A Brief Respite at the Ssese Islands

I feel like time is racing by. Nearly two months into my stay in Kampala, I am swamped with work, projects, and social obligations. I was nervous when I arrived here that I would be bored and listless, but that is definitely not a problem. I am invigorated by my research on the media’s coverage of the Ugandan military and over the next few weeks, I will analyze more than a thousand newspaper articles and set up interviews with dozens of journalists, military spokespeople, and leaders in civil society.

I also discovered last week that my senior honors thesis on transitional justice in the Congo was accepted for publication by the African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review from Indiana University Press. I need to devote at least a dozen hours to revising it one more time, but I am glad that this 18-month-long project is coming to a close.

In between revising this article and chugging along on research, I am also taking Swahili tutoring for three hours per week, which means that I spend at least nine hours a week studying. Although Swahili grammar is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, the language is enjoyable and relatively accessible. By the time I visit Kenya and Tanzania in the spring, I hope to be mildly conversational.

I have also been lucky to develop close friendships with Ugandans and other expats. When I came to Uganda, I didn’t know a single person and being a lonely hermit for a year was a daunting possibility. However, I am fortunate to have a growing support group of genuinely awesome people to spend my time with. Last week, I joined the Ugandan ultimate Frisbee team, which has proven to be a great way to meet people, get exercise, and have fun without spending money. It’s easy to entertain yourself in big cities by going out to restaurants and bars, but it’s a bit more difficult to find cheap ways to have a good time. Playing ultimate twice a week will also help me train to accomplish one of my big dreams here: climbing Uganda’s largest mountains.

To take a break from work in Kampala, I traveled this weekend to the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria with two Americans and two Swedes. To get to the islands, we took a four-hour ferry ride from Entebbe, a city that neighbors Kampala and houses the airport and President Museveni’s Statehouse. On the boat ride, we played Uganda’s one and only card game—a version of Uno with a 52-card deck. People here just call it “cards,” because I think it’s the only game some people play.

On the ferry from Entebbe to Buggala.

A beautiful sunset and huge swarms of gnats greeted us once we stepped off the ferry on Buggala Island. Apparently, the Ssese Islands are renowned for pesky clouds of gnats that gather at dusk, but the peaceful island escape compensated for the minor annoyance.

After having dinner at Buggala’s only beach-side restaurant, we returned to our cottage further up the island. We stayed at the Panorama Cottages, which were quaint, cheap, and almost deserted. Most tourists flock to Buggala in the summer and winter months, and there seemed to be fewer than ten tourists on the entire island this weekend in mid-October. Being alone on the island had its benefits, however, as rates were low and we could relax in relative tranquility.

The next morning, our two Swedish friends had to return to Kampala for work, but three of us stayed and took a boda boda tour of the island. We walked through two fishing villages, a forest, a bioenergy plant, and palm tree and pineapple plantations. After a four-hour excursion, we napped on the beach and took a canoe ride at sunset.

The islands weren’t exactly life-changing, but they were beautiful and peaceful enough to warrant a future trip when I’m stressed and bogged down with work.

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