Uganda Trip May 2011
I really didn’t know what to expect from my trip to Uganda. Oddly, and I guess subconsciously, I didn’t do that much research into the country beforehand. I suppose, now that I look back on it, I wanted it to be a surprise. I didn’t want to be too prepared for what I might see. I knew it would intense and emotional, but I could have never prepared myself for what I experienced. I’m not sure anyone could.
I traveled to Uganda with my dad, Larry. Dad had spent 13 months in the jungles of Vietnam in ’68 and ’69. He’s since traveled back on three separate occasions. He’s been a witness to horrific human plight, much of which he’s openly shared with me over the years. Dad is an accomplished photojournalist and came along, not only as a close friend and travel companion, but also to document our seven days in the country distributing Information Blankets. He has an amazing eye for the human condition, and I knew the images we’d come back with would be powerful and moving. The photos in this, and future posts are his.
We landed at Entebbe airport, which is about an hour outside of Kampala, on the morning of May 22nd. A little exhausted from the 17-hour flight, we made it through customs with little trouble. We opened the weathered and worn exit door and entered a very different world. I felt as though I was in a time warp. The airport was built sometime in the middle of last century—very early 1960s architecture. It was run down and broken and quite crowded with people from an amazing variety of cultures. Taxi cab drivers jockeyed for position to get fares. To my surprise, it was very westernized in dress. Young guys with cell phones wearing Phillies caps and Lil Wayne t-shirts loitered in the corners. There was a very clear obsession with American pop culture.
We picked out a driver, gave him our bags, exchanged some currency and made our way to the parking lot. As we pushed through the doors, I could feel we were in a very different climate than New York. It was very humid and the air was thick and sweet. The sky was bright blue and big, bouncing white clouds that looked like cotton candy moved on a warm breeze in front of the sun. We loaded our bags into the back of a run down, early model Fiat and took off to for the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala.
As we traveled down the two-lane highway, we passed through a countryside that was lush, green and very bountiful. For as far as we could see, the landscape was a series of gently rolling hills populated with fruit-filled banana, mango, papaya and avocado trees. This surprised me, and it became obvious that food wasn’t necessarily a dire issue—or certainly not as dire as the neighboring country of Somalia. Along the roadside farmers herded their cattle, young children carried water containers, traders pushed their carts or road their bikes and hundreds of motor scooters with passengers whizzed by. I’d describe it as busy but peaceful.
As we neared the city, the landscape changed dramatically. The beautiful green countryside gave way to a never-ending row of shacks and dilapidated shops. It was at this point that I realized something was very wrong. Gone were the clean air and the tranquil, agrarian lifestyle. Suddenly, we had entered into an entirely new world. A world filled with the congestion of stop-and-go traffic¬—deafening honking and beeping with air so thick with exhaust that my eyes watered and my lungs burned. Small groups of men stood about as if they were waiting for something, but for what? Work? Food? A ride? They weren’t socializing or interacting. They just stood there in the hot sun with a hopeless look in their eyes while cars, buses, vans and motor scooters whizzed by. It was a haunting, heartbreaking sight.
We had entered the city limits of Kampala. It was the most chaotic system of existence I had ever encountered. The noise, the pollution, the traffic, the people sprinting across busy streets barely avoiding death, cows grazing wherever there was a spot of green—it was madness. I will never forget it.