First impressions

I arrived to Uganda this past Sunday, July 1st, and have so far been here for five days.  It seems like I have been here for much longer though.  Even after two days I felt like I had been here for at least a week and that I already had a decent understanding of how things worked here (given that I had only been here for such a short time). 

I think I can comfortably say that I have had a decent amount of travel experience (a rough count puts me at around 15+ countries) but I have never been in a place where the people have been so welcoming and friendly, which may explain why it seems like I have been here for longer.  After less than a week, I can already say that I have several friends here and many more that I can easily chat with.  Just today, my friend from home Carlito and I went to the biggest market in Kampala accompanied by two of our new friends.  One of the guys, Ronnie, didn't even need to buy anything but just came along to hang out with us. 

In addition, people always come by to visit us (by us I mean me, Carlito, and two girls from Britain and New Zealand, Becky and Anna, respectively, who are volunteering with us), often only to just say hi.  The other day we came back late from a trip to Kampala, about 7 kilometers from our village, Bulenga, only to find that two teachers from the school had come over a couple hours earlier to say hi and had been waiting for us the whole time. 

Even in Kampala, random people in the street will be very nice and friendly.  Though in a market area many will call out to you, referring to you as "Mzungu", which in essence means foreigner, no one will ever be threatening.  Many cracked a big smile as I practiced my Luganda (the most commonly used native language in Uganda).  Walking down the street, little children will always smile and wave to you, yelling hi or bye mzungu.  You can't help but get used to always happily waving back. 

Many of my friends from school studied abroad in places all over the world, from Europe (I myself studied in Paris), to Latin America, Australia, and Asia.  Yet all returned having mostly spent their time with Americans, saying that the locals are very hard to meet, which is understandable.  But after 5 days here, I already feel like I have a better community here than I ever really had in my whole time abroad (5 months).  I think that says a lot about the Ugandan people. 

In addition, probably thanks to the warm nature of the Ugandan people, which I have been told comes from the importance of family in their culture, I have felt incredibly safe here and very much at home.  It's amazing how quickly this place takes you in and makes you feel like you've been here forever.  I'm interested to see how I will feel here after spending two months here. For now, I am just looking forward to our weekend trip to Jinja, at the base of the Nile.  It's supposed to have some crazy rafting rapids.  Wish me luck...