Tips for New Arrivals in Kampala

Tips for New Arrivals

Uganda may literally take your breath away. Famously described by Winston Churchill as “The Pearl of Africa”, Uganda’s landscape includes the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, the source of the Nile River, half of the worlds population of mountain gorillas, and the beautiful waterfalls of Mt. Elgon. With its interesting juxtaposition of natural beauty and a tumultuous past marred by dictator Idi Amin and the L.R.A., you’ll begin to discover a country comprised of resilient, culturally rich and warm people who are working to turn their motherland into a safe and welcoming country.

Upon arrival you’ll probably have a bunch of questions as you begin to explore what this beautiful country has to offer. So here are a a few starting tips to help begin your transition into living in Kampala.

Arrival at Entebbe Airport

You’re almost here! You will arrive at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda and follow the crowd off the plane to immigration. Here you’ll need to have your passport and $50 US dollars ready (for your three month tourist visa). Before getting in line be sure to grab an immigration form and fill in your travel dates and information. You will then purchase a tourist visa and get your passport stamped, which they will require before you get your bags or leave the airport. Continue on to get your luggage.

If your luggage does not show up (very common) it is important that you report it to the office which is located in the baggage claim area. You will describe to the personnel what your baggage looks like and will fill out some information. You will then go through luggage screening…and then you’re home free!

Mzungu!

Perhaps one of the first words you’ll hear when you go to the market or take a walk is “Mzungu!” Literally translated it means “someone who roams around aimlessly.” The origins of the word harken back to the 18th century when the first European explorers were traveling through East Africa. The locals would use this word to describe those funny looking people.

However in modern times the meaning of this word has evolved to simply translate as “foreigner” or “white person.” While it may seem obvious enough that you are a foreigner and/or white, many times children and even some adults will be struck by your unique presence and feel the need to publicly take note of that presence by shouting “Mzungu!” I guess a reminder once in a while isn’t too bad, and most of the time people mean no harm when calling you this, especially young children who amazingly enough still manage to be ecstatic every time a white person walks by.

Communication

If you are reading this sentence and comprehending it chances are good that you speak English. This is a great skill to have in Uganda. English is widely spoken here and is even considered to be the national language. However it’s also a good idea to learn at least a few phrases in local languages. Kampala is part of the Buganda tribal region which is the largest tribe in Uganda. The language of the Buganda tribe is Luganda, and you will probably hear it spoken even more regularly than English. If you take the time to learn a few basic phrases you’ll be shocked by how happy it will make some Ugandan’s.

As a starter “Oli otya?” (oh-lee-oh-tee-ya) is a great phrase to bust out. This means “how are you?” and is the basic Luganda greeting. “Ssebo” (Say bo) and “Nnyabo” (Knee yah bo) are also important words to throw in after most greetings, they mean “sir” and “madam”. “Webale” (way bah lay) is also a great one to use that means “thank you”.

Tipping

…is not required in Uganda, but is becoming more common as expats attend restaurants and import this culture. At places where foreigners regularly eat, it’s usually a good idea to leave a little tip. I try to tip around 1,000 Ush for every 10,000 Ush I spend on the meal, but everyone is different, so just do what your heart tells you. Don’t tip taxi or boda boda drivers, as these don’t have set prices to start with, and whatever you haggle the price down to is what you end up paying. For the nice hotels, it’s sometimes nice to leave a tip in an envelope for the cleaning staff.

What is the weather like in Uganda?

The weather in Kampala is very moderate throughout the year. Average temperatures are usually in the balmy mid to high 70 F (22-25 C) range. There is some rain, and in which case the local people stop whatever they are doing to take cover until it stops. Also, if a Ugandan warns you to stay put (or get going) because of the rain, take this seriously even if there is not a cloud in sight.

About Aaron

I'm the creative director of the music and arts organization Ensigo, and have been living in Uganda for close to three years. I’m thrilled to contribute to the Living in Kampala website, and will do my best to unveil some of Kampala’s hidden gems and local talent that I’ve discovered during my time here. Get in touch at aaron@livinginkampala.com.