|Posted by Anna Rice on May 2, 2009 at 8:54 AM|
It?s been three weeks since I stepped off the plane in Kampala, Uganda. In some ways it feels like I?ve been here for months,in others every day feels like my first. Before arriving to Uganda I?d been to Africa once before, though only to compete in the 2003 Nigerian International. As most badminton players will agree, when you visit a place for a tournament your priority is always to make yourself as comfortable as possible, taking control of as many variables as you can in order to acclimatize yourself. This usually means bringing along food, staying in a comfortable place, testing out the courts, etc. etc.
For the first time since I can remember, I?m allowing the environmentto dictate, which is both extremely challenging and thrilling at thesame time.
A Long Way from Denmark
What is making my first weeks in Uganda all the more interesting is the fact that I am moving here straight from Denmark. It is no coincidence that the Danes invented Lego, and their orderly and impeccably structured society often feels like a life-sized version of the children?s game.
Enter Kampala. Wild, passionate, struggling, thriving, it?s full of contradictions that seem to fit together in a way that makes sense. To try to give you a taste of how different life in Uganda is compared to that in Denmark, let me compare the public transit systems.
In Denmark, the array of buses, trains, subways and orderly bicycle lanes make moving around town painstakingly easy, if not boring. Just don?t expect anything out of the box, like casual conversation with a stranger or the bus driver to drop you even ten feet before the designated and clearly marked bus stop. If you happen to be leaning off the curb even slightly when the bus arrives to the stop, the driver won?t hesitate to knock you with the side mirror. (If you think I?mjoking, I?ve witnessed this three times! Thankfully, none was my own head.)
In Kampala, there are no trains nor pubic buses, per se. Bike lanes? Well sure, every road doubles as a bikeway, and a motorway, and a walkway, and a parkway. What Kampala has which Denmark?s rules and regulations would never allow for, are ?boda bodas?, which are scooter taxis. These convenient modes of transport will whisk you off to your desired location anywhere inthe city, so long as you?re willing to risk your life as these young Evil Kanievals (sp?) weave through traffic dodging potholes and oncoming vehicles as if starring in a speedway video game.
Until I purchase my own helmet (and seemingly become the only geeky ?boda boda? passenger in East Africa to wear one), I?m opting for the second mode of public transport, which are taxi buses. Taxi buses here are mini vans that serve as the public buses would in Denmark or Canada. No need for bus stops, just wave your arm by the side of the road and your chariot awaits. They are 12-seater vans (though usually hold around 20 people at once) and they drive around the city in a particular route, picking up everyone (and everything-I sat beside alive chicken just yesterday-) along its path.
I dare you to try and board a bus holding a live chicken by the neck inDenmark. You can barely carry dead chicken (they?re sticklers for eating on the bus) let alone a live one.
As different as the Kampala transit system is to anything I?ve experienced before, I must admit it not only functions, it thrives. I?ve never had to wait more than a minute for a taxi bus to come along, and in two weeks I?ve had more friendly conversations with complete strangers (in some cases while holding a child or two of theirs on mylap) than I had in eight years in Denmark. Might I add that a trip across Kampala costs a maximum of 85 cents, while a similar ticket across Copenhagen would set you back about 12 bucks.
First (and hopefully last) Emergency Hospital Visit
I had hoped to be writing about the Kenyan International tournament which took place this past weekend. I had been training hard at the Kampala Club with some of Uganda?s top players to prepare for this event. Unfortunately, en route to the airport, my visiting fiancé Bobby Milroy passed out and had to be rushed to hospital. It seems he had an allergic reaction to the anti-malaria medication he was taking.
Although both Bobby and I are singles players, we had actually entered to play in the mixed doubles event in Kenya, our first ever international tournament as partners on the court. I knew Bobby was back to his normal self when he jokingly said to me the day after his ordeal: ?let?s look on the bright side, I think I saved our marriage by preventing us from stepping on the court together?.
Bobby is making a fast recovery and I?m very grateful to the Surgery Hospital in Kampala for taking such good care of him.
Two Exciting Weeks Ahead
Despite not being able to participate in the Kenyan International tournament, all is not lost for Bobby?s visit. Starting tomorrow, we will be joined by Pedro Yang, badminton?s first ever IOC Athletes Commission member. The three of us will spend the next two weeks running badminton programs at two major refugee camps here in Uganda. Bobby has spent the past eight months planning to making this happen, and we are looking forward to putting his ideas into action. We?ve collected over 100 rackets and will use these for the camps, after which we will leave the rackets so the badminton programs can be continued after our departure.
The first week we will travel to the Nakivale refugee camp, which is acouple of hours outside of the south-western Ugandan city of Mbarara. The following week we will travel to the Kyangwali refugee camp, which is a couple of hours drive from the city of Hoima in mid-western Uganda. The camps are home to more than 65,000 people, most of which have been displaced from their homelands due to war. The majority come from Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan. We know our impact is limited, but we hope to give a few hundred kids a chance to try badminton and to be able to play recreationally in the future.
I?ll be sure to report back to fill you in on how things go.
Here are a few pictures of my stay so far?
The source of the Nile, Jinja town, South-Eastern Uganda
Badminton court at the Kampala Club where I've been training. In this photo: My training partner Ronny, a member of the Ugandan National team.
My neighborhood, near Ntienda Market
My friend Joyful and I at the weekly food market. Joyful also works at the
Right To Play office.