sort out some things. We couldn’t imagine how the people who might be waiting in Nairobi to pick up this passenger must have been feeling when the person they were waiting for was not getting off the plane.
However, just about 30 minutes before we landed at Nairobi, we flew right passed Mount Kenya at sunrise, which was quite an amazing sight and a welcome distraction. After Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa, and like the Kilimanjaro it is a popular climbing and trekking destination. So, seeing the sunrise over Mount Kenya was one item we could already tick off our lengthy list of things we would like to do and see in Africa! After leaving the plane in Nairobi we had to make a run to catch our connecting flight to Entebbe. To make things even more complicated there were actually two planes at one single gate, a big queue and no clear signs which one was ours. Then, we had our first experience what it means to be a white foreigner in Africa, suddenly everybody’s attention starts to focus on you and before you know it you are escorted across an airport platform to your plane. From there it was just a short flight to Entebbe, and because the plane flew quite low, we got some breathtaking sights of the giant Lake Victoria in the early morning, as well as the very green countryside of Uganda.
Arriving at Entebbe the airport was very quiet. Unfortunately, even though we planned to get the money from an ATM at Schiphol, we forgot to bring the 50 USD pp to pay for the visa at the Ugandan customs. But, they didn’t make a fuss about it and let us go through to get some money and also collect our suitcases while they held on to our passports, or so we thought. First, it took Marloes about 30 minutes to find an ATM which would accept our Maestro bank cards (Visa is king here – which we conveniently both do not have), and then Vincent managed to retrieve only 1 of the 4 suitcases. So, while Marloes went back to get our visas, Vincent was experiencing a whole bunch of African red tape and bureaucratic sluggishness.Eventually, after waiting around for over an hour and explaining to the guy at the other side of the desk how his own form seemingly needed to be completed, we could leave. Not entirely sure if we would ever see our suitcases again, but hey, we were there.
Marloes’ colleague Ronald kindly picked us up to take us to Kampala, and after a drive of about an hour we dropped by the office of SolarNow in the Kansanga neighbourhood, from where we could let the people back home know we had arrived in Africa in one piece. Then we went to grab a great sandwich at the aptly named Quality Hill (which combines a hotel, restaurant, butchery and patisserie, all owned by a Belgian guy) and checked into the Alcom Hotel for the next two weeks, which is just behind the SolarNow office. After some bargaining with our new best friend Sarah the receptionist we got the price down to EUR 15 per night for a double room, which seemed reasonable enough. That this meant that we sometimes might have water and even less frequently hot water was apparently already calculated into the price. Luckily they had a generator, the sound of which was a lot better to fall asleep to than the regular noise from the street.
In the evening, after some resting, Marloes’ boss and other colleagues picked us up for a quick bite at an Ethiopian restaurant in Kabalagala (an area which is literally infested with bars and restaurants) and some drinks afterwards at the Capital Pub, where we were introduced to what they locally call ‘mosquito’ girls and Ugandans’ fondness of English Premier League football. They watch it all and everywhere – even the Matatu’s play local radio stations with Lugandan commentary on the English football matches. Getting back to the hotel room that night we were so tired it took us a few minutes to notice that the not too big room seemed even smaller somehow… then we saw it: our suitcases had arrived, within 12 hours after arriving in Uganda! Quite amazing, especially given the fact that addresses and a mail system are pretty much non-existent here.
Giving directions here is mainly based on picking a land mark and then hoping the other party does not miss that landmark (when you want to go to Marloes’ office you say you need to be at the Newcastle High School). They must have gotten quite good at finding the way like that over here, because we haven’t really got lost once whilst taking a taxi or having a driver. Sending us a postcard is quite another matter however, for correspondence please stick to e-mail or facebook!
The next day was Sunday, which we spent checking out the Garden City mall in the city centre to have lunch there. This is a Western-style mall, of which there are quite a few scattered in and around the city centre, most have large Kenyan or South African supermarkets and shops filled with Western products.
Afterwards we took a taxi (or ‘special hire’ as they are called here, a ‘taxi’ is actually a ‘matatu’ – which is a minibus that can hold about 14 passengers) to the Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo, for some R&R at the Olympic size pool and fitness centre.
In the evening we took a quick look at a potential house, but it was not exactly what we were looking for. It was quite close to Marloes’ office though, and since it was owned by a Dutchman, we got our coffee served in a mug with some familiar faces. This was enough excitement for the day, since Marloes was about to embark on some busy weeks with a new job and new colleagues, involving a lot of travelling around the country, while Vincent mostly stayed in Kampala to start hunting houses and get himself sorted out…