Saturday, April 27, 2013

African Face Off: East vs. West Africa, Part I

Greetings from Uganda!

I have a raging headache and some lingering nausea from a rough car ride, but I still feel like debriefing in a moment of downtime. I'm on my way home late tonight, so I've gotta hit pen to paper while the thoughts are fresh!

But first of alla few people have reached out to me about my blog which a) absolutely warms my heart and b) I promise I will respond as soon as I return to reliable internet next week!!!

Back to my impressions. Firstly, I am honestly shocked at the degree of variation between my familiar West African (and Francophone) terrain, and Uganda. I did not expect for things to be so different! Obviously Uganda doesn't represent all of East Africa, but let me still give my obviously subjective comparison between East and West ;) 

There are also several disclaimers I could make right now about this subjectivity, the fact I've been in Uganda for under a week, etc. etc. etc. Lets just say it all goes without saying! Also, my scoring system is completely arbitrary :)

1) The food in Uganda is not my cup of tea. The cuisine obviously varies across West Africa, but its generally spicy and flavorful, and for the most part I love it! In contrast, the food here is completely bland and unappetizing. Sauces are watery and overly salty. Bread is hard and dense.  Meat is tough and overcooked. I have had a hard time finding anything to order on the menu. 

West Africa: +2 points
East Africa: +.5 points for baller local coffee

Not the best picture quality, but I loved this coffee café in Kampala! 
My hotel room smells like a coffee house from all the coffee I stocked up on. 
Uganda is the second coffee producer in Africa, and the 10th in the world.

2) The culture is vaaaaastly different. From my interactions, Ugandans seem generally reserved and mild-mannered. My frist cab driver here told me that I would "like Ugandans because they are  quite gentle," and afraid of West Africans themselves! People have been extremely polite and helpful, but... not so open. West Africans are so much more intense and direct, aggressively friendly and welcoming. Its my favorite aspect of West African culture, even though it can be negative and overwhelming in certain contexts. There's just something about waiting at an airport gate with Senegalese passengers who strike up conversation amongst strangers, share food with their neighbors as they wait, crack jokes with the gate attendant, play with and attend to each others children. As I've alluded to in the past, my immersion in this dynamic culture has had a huge impact on my evolution over these past few years.

So I'm kind of on the fence with this category. I really appreciate and admire the "gentleness," hospitality, and kindness of the Ugandans I have met. But I do miss the fire of the people in Senegal, and West Africa in general. Maybe if I'd started in East Africa I'd feel differently.

But honestly, I've kind of been underwhelmed by Kampala as a city. It just lacks that permeating fire or vibrancy I have felt living in Dakar and traveling in other W. African countries. 

West Africa: +4 points for sharing food with strangers and that fire
Uganda/E. Africa: +1 point for politeness :)

Another shitastic picture, but this local dance performance brought some fire to the trip!

3) Nonetheless, the landscape here in Kampala has been a refreshing change, with rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, red clay earth, and brick houses. And I did really enjoy the craft market today... and got quite a bit of loot to share with you all soon ;)

Uganda/E. Africa: +1 point for the landscape and lack of dust (.... though Dakar has the beaaaaach which might be +100 points in my book ;)

Current Score
West Africa: 6 points
East Africa: 1.5 points

Coming up: Contrasting business environments.....
......and my ensuing depression

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in East Africa is much higher than West Africa, and
much more visible in various info campaigns (tv commercials as well)

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