I was recently asked to write a summary of what my daily life is like in Uganda for a website called 'Our Common Experience'. This is what I wrote...
I live in Gulu, northern Uganda. I come from Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. I am 23 years old.
My name is Cassandra Belanger. This is my life…
My day begins around 7pm when someone comes to wake me up in the morning. I recently lost my phone so I have no method of waking up without assistance. I get ready for work and then head to the kitchen where the scrumptious smells of breakfast are wafting in the air. Our cook Doreen prepares breakfast for us every morning. I always start the morning with a hug and greeting to Doreen and then head outside to eat my breakfast at our wooden table under the veranda. My favorite breakfast is mandasi and matooke with melted cinnamon. Mandasi is a sweet bread-like snack that is really good with the local honey and matooke is cooked bananas.
I then head out to catch a boda (motorcycle transportation) to work. This can be an uneasy experience depending on the boda driver and the current weather. Traffic in Uganda is by no means controlled or orderly. You can often be stopped by cattle crossing the road or have to swerve to the left or right to just miss some on-coming vehicle. It is such an adventure and no joke, I absolutely look forward to each boda ride. I love it. I love every aspect of my life here.
As I ride to the Invisible Children office I pass Gulu Prison Primary School, the Government Prison next door to it and the World Food Program before I arrive in town. As trucks drive past, dust clouds billow over me providing me with a nice layer of red dust to compliment my clean and nicely ironed clothes for work. Passing through town, the vendors are preparing for the day ahead as they set up their items to sell on the bamboo mats or shelves of the market. I turn right and ride past my favorite local café called Kope Café. It is a non-profit café that supports a child play therapy center called HEALS. I wave at the cook as he is moving the furniture outside. As I curve to the left to the road leading to the office I am bombarded with children on their way to school. Their colorful uniforms are like rainbows scattered across the red murram road.
I arrive at work with greetings from every person I encounter. There are a couple special friends that I can’t help but hug every time I see them. I feel so at home in this culture of daily love and affection. I arrive at my desk as Shally, our office assistant, brings me my morning African tea. I scoop three spoons of sugar into my cup and poor the milky tea into my cup for the perfect combination. It’s a sensational way to start the day!
I get to work answering my emails and start on whatever project has currently been assigned to me. I am the Education Assistant to the Schools for School’s Program at Invisible Children and I am currently working on starting Book Clubs in all of our 11 partner schools. The reading culture is very poor in the schools here and we have decided to combat that problem with the introduction of these Book Clubs. The more I work, the more I realize how passionate I am about education. I came to Uganda with no background in education and have found a new passion.
I work until 1pm when we all head out to one of the local restaurants for lunch. I usually eat at Catarina’s with staff friends. As you walk up the stairs to the veranda, you wash your hands with the provided tubs of water. This is culturally a very important step before taking your meal. I order my favorite lunch meal of malakwang (ground nut paste with greens), sweet potato and millet bread and top it off with a delicious cup of passion juice. We chat about the day as we enjoy our lunch. Sometimes you can see children popping their heads through the bars of the restaurant to check out the muzungus.
After lunch we head back to the office to finish off the work day. After work I walk down the dirt path to the boda stand where I sit on the back for another adventurous ride back to the house. As I return home all the children that live in the huts across the street come running up to me, somewhat tackling me, saying “muno bye, muno bye.” Muno means white person in the local language and bye is often the only other word that they know. It is always a nice welcome home.
There are different events on different nights of the week although some of my favorites are Pub Quiz at Bambu Restaurant or Lwo (the local language) Lessons here in town. I spend nights hanging out with local expat friends or other local Ugandans I have become friends with. I go to sleep around 11pm, tucking under my mosquito net as fast as possible to keep the unwanted insects out of my sleeping haven. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with greetings from my friends, the mice that live above my bed. I greet them as my delusional self falls back into my dreams that I will usually forget by the next morning.
And the next day comes…