Traveling across continents and cultures can be an overwhelming prospect at times, but we have found that the blessings far outweigh the challenges! We are happy to offer this information to help you as you prepare to visit us.
Languages and Greetings
Because of the Ugandan school system’s emphasis on English, most people in the towns and cities speak excellent English. Uganda boasts a wide variety of tribal languages, but the most widely-spoken is Luganda. It is common for a Ugandan to speak at least three languages fluently, and some people speak many more than this!
You’ll be able to get by with English in town, and you’ll have someone along to interpret for village ministry, but here are a few key Luganda phrases to get you started:
|Oli otya?||How are you?|
|Wasuze otya?||How is your morning?|
|Je bale||Well done (often used as a greeting when someone is working)|
|Kale||Okay, or you’re welcome (the response to je bale)|
|Mzungu||White person, or Westerner (you’ll hear this one a lot as you go through the villages!)|
Greetings are a very important part of Ugandan culture. Taking the time to greet someone thoroughly is a sign of courtesy and respect– it’s rare to see a passing “hello”. When greeting, a gentle handshake is typical between most people, though close friends will hug twice, once with the face to the left and once to the right. Greetings follow a set pattern, which is easy to pick up, and often include a series of questions about how your home and family are doing.
Due to Uganda’s location on the equator, the weather is fairly consistent and pleasantly warm year-round. We do generally see a slight increase in temperatures December-February, with highs around 30°C (86°F). The rainy seasons are not entirely predictable, but expect to see heavy rain at least a few times during your stay. It does cool off considerably in the evenings and early mornings, enough to make a light jacket necessary.
Schedules and Timekeeping
In Africa, time has a different emphasis placed upon it. As a general rule, time and schedules are considerably more flexible here than in the West. In the villages, many people still keep time by the placement of the sun in the sky (8:00 a.m. is called 2 o’clock, because the sun has been up for 2 hours). As a base, we value timekeeping and punctuality, but things do come up and joyful patience is essential. Take these opportunities to relax, hear from the Lord, or get to know the people around you a little better.
The Hopeland base and Uganda in general are fairly safe places, but be wise: do not carry more money or valuables with you than you need at any point, and do not be too ostentatious with cameras and jewellery etc. We have fences, gates, and security guards keeping the base safe twenty-four hours a day. When leaving and returning to the base, plan to travel only during daytime and to return well before sundown.
Malaria remains a big killer in sub-Saharan Africa, but its threat can be minimized by taking preventatives regularly, sleeping under a mosquito net, and covering up and applying insect repellent in the early morning and evening. Most locals have developed some level of immunity, but Western immune systems are not well-prepared to handle malaria. For this reason, we recommend that all visitors be taking some form of anti-malarial drug. Your doctor can advise you about the most appropriate anti-malarial for you.
HIV/AIDS remains a very serious problem throughout Uganda. However, infection is easily prevented by taking reasonable precautions. There is no way of telling who is HIV+ and the virus can be spread by any contaminated bodily fluids so it is best to take precautions in any risky situations, especially if you are cleaning up blood, diarrhea, vomit, or an open wound. Soap and boiling water will usually kill the virus but use bleach and gloves to make sure blood is safe to clean up. Don’t share razors or toothbrushes, and avoid injections from unreliable sources.
Beyond some stomach discomfort that is a natural consequence of eating unfamiliar food, there is not too much to be concerned about when visiting Uganda. Bring a simple medical kit that includes treatments for diarrhea and upset stomach (make sure they are safe to take with your antimalarial) and any prescription medications you need.
Clothing and Laundry
Dress code is much more conservative in Uganda than in the West. For ministry, ladies should bring plenty of nice dresses or skirts (knee-length or longer) and blouses (shoulders covered). Bring slips/petticoats to wear under skirts. Stand in a well-lit doorway and have a friend look to see if the outline of your legs is visible—if it is, you need a slip! Ugandans tend to keep a very “smart” (formal) dress code for ministry and church—it is rare for women to wear t-shirts. For relaxing around the base or doing physical work, loose trousers, t-shirts, and modest tank tops are fine. If you plan on exercising, bring knee-length shorts. You may want to bring one nicer dress for formal occasions.
The dress code is much more formal for men than it is in the West. For ministry and church, bring dress trousers, collared shirts (plan to iron!), and nice shoes. For some ministry activities, nice jeans and clean t-shirts are fine, but no shorts, no flip flops, and no shoulders showing—day-to-day life is much more formal in Uganda than in the West. For relaxing around the base, doing physical work, or exercising, shorts, sandals, t-shirts, and vests/tank tops are fine. You may want to bring a nice jacket or a suit for formal occasions.
As you are packing, bear in mind that you will be washing your clothes by hand. Heavy clothes are more difficult to wash well.
Food and Water
Ugandan food includes rice, pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, posho (a mash of white corn flour cooked in water), matoke (cooked green bananas), chapati (fried flatbread), beans, lentils, eggplant, cabbage, and occasionally beef, goat, or chicken meat. The diet can be a little low in protein, so many visitors find it helpful to bring protein-rich snacks from home (nuts, protein bars, etc.) to supplement their diet while here. Local vegetables and fruits are abundant, delicious, and inexpensive at the local markets: avocados, pineapple, watermelon, mangos, guavas, tomatos, and bell peppers, depending on the season.
Drinking water should be bought, treated, or boiled–do not take water straight from the tap. We have a large black container of treated water available in the main kitchen. Between the heat and the long distances you’ll be walking, it is easy to get dehydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of water during your stay.
Letters from the UK/USA generally take between 1 and 2 weeks to get here, but there is the occasional rogue delivery that takes a few months. All the post gets delivered to the main post office in Jinja and then gets brought out to the Hopeland base once or twice a week. Letters sent home are fairly reliable and take about the same length of time to get there. Parcels can take anywhere from three weeks to two months to arrive and are really only practical for visitors staying longer than a few months. Our mailing address is: YWAM Hopeland, PO Box 739, Jinja, UGANDA.
Wireless internet is available at the Hopeland office if you come with a laptop or iPhone. We charge a small fee for usage to help us cover the cost of (reasonably) high-speed internet.
It is easy and inexpensive to buy a Ugandan SIM card for your unlocked, basic mobile. Please see the contact us section of this site for our phone numbers.
Jinja town boasts several nice restaurants (excellent Indian, Chinese, and Western food) and coffee shops, which offer a nice chance to get away from the base for an afternoon. There are a number of pleasant hotels, many of which offer their swimming pools on a day-use basis for a small fee. For shopping, Jinja has a handful of supermarkets with just about everything you might have forgotten to pack, and a large, bustling market with secondhand clothes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and household goods for remarkably cheap prices– if you know how to bargain. Jinja is about a 30-minute journey from the base by foot and minibus-taxi.
Uganda offers three main forms of transport: minibus taxis, motorbikes (called bodas), and walking. Matatus (minibus taxis) are the most common means of getting around, whether in and out of town or on journeys between towns. They offer very consistent and inexpensive transport and can generally get you near where you want to go, for one set price. For the brave, bodas are motorbikes that have a seat on the back– you negotiate a price with the driver, tell him where you want to go, and hop on!
For teams, it is also possible to hire a designated minibus and driver for the duration of your stay, for a reasonably affordable price.
The local currency is the Ugandan Shilling, which runs at about 4300-4500 to the pound and 3400-3500 to the US dollar. There are several ATMs in Jinja that accept most VISA debit cards. Mastercard may also be accepted, but much less widely. Be aware that most banks will charge a small fee each time you use an ATM from another bank. You should alert your bank ahead of time that you will be traveling, or you risk having your card canceled when you use it out of country. If you are bringing US$ cash, please make sure that the bills were issued 2013 or later and that they are in large denominations ($50 or $100), otherwise the rate of exchange will be low.