I'm here in Uganda (Kampala precisely) for a couple of weeks on behalf of
Integrity and a Committee from the Diocese of California. It's interesting
to be back after spending a year in Cameroon. The cultural differences stand
out in bold relief. It seems analogous, to me, to the differences between
Canada and the US, with Uganda being like Canada (people are extremely
polite, generally soft-spoken, obey rules and are a bit self-deprecating)
and Cameroon being like the US (people are bold, direct, loud, a bit
arrogant, only obey rules if they think they make sense). Interestingly, in
Cameroon, as is common in some places in the US, people are friendly in a
"hi, how are ya?" kind of way. That is, total strangers greet each other all
the time, particularly in a bar or restaurant or other gathering place. But
relationships, at least with foreigners, stay quite superficial (also, like
many places in the US). Whereas in Uganda, I'm not bombarded with people
saying "hello" or "good afternoon" all the time, but I have closer, stronger
friendships with people here (and I've never been here longer than 6 weeks
at a time) than with anyone in Cameroon (where I've lived for 13 months).
Uganda is gearing up to host CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Government
Meeting, and the amount of development is amazing. I can't imagine there is
a single unemployed person in the city, except by choice. There are big,
beautiful buildings being constructed everywhere, road are being fixed and
improved, fancy sidewalks are being installed. The amount of fresh paint is
also a delight. Brightly painted building, not all of them advertisements
for beer or cellphone services, abound.
And this development is obviously being spread around, at least to some
extent. There is clearly a thriving middle class here, from the many boda
boda guys driving brand new motorcycles to the multitude of new or recent
model Toyotas and Hondas on the streets. The power remains as unreliable as
ever, but nearly every shop, business and building has a generator and they
use them freely as needed.
Now I understand a lot better the shock of the volunteers from Uganda and
Kenya over the condition of the taxis in Bamenda. If you are used to seeing
most cars on the street that could easily pass a basic safety inspection,
the death traps they call vehicles around Bamenda are pretty scary.
Of course, this makes things more expensive than the last time I was here,
which is hard to get used to. Particularly since you can get everything
here. There are a million computer shops, electronics shops, cellphone
shops, clothing shops, etc. Sunday afternoon I visited the Garden City Mall
which was just like being back in California. A bit of retail therapy,
although fortunately most of the shops were closed, so I wasn't tempted to
spend money I don't have!