Uganda is a small country, about the same size as Wyoming that sits perched on top of Lake Victoria in Eastern Africa. Lake Victoria is the source of the White Nile River.
Uganda is a place I’ve visited before and was excited to return once again with a group of students from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity at the University of Nebraska.
As I passed through Uganda Immigration, the officer asked me; “How long will you be in Uganda?”
I answered her question, “Three weeks.”
She replied, “I think you should stay longer. I’m going to give you 90 days for your visa.”
I smiled and said, thank you. It felt good to be greeted in such a way.
The students would join me in a couple of days. I arrived early to visit with friends and make any last-minute preparations.
As I stepped out the airport door in Entebbe, I was first greeted by the moist tropical air of Uganda, a sweet reminder that the equator passes through the country. The next greeting came in the form of a man holding a handwritten sign with my name spelled out in large block letters.
“Oli Otya,” I said to the man. “I’m Dean Jacobs.”
“Welcome to Uganda, Mr. Jacobs,” he replied with a huge smile. “You speak our language?”
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“Only a few words, but I try,” I said.
When traveling, I always try to greet people with their local language; it often brings so much joy. Even when I have messed it up, it chips away at the invisible barrier of those who sound and look different than myself.
The warm moist air was a welcomed change after the long cold winter of Nebraska. As we drove away, I was reminded that Uganda was a former British colony because the driver drove on the left-hand side of the road.
After flying for 24 hours, I was glad not to be driving. Also, it was really dark. The streetlights that lined the road were either dim or didn’t work at all.
The most significant upside for a late-night arrival, the roads were relatively empty, so we made excellent time to the city of Kampala.
When I lead trips for students and adults for that matter, I have three rules. First, I am not a babysitter; I was 21 once and did my share of silly things, do not do stupid things while under my watch. Second, this is not a trip to the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo; it’s the real deal, animals are not in cages, we see what we see, translation for this statement: no whining or complaining. And the third rule, and in my opinion, the most important, come with an attitude to give. We will get more then we can imagine, be a yes for life.
To fulfill rule number three, in Uganda, I work with a local NGO, (non-government organization) called Soft Power Education.
They have been operating in Uganda for 20 years. Sometimes it can be a challenge to find the right organizations to work on projects with because of corruption. Time has allowed me to know and trust the people who run and operate the project.
Before the students arrived, I had a small window to greet old friends in Kampala. One of the benefits of returning to places you love is the opportunity to create friendships. If you’re not creating new friends in new places, you’re missing out.
I was happy to be back in Uganda, Africa. They have a saying in Uganda; once the red dirt gets under your nails, it never comes out. It sure felt that way to me.