As you read this week’s blog post (unless you had set it aside for later), I am on my way to Uganda. While I’m gone, I’ll be posting some of my favorite columns about previous trips to Uganda. I wrote the following column as I was preparing for my first trip there in 2011. The column was first published in the Chanhassen Villager on 9/29/11.
“If anybody offers you sambusa, take it.”
That’s one piece of advice that was given to me recently regarding my upcoming trip to Uganda. I’m going to be there for several weeks, and I’ve been collecting information from friends – and friends of friends – who have been there themselves or who have family members who have spent time in Uganda or other African countries.
It’s been a fascinating and wonderful experience in so many ways. As someone who has done very little international traveling, and none till now to Africa, I knew I had a lot to learn. Some of it had to do with practical matters and logistics, like what to pack and how much to take. Some of it had to do with health and well-being, like the cautions about food and drinking water, and about malaria pills and mosquito repellant. And some of it had to do with communication between Africa and America, so I don’t become one of the horror stories I read about every so often in which someone accrues $2,500 in cell phone charges because they didn’t understand the rules and rates for the international communications package they got from their service provider.
I’ve also been asking people about the culture and customs, since I want to make a good impression while I’m in Uganda, and I don’t want to inadvertently offend or insult anyone. What I’ve been finding out along the way is that people around the world are more alike than different. That no matter how busy they are, people are happy to help others when they can and when they share common interests. And, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” I’ve discovered that I can find a lot of adventure if I look right in my own back yard.
I can’t believe the number of people who are friends and neighbors and have been to Uganda or other African countries. Many of them have been on mission trips, some have been on safaris or photography expeditions, and others have been there for study or work projects. Their stories have been as helpful and interesting as the advice they’ve been giving me.
And I’ve yet to come across anyone who’s said, “Sorry, I just don’t have time for that,” when I’ve asked them for advice or information about their travels to Africa. In fact, a number of people have put me in touch with other friends and relatives – and even one’s insurance agent – who could give me more information. And all of them have spoken fondly of their experience, and of the people.
“You’re going to love them,” has been the overwhelming response I’ve heard with regard to the people in Uganda. And I was touched when a friend – who traveled to Uganda last year – said, “Oh, Betty, they’re going to love you!” She reminded me that I shouldn’t get so caught up with protocol and procedures, or so concerned with doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things, that I miss out on the most important reason for being there – the people. Although my friend’s words didn’t technically fall into the category of advice and information, they encouraged me and reassured me more than almost anything else I was told.
Sambusa, by the way, is a filled pastry that’s very popular in many African countries. And it sounds way more appetizing than some of the other things I’ve been told I may be offered, like fried grasshoppers. But I’m going to keep an open mind and a sense of adventure about the whole trip.
I’m sure I’ll come home with some eye-opening insights and jaw-dropping stories. With a fresh understanding of customs and cultures in different parts of the world. And with new wisdom and advice I’ll be happy to share with others.
© Betty Liedtke, 2011, 2018
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