There are so many stories to tell from Uganda that it’s hard to know where to start. There are stories of nightmarish traffic in Kampala, the unimaginably large things you see people carry on boda-bodas (the ubiquitous motorcycles for hire that fill the streets), on their bicycles, or on their heads for that matter. We have stories about visiting the people and learning what life is like in the countryside and what it was like not-so-very-long-ago in the war-torn North. There are gripping tales of adventure, like the time I accidentally shut a baboon in the van with my mother and the making of our first batch of bush coffee. For this first post, however, you’ll all just have to settle for something more mundane: an activity that lets you pretend you're in Uganda by letting you design your own room for the night.
During our earlier trip to Uganda (in 2001), the running joke was that you got to choose two each day: water, electricity, or internet. Things have really changed in the last 15 years. During our most recent stay last June, we could almost take power and internet for granted. In fact, I was surprised that I had 2G and 3G connectivity across the entire country, with only a few exceptions. For example, it was hard to get a good signal while hiking near Murchison Falls – but such a thing is not out of the ordinary in national parks in the the U.S. And power, once subject to frequent blackouts, has stabilized due to new hydroelectric facilities coming online in 2015. We only stayed at one place that ran on a generator.
That said, we never really knew what we were going to get each night and guessing what kind of accommodations were in store for us became a kind of game. I think we all started a mental tally of those things we appreciated most about a place to avoid pining for our coddled lifestyles.
And since I'm a game maker, I thought I should give you the chance to play this game too!
Build your perfect room in Uganda!
Make a selection from each section.
You have 25 points to spend.
- Your room has a comfortable mattress. (12 points)
- Your room has a mattress, but the slats are prone to slippage and may deposit you on the floor. (8 points)
- The mattress is the equivalent of the Sarlacc Pit. There is a real danger that you and your partner may never escape the pit in the middle. (no extra charge)
- The mosquito net is free of holes and extends to the floor (5 points)
- The mosquito net tucks under the mattress and gives you that secure “shrink-wrapped” feeling (3 points)
- Sure, there are a few holes in the net. It’s nothing a little masking tape and a dozen clothespins won’t fix (no extra charge)
- Hey, there’s a toilet! (5 points)
- Toilet includes toilet paper. (+3 points)
- Toilet includes a toilet seat. (+1 point)
- Toilet uses 50 gallons of water per flush. Somehow, all this water accomplishes nothing. (no extra charge)
- Toilet manufacturer has an amusing name. (no extra charge)
- Pick up to two: Shower curtain, water, hot water*, flip flops (5 points each)
- Soap (no extra charge)
- Shampoo (+26 points)
- 24-hours (2 points)
- Generator is off at night (no extra charge)
The Morning "Work Triangle"
This is my mom's favorite way to evaluate a bathroom. Measure the perimeter of the triangle formed by the sink, mirror, and nearest outlet. The perimeter of the triangle measures…
- 2 meters / 6 feet (10 points) – workable if you hop around a bit
- 5 meters / 15 feet (5 points) – hey, I can see myself from here! oh, wait, no, I can't.
- 8 meters / 24 feet (2 points) – "the morning commute"
- There is no mirror (no extra charge)
- A working fan blows gentle breezes (10 points), but see electricity above.
- There is no fan (1 point)
- The broken fan in the corner mocks you (no extra charge)
So, what would I choose? I'd put everything I could into the mattress and add in some sort of working plumbing. If there are some eggs and coffee, it’s all good. Here are my selections:
- Room has a comfortable mattress (12 points)
- Nothing a little tape and clothespins won’t fix (no extra charge)
- Hey, there’s a toilet! (5 points) with toilet paper (+3 points)
- I’ll take water for the shower (5 points)
- No need for a mirror or night-time electricity, and I’ll use that broken fan as a drying rack.
I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to turn this into some sort of board game with drafting and/or worker-placement. Rough drafts on my desk by Monday morning, please.
Before you get the idea that I'm just an entitled westerner, complaining about my crappy accommodations, let me assure you, that's not my intention. One thing I enjoyed about the trip was how it forced us to look at the things we took for granted each day through new eyes and better appreciate them.
Uganda was a great adventure; I'll remember the friendly people and the landscapes most of all. I can't recommend it to everyone (they have laws on the books that are infuriating, for example). Like fish that can't see the water all around since it's always there, traveling there – even for a couple of weeks – helped paint a picture of what it takes for people to live together in a way that's harder to grasp when you travel in a developed country. The people are struggling (there's 60%+ unemployment and about 80%+ youth unemployment) but we were able to see real improvements being made all around us, slowly by slowly.