1. UGANDA: General information about geography, climate etc
  2. Brief summary of ethnic, historical and political background
  3. The recent history of Teso – a Nilo-Hamitic area
  4. Health
  5. Clothes to take
  6. Money, cost of living
  7. Cost of visiting Teso
  8. Gifts and staying with families
  9. Welcoming / Greetings etc
  10. Names and titles
  11. Relationships
  12. Meals, eating, drinks etc
  13. Washing, toilets, etc
  14. Communications
  15. Church, worship
  16. Schools and education
  17. Problems in schools
  18. Language
  19. Miscellaneous
  20. Photography
  21. Culture shock
  22. Travelling to Uganda and around the country
  23. Suggested reading
  24. Suggested packing list
  25. Suggested gifts
  26. Bringing back fruit, vegetables and other foods into the UK

UGANDA NETWORKS is a website well worth exploring (preferably before you make plans) for all sorts of links and information on almost every conceivable topic and organisation concerned with Uganda:

1.  UGANDA: General information about geography, climate etc

  1. Uganda is a sub-Saharan landlocked country bordered by South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It lies in the great Western Rift Valley. About the same size as the UK, it has several large lakes, including a share of Lake Victoria, the 2nd largest lake in the world. The River Nile flows northwards out of Lake Victoria into Lake Kyoga, then westwards to Lake Albert before flowing north into South Sudan. The Rwenzori Mountains, on Uganda’s western border with DRC, have permanent snow. Other mountains include Mt Elgon on the eastern border with Kenya and the Virunga Volcanoes on the south-western border with Rwanda.
  2. Apart from the mountains, Uganda varies in height from about 800m above sea level in the north-west to 2,300m plus in the south. There is a great variety of countryside, from dry, open, flat savannah to rolling hills; from steep, cultivated terraced hills to plains used for cattle grazing; from tropical rain forest to densely populated and cultivated areas; from lakes and swamps to arid desert-like areas. Most of Uganda is very lush and green and beautiful. There are several large National Parks where wild animals are protected.
  3. The equator passes through Uganda, south of Kampala and Entebbe. So there is no winter and summer and the days are equal. It gets light at about 7.00am and dark about 7.00pm. Teso is in the northern hemisphere.
  4. Instead of the four seasons of the northern hemisphere, there are wet and dry seasons, which occur at different times in central/southern Uganda and northern Uganda (including Teso). The main dry season in Teso is usually from about end of November to March. The main wet season is about April to June. From July to November, there are two less well defined dry and wet seasons. The rain usually comes during the afternoon / evening and is very heavy for about 2-5 hours. The mornings are usually bright and sunny. Temperatures in the wet season are more like a good English summer. During the main dry season, it gets much hotter (in the 30s). It can get quite chilly in the evenings during the wet season and when it’s raining, but hot and humid when the sun comes out, so be prepared.
  5. Harvesting and drying food is mainly done in the dry seasons. People are very busy cultivating when it rains.
  6. Uganda now has a population of 40 million (compared with only 5 million in 1950) – it has the third highest population growth in the world. 71% are under 25 and only 4.5% are over 55. Life expectancy is 55. 7% of adults have HIV/AIDS. 33% of rural people don’t have access to clean water. Only 25% live in towns. Soroti, the largest town in Teso, is the 25th largest town in Uganda and has a population of 50,000. 20% have never been to school; about 70% are literate. 40% of children aged 10-14 are working (mostly at home, cultivating and looking after livestock and looking after babies).
  7. Although Uganda is one of the smallest countries in Africa, it has the 3rd largest population of refugees (about 600,000, ie: 1.5% of Uganda’s population). When measured against the size of its economy (GDP per person), it is the 4th largest refugee-hosting country in the world and is said to be one of the best countries in the world to be a refugee in.
  8. Uganda is the 19th poorest country in the world (out of 185), whereas UK is the 26th richest country. 33% of Ugandans live on less than $2 a day.

2. Brief summary of ethnic, historical and political background

  1. Uganda was first “discovered” by Speke and other European explorers in the 1860s. The first Christian missionaries entered Uganda in 1877. Some of the earliest converts were young page boys in the Kabaka’s court (King of Buganda), many of whom were martyred for their faith between 1885-1886 at Namugongo, just outside Kampala (and are still commemorated in the world-wide Anglican and Catholic Churches on 3rd June every year).
  2. Unlike most African countries, Uganda was a Protectorate, never a British Colony, which meant that the British could not buy and settle the land, as in so many other parts of Africa. There is therefore a much happier relationship between Ugandans and British people. However, European governments used certain tribes to subdue others and drew and re-drew national boundaries in Africa for their own gain and political reasons, which still has sad repercussions.
  3. Uganda has many different tribal groups and over 35 languages and dialects. It is, in many ways, really two countries, with the Bantu tribes living in the central, western and southern regions (the Baganda, around Kampala, being the largest and most powerful tribe), and the Nilotic and Nilo-Hamitic tribes living in the north and east (the Iteso being the largest tribe). The Bantu and Nilotic languages are completely different and unrelated. Since the British started to divide and control Uganda, there have been tensions and prejudices between the two halves of Uganda. There have also been problems at all the national borders, the best known being with South Sudan, Congo and Rwanda.
  4. Uganda became independent in 1962 and Mutesa (the Kabaka/King of Buganda) was the first President, with Milton Obote as Prime Minister until Obote became the President in 1966. Multi-party politics increasingly caused problems as parties were aligned to religious (Catholic and Anglican) and ethnic groups. The situation really began to deteriorate from 1966, with increasing disregard for human rights.
  5. The infamous Idi Amin took power in 1971, in a coup which was supported by Britain who wanted to get rid of Obote. Hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered in the next 8 years. In a bid to gain popularity, Amin threw out all the Asians (including those who were Ugandan citizens) during 3 months in 1972. Many of those who came to the UK settled in Loughborough and Leicester. It was during Amin’s regime that Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered. He is commemorated by the Anglican Church on 17th February and was one of the 20th C martyrs sculpted on the west front of Westminster Abbey in 1998.
  6. Amin was overthrown in 1979. There were three short-lived Presidents in the next 18 months before Obote regained power in 1980, but, unknown to many in Britain, his second regime (known as Obote II) was even more brutal than Amin’s and with a higher death toll.
  7. During these 15 years, estimates put the number killed at about one million. Hundreds of thousands fled as refugees, many of whom have never returned. The economy, infrastructure and civil society were destroyed. Some tribal groups suffered at the hands of others, fortunes were overturned and there were many revenge killings.
  8. Obote was overthrown in 1985 and followed by two brief presidencies before Museveni, who led the National Resistance Movement and Army (NRM and NRA), overthrew Okello in a relatively ‘bloodless’ coup in 1986. His army was slightly better disciplined and he managed to repress the cycle of revenge killings. For the first time for about 17 years, there was relative peace and stability throughout much of Uganda. Museveni had the hard task of starting to rebuild the country, whilst the rest of the world had moved on. Despite much effort and aid, much of Uganda has still not yet managed to return to the level of development that existed in 1970. Most main roads have now been superficially tarmacked again and main towns have electricity again (at least on most days). Water supplies, health facilities and education have not yet been fully restored, especially in northern and eastern Uganda. Museveni introduced a new constitution after consultations at all levels throughout the country, then changed it again to allow him more than two terms as President; he tightened his grip and has won five presidential elections which have been characterised by serious irregularities, corruption and repression. Museveni comes from the western region of Uganda and it would seem that for many years, more aid and resources have been poured into the central and western regions than into the north and east. Combined with deep-seated prejudice and twenty years of civil unrest in the north, there is considerable inequality and therefore greater poverty in the north and east, where the region of Teso is. There is much frustration, resentment and anger, well controlled, below the surface throughout Uganda.
  9. Nevertheless, Uganda is a relatively stable and safe country to visit, unlike many other African countries at the moment. Ugandans are very friendly and welcoming.
  10. Teso is a region in the north-east about the size of the East Midlands and with a population of between about 2 and 2.5 million. The people are Nilo-Hamitic. The majority are Iteso who speak Ateso, although there is another small tribal group living in Teso, the Kumam who speak Kumam. They appear always to have been marginalised; for instance, there is very little literature in Kumam and it is only very recently that the Bible has at last been translated into Kumam.
  11. Teso is divided into two Anglican (Church of Uganda) Dioceses (Soroti and Kumi) and one Catholic Diocese (Soroti). The third main Christian denomination is PAG (Pentecostal Assemblies of God). There are Muslims, especially in Soroti.

3. The recent history of Teso – a Nilo-Hamitic area

  1. The people of Teso are thought to have originated from Egypt and are related to other East African cattle people such as the Karimojong, Turkana and Masai.
  2. The vast, arid area in the far north-east of Uganda is inhabited by the Karimojong, a nomadic, warrior cattle people. They have traditionally moved south with their herds into Teso each year during the long dry season, to find pasture and water. Part of their tradition is also to raid cattle from neighbouring clans and tribes, particularly the Iteso.
  3. The Iteso are also traditionally cattle people, but they settled on the land and developed new methods of agriculture, including growing cash crops. Before the mid-1980s, it was common for Iteso families to own about 100 cattle each and their whole economy was based on cattle.
  4. As a result of the coup in 1979, the Karimojong obtained hundreds of machine guns and other guns and their social structure began to break down. Their cattle raiding expeditions into Teso became devastating. In the late 1980s, not only did they steal every cow in Teso (about 5 million), but they destroyed homes and crops and killed many people. Museveni, in an attempt to solve the situation, sent the army in. Instead, they took advantage of the situation and joined in the general looting and killing. Amnesty International documented many horrendous instances of innocent families and villages being brutally murdered by the army. Rebel groups sprang up which then led to “insurgency”. The ordinary people of Teso were caught in the middle – they were being killed and their homes destroyed by the Karimojong, the army and the rebels. Hospitals and schools were looted. In 1990, hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly moved into ‘camps’ by the army, who were then instructed to operate a scorched earth policy, killing hundreds who went to look for food. [The term used for people in camps within their own region is IDPs – Internally Displaced Persons.] No provision was made in these so-called camps for shelter, food, water, sanitation, health or schooling. Thousands died in a few weeks (for instance, in the camp near Ngora, 7,000 out of 40,000 died). The population of Teso fell from one million in 1980 to just over half a million eleven years later, due to massacres, disease and refugees fleeing. When I first took a group in 1992, there was ‘peace’ once again in much of Teso, but the people were destitute and depressed, although trying to begin to rebuild their lives.
  5. As a result of the terrible sufferings in the late 80s and early 90s, the people of Teso are amongst the poorest in Uganda. However, each time I go, I see a few more signs of life improving. Once again, they are beginning to get cattle, although they will never return to having huge herds. Schools and hospitals are being repaired and re-equipped, and there are even new buildings going up now. However, the vast majority of Iteso can still only afford to build traditional round grass-thatched mud huts, unlike most Ugandans who can now build rectangular houses with iron roofs. But grass for thatching is getting scarce and expensive, so many huts leak badly in the rainy seasons.
  6. The horrendous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel activity (fighting, brutal murders and abduction of thousands of children) that went on in northern Uganda for 20 years is completely different and did not affect Teso until June 2003 when the LRA invaded Teso. The LRA left Teso in 2004 and moved out of Uganda in 2006 where they continued their brutal activities in Chad, CAR and DRC. At the peak, in 2004, there were an estimated 1.8 million IDPs in Teso and northern Uganda. Now, 25 years on, most have been able to return home, although thousands are still living in temporary camps because they cannot afford to go back home and start again after so long in camps.
  7. During the past 10 years or so, Teso has increasingly suffered from climate change which frequently results in food shortages and fluctuating prices. In 2007, when much of sub-Saharan Africa was affected by terrible floods, Teso was one of the worst affected areas throughout Africa, with many of the BBC TV news reports coming from Teso. These floods were followed by 3 years of drought and erratic rains leading to famine and starvation. This happened again in 2015-16 and again now, in December 2019 when it is still raining very heavily six to eight weeks after the long the dry season should have started. Crops have been destroyed in the ground, which will lead to severe food shortages in 2020.
  8. The Anglican Diocese of Soroti covered the whole of Teso, a vast area, until May 2001 when it was split into two. Until July 2018, the Bishop of Soroti was the Rt Rev George Erwau. He was succeeded in June 2019 by Rt Rev Kosea Odongo. The Bishop of the ‘new’ diocese of Kumi, to the south, is the Rt Rev Thomas Edison Irigei who is due to retire at the end of 2019. The previous Bishops, since 1976 when Soroti Diocese was formed, were Rt Rev Geresom Ilukor (deceased) and then Rt Rev Charles Ebitu Obaikol. The Catholic Diocese of Soroti still covers the whole of Teso. The new Bishop, who was consecrated in May 2019, is Rt Rev Dr Joseph Eciru Oliach. During the past ten years or so, both the Anglican and Catholic Dioceses of Soroti have been in turmoil leading to the withdrawal of most outside aid which was very significant in the development of Teso. It is expected that the changes in leadership in 2019 will have a significant impact within Teso although it will take time to rebuild confidence.


4. Health

  1. You need to be physically robust and basically healthy to cope with travelling in Uganda.
  2. You will often need to use pit latrines, so you will need to be able to squat!
  3. If you have any current or past health problems, check with your doctor first before making any arrangements to go to Uganda. There are certain conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes or overweight, which make it inadvisable to go to Uganda for various reasons such as lack of specialist medical facilities, heat, altitude and difficult travelling conditions. If you have any medical conditions, discuss it with your doctor.
  4. Have a dental check-up before going, to make sure your teeth are in good condition, as dental facilities are limited.
  5. Vaccinations: Take advice from your doctor or travel clinic or Boots about vaccinations etc. In addition to yellow fever (compulsory) and the ‘normal’ ones recommended (typhoid, tetanus, polio, diphtheria, meningitis B and ACWY, hepatitis A etc), it is important to have Hepatitis B. Many doctors still insist that Hepatitis B can only be transmitted in the same ways as HIV, but this is not It is strongly recommended that you have Hep B vaccinations. You may also want to have rabies, but it is expensive and perhaps not so necessary. There is occasionally rabies in Teso, but the injection only ‘buys’ you extra time – it doesn’t prevent it developing. GPs vary, but you will have to pay something towards the injections. See your GP as soon as possible if you have never had these injections before, as some courses take several months to complete.
  6. Malaria: Malaria is a serious problem in Teso, so you must take anti-malaria tablets. Lariam (Mefloquin) should be avoided as it often has very serious psychological side effects, especially if you have any psychiatric history. It has been banned in some countries. Malarone is good but very expensive. Doxycycline is perhaps the best for Uganda although one possible side effect can be to make the skin more sensitive to sun (see below). It can also cause diarrhoea and nausea in a few people if not taken with a meal. Since it is an antibiotic, it can also help protect you from some other infections (see para: 11 in this section). It is available in Uganda at a fraction of the price that you will have to pay here for a private prescription – but insist on Doxycycline made in the EU, which includes Cyprus. You have to start taking it a few days before departure. I suggest you start at least a week before departure to see if it has any side effects on you so that you can change to Malarone if necessary. It was recommended that you continue taking Doxycycline for 4 weeks after returning although this seems to be in the process of being reduced. See the following extract from the UK Government NICE website: “What advice can I give to travellers who discontinue chemoprophylaxis on or after return to the UK due to drug side-effects?” “If suppressive prophylaxis (chloroquine, doxycycline, proguanil, mefloquine)  is discontinued before completing 4 weeks’ dosage post-return, no additional prophylactic drug need be recommended, but the traveller must be warned of the increased risk of malaria compared with those who take the full dosage regimen. Increased vigilance is required and if the traveller becomes unwell in the first year after return, a blood test for malaria should be obtained without delay. I usually have some Doxycycline with me in the UK if you want to buy them from me. You should also cover up and use insect repellents on exposed skin from dusk. Smoke coils to burn in the evenings and spray for rooms can be bought in Soroti. Mosquito nets are essential in Teso and many other parts of Uganda. They are usually provided now, but still take one in case you need it – wedge-shaped ones are the easiest to hang and the cheapest. Get double size as many beds are larger than single beds.
  7. Developing malaria when you get home: Despite taking anti-malaria treatment, and continuing it for 4 weeks after getting home, it is still possible to develop malaria for up to a year after returning home. If you suffer from flu-like symptoms (eg: temperature, sweating, headaches, general body and joint pains, diarrhoea or vomiting), tell your doctor you have been to Uganda and ask to be tested for malaria as well as other things.
  8. Sun protection: Make sure you have plenty of high factor sun block creams, especially if you are taking Doxycycline. A wide brimmed hat and/or an umbrella are also useful, especially if walking in the sun. It is inadvisable to sun bathe – even if it were possible and acceptable! Most of the time is spent indoors or under shade, so the sun is not usually a problem.
  9. Food: It is best to avoid uncooked food (such as salads) although it is unlikely that you would be offered it. Food is always cooked very well (even over-cooked!) and never kept overnight, so it will always be safe to eat. All tropical fruits need peeling anyway, so fruit is no problem. Ugandans are meticulous about personal hygiene and preparation of food.
  10. Drinks: Ugandans are usually aware of our need to be extra careful about drinking water. If necessary, they will boil it. Borehole water is usually safe to drink as it is pumped from deep down. It is now very easy to buy plastic bottles of water everywhere (about 75p per litre). Never share drinks or drink from each other’s bottles as any ‘bugs’ will be passed on very quickly this way! Tea and milk are always well boiled for a long time (the traditional way is to boil 50/50 milk and water for a long time with plenty of sugar and tea leaves!). You will often be given “sodas” to drink (ie: Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Fanta, Stoney’s Ginger etc). Some people make fresh passion fruit juice – you might want to check what sort of water has been used to make it.
  11. Jiggers (sand fleas) and mango fly larvae: Jiggers are prevalent during the dry season and live in sand. They burrow into feet, especially around toe nails, where the female lays an egg sac which can look like puss. They make the toe itch a lot. They are not a problem and can be easily dug out, although you have to be careful not to burst the egg sac! Mango flies occasionally lay eggs on clothes hung out to dry. The tiny larvae then burrow into your skin when you wear the clothes. At first, they appear to be bites, but if they get bigger and a white ‘head’ appears, put some Vaseline on it or soak it in water. If it is a larva, it will stick its head out to breathe – catch it with tweezers and carefully pull it out – it’s not as bad as it sounds!
  12. Bites: Some people react badly to mosquito (and other) bites. If they become very hot, red and swollen (cellulitis), or obviously infected, it is important to start antibiotics before it develops and becomes serious.
  13. Coping if you have medical problems: Living and travelling in Uganda can be arduous and stressful, both physically and emotionally. Think very hard about whether you will cope if you already have problems with the heat or if you have any other problems such as arthritis or back problems. There are several hospitals and many private ‘clinics’ (like our doctors’ surgeries) in Teso although I would be reluctant to go to any. However, there are some good international hospitals and clinics in Kampala and Nairobi for serious illness or accidents.
  14. Having antibiotics with you: The commonest infections you are likely to develop whilst in Uganda are chest infections, urinary infections and cellulitis. If you are prone to any of these infections, then ask your GP if s/he can prescribe appropriate antibiotics to bring with you, explaining that it may not be possible to see a good doctor. It is possible to buy antibiotics in Uganda without a doctor’s prescription. If you are going on a tour around Uganda or working in a rural area, you might like to consider buying the following in Kampala before you go ‘up-country’, but be aware that there are risks in treating yourself, as well as possible side-effects, so only do this if you cannot get to see a good doctor. Insist on getting drugs which are made in the EU – drugs made in developing and Asian countries are not subject to the same checks and controls. Read the enclosed leaflets for more information, such as when to take the drugs and whether to take them with food or on an empty stomach etc. Drugs to consider taking with you include: Trimethoprim – 200mg twice a day for 3-14 days for urinary infections. It can also be used for chest infections. Flucloxacillin (which is a penicillin drug) – 500mg four times a day for cellulitis. Start taking this if any bite becomes very inflamed and swollen. It can also be used for chest infections. Amoxycillin (another penicillin drug) – 500mg three times a day for chest infections. It can also be used for urinary and ear infections as well as dental abscesses. Doxycycline – 100mg once a day with food. Many people take this daily as malaria prophylaxis. It is an antibiotic (a tetracycline) which can also be effective for certain infections (including cellulitis, urinary, respiratory, intestinal infections).

5. Clothes to take

  1. Underwear: Cotton is best, because of the heat. Take cotton socks if wearing shoes.
  2. Women: Dresses and/or skirts with blouses/T-shirts – preferably with sleeves and below knee length. It is not appropriate to wear anything too ‘revealing’ such as narrow straps, low neck lines, short skirts or long slits in skirts. It is not acceptable for women to wear trousers (except perhaps in Kampala) or shorts (not even in Kampala) – please don’t offend people in Teso and give us a bad reputation by doing this. (It is all right to wear trousers if you are in a tourist location or in the evenings in your own room.)
  3. Men: Men never wear shorts, even when doing manual work, unless very poor. You could wear them in a tourist location. It is not necessary to take a jacket, unless you particularly want to, but you may like to take a tie for formal occasions and church. Short sleeved shirts (at least one smart one), polo shirts and T-shirts are fine.
  4. Shoes: Sandals are fine. Take trainers or similar if doing manual work (perhaps also gardening gloves) or if you prefer them for walking in the bush. You may want to take a smarter pair of shoes as well.

6. Money and cost of living

  1. You cannot buy Ugandan Shillings (UGX) outside Uganda. However, it is now very easy to change UK sterling, Euros or US dollars in Forex Bureaux in Entebbe and Kampala (and even in the largest towns up-country). Don’t take travellers cheques – they are virtually impossible to change. Using cards can also be very difficult, so take all you need in cash. If you run out of money, it is easy for your family to transfer money by Western Union for immediate or next-day collection. When calculating how much to take, check the exchange rate online. It usually fluctuates around 4,200/- to 4,400/- UGX to £1.
  2. Try to change all that you will need for Teso whilst you are in Entebbe or Kampala as you will get a better rate. Take larger notes (eg: £20 or £50, $50 or $100) as you get a much better exchange rate. You can usually pay in US dollars in tourist locations and National Parks. NB: Make sure that all your USD notes are dated 2006 or after – older ones will not be accepted anywhere!
  3. There are now coins for 50/-, 100/-, 200/-, 500/- and 1000/-, with notes for 1000/-, 5000/-, 10,000/-, 20,000/- and 50,000/- UGX. People in markets and little shops in rural areas rarely have change for the larger notes. It is therefore important to get some coins and smaller notes when you change money.
  4. When travelling together as a small group, we have found the easiest way to handle all the daily expenses is to put money into a common purse which can then be used for buying water, drinks, food, meals out etc. I usually transfer the money needed for our accommodation, hire of a minibus, etc in advance, to save taking so much cash.
  5. Most people in Uganda are subsistence farmers, trying to make a little profit from selling surplus food
  6. In Teso, the ‘salary’ of Anglican clergy depends on the parish giving. 50% of the giving goes to the diocese, 25% to the Parish Priest and the remaining 25% is divided between all the full time Lay Readers who have charge of a church each. Parish giving varies between about 20,000/- to 80,000/- a month. Clergy therefore get between about 8,000/- and 30,000/- a month (£2-£7).
  7. Primary school is now free for all, although not compulsory. However, parents still have to pay for school uniform, stationery and PTA fees, which is beyond many. Children may be required to stay at home to help look after animals and babies.
  8. Secondary school fees vary between about 120,000/- (in poor day rural schools) and 2,000,000/- a year in boarding schools – plus uniform, stationery, mattress etc. There is now free basic secondary education in some rural day schools. You can see, therefore, how much people struggle even to survive, let alone send children to secondary school. There are virtually no free medical services either.
  9. Don’t be offended if people (strangers or friends) ask you for financial help, especially for help with school fees or medical treatment. By comparison, we are so rich. Don’t worry about saying “no”. We have to accept that we can’t help everyone. If you want to respond, use a delaying tactic and take time to decide how much and always ask a Ugandan friend whom you trust and respect for advice – they often know the situation or can make further enquiries and can suggest what is reasonable.

7. Cost of visiting Teso

As a very rough guide, I reckoned the total cost was about £1,400 for 2 weeks in Teso in April 2017. The more people who go in a group, or the longer you go for, the cheaper it is per person per day. This includes: Air ticket (based on a cost of about £700 – the cost varies a lot depending on the time of year), Ugandan visa, injections, malaria prophylaxis, cost of hiring a minibus and fuel for transport in Uganda, cost of accommodation (whether staying in a guest house, or giving the equivalent amount to a family you stay with for help with school fees), phone calls and internet, meals, drinking water etc. You may also want to take some extra money and/or small gifts to help those you meet who are in particular need – I find friends at home are very keen to give me money for this purpose, which is a great help.

8. Gifts and staying with families

  1. Ugandans are incredibly generous, and give freely even though they don’t have enough for their own basic needs. It is more normal in Ugandan culture for the host to give a gift to the guest when they leave, rather than the other way round. You will often be given a gift, such as handicrafts or food or a live chicken. Never refuse. If it is food and it seems appropriate, you can pass it on to your next host.
  2. However, taking out gifts from the UK is very acceptable and could include things such as, for children:- stationery, geometry/maths sets, simple games and puzzles, bubbles, balloons, balls; and for adults:- needles, sewing thread and other accessories, scissors, penknives, stationery, paracetamol, kitchen items, tea towels, torches (including head torches) and little solar lamps (see:, calendars, handkerchiefs, headscarves, ties etc for adults. If travelling with a group, you might want to pool gifts and give them from the whole group.
  3. It is not acceptable to offer anything towards your accommodation if staying with Ugandan friends. However, it is very normal and acceptable for people to help each other with paying school fees. So it would be greatly appreciated if you gave some money specifically for school fees which could be in lieu of making a direct contribution towards the food etc they have given you. As a rough minimum guideline, you might want to give about £8 per person per day you have stayed (less per day if you are staying for more than a week or two). But be cautious about giving too much as this could be out of all proportion and cause difficulties for the family within the community.

9. Welcoming / Greetings etc

  1. Ugandans are always very welcoming and friendly, but also quite formal.
  2. Always shake hands, on meeting and departure, first thing in the morning etc, whether it is your host or a close friend or a stranger. At the same time, ask how they are (or how was the night? or how was the journey? etc).
  3. Asking how someone is before going on to talk about anything else is very important, even if it is a stranger or you have stopped someone to ask the way or gone into a shop to buy something.
  4. Christians may say “Praise God” as part of their greeting, to which the response is “Amen”.
  5. If your hands are dirty or wet, you offer your wrist for the other person to take hold of instead of shaking hands.
  6. Women and girls usually kneel to greet you, or perhaps curtsey if you are standing.
  7. If visiting a family, you will be welcomed with handshakes by everyone, including small children. You will then be asked to sit down and the whole extended family will come again and be formally introduced and shake hands again. On a first visit, there will often be formal speeches of welcome, introductions and thanks, even in a home.
  8. Embracing is increasingly common amongst close friends who haven’t seen each other for a while – leave it to their initiative.

10. Names and titles

  1. Being more formal, Ugandans use names and titles differently.
  2. Children and young people never use adults’ names (unless talking about “Mr so-and-so”).
  3. “Old Man” or “Mzee” is a term of great respect and not abuse!
  4. If you are a woman over about 60, you are likely to be called Mama or Mum by most people. This is out of respect and is normal, although some people find it hard to accept!
  5. People are often addressed just by their professional title, such as “Reverend”, “Headmaster”, etc.
  6. At birth, children are given a vernacular name, which usually means something or is the name of a close relative. Educated adults who are professionals now usually use their vernacular name like a surname. (The equivalent to our surnames is actually the clan name, which isn’t normally used.)
  7. Christians are also given Christian names at baptism (often from the Bible and often Ugandanised). The Christian name is usually put after their vernacular name.
  8. Children are more often called by their vernacular names, adults by their Christian names.

11. Relationships

  1. Be very careful not to break down or flaunt Ugandan ways of relating. So many problems have been caused by volunteers and visitors.
  2. Children have a very respectful, ‘distant’ relationship with adults and often appear very shy, especially girls. They are always well-behaved.
  3. Adults don’t play with children as they do in Europe.
  4. Children give a lot of help in the home, even from the age of 4 or 5. Boys and girls may have different roles and responsibilities although both will look after babies and toddlers. They are very rarely disobedient or rude, naughty or quarrelsome. The word used for a naughty child is “stubborn”.
  5. Children (especially very young ones and the last born) have a special place in the home and society.
  6. Husbands and wives (boy-friends/girl-friends) never display affection or physical contact, even in the home. If you are in Uganda with your spouse/partner or boyfriend/girlfriend, be very sensitive about this. Do NOT hold hands or kiss or cuddle in public. If you need to share a room with your boyfriend /girlfriend/partner, then please indicate that you are married. It is very important you respect their culture and don’t set what could be seen as a bad example to young people by relating inappropriately.
  7. If you are young and single, be very careful how you relate to young people of the opposite sex. They do not normally relate in the very open and physically intimate way that we often do in Europe, but are reserved and distant. Be very careful not to “lead them on” or encourage unrealistic expectations of your friendship. Be aware that you might not think you are leading them on. It is not acceptable to flirt or get too familiar, as many younger people do when on holiday in Europe. If a boy takes a girl home to meet his family, it means that they are intending to get married, so do not accept such an invitation if you are young. So much harm can be done if their culture is not respected.
  8. Homosexuality is not only totally unacceptable in Uganda, it is actually ILLEGAL. People may ask you what you think and what happens in Europe. If you are gay or lesbian, keep this to yourself, for your own sake as well as out of tactfulness for their culture and laws. If you do not feel able to hide the fact, then it is probably best that you do not visit Uganda until things have changed. There is a gay rights movement in Uganda, but they are seriously persecuted and some have been killed. A programme on British TV in February 2011, about homosexuality in Uganda, was entitled “The worst place on earth to be gay”.
  9. Although it is not acceptable for husbands and wives, or boys and girls, to hold hands or display affection when walking or sitting or talking, it is actually common for two men to hold hands and even show ‘brotherly’ affection, which rarely happens in the UK unless they are gay!

12. Meals, eating, drinks etc

  1. The day starts very early for Ugandans, before dawn. However, guests are usually given breakfast about 8.00-9.00. It may consist of one or more of:- ‘porridge’ (posho made of maize flour, or millet flour); hard boiled eggs; bread (with or without Blue Band margarine); roasted groundnuts; fruit; fried matooke or katogo (green savoury bananas) or cassava or sweet potatoes; tea.
  2. Lunch and supper are usually about 1.00-2.00 and 8.00-9.00. There is usually a staple carbohydrate eg: rice, sweet potatoes, ‘Irish’ potatoes, matooke (peeled green bananas, boiled and mashed), thick posho (maize flour), atap (a solid and rather glutinous mixture of millet flour and cassava flour) PLUS some protein eg: meat (= beef), chicken, fish, pork or goat, groundnut (peanut) sauce, various beans, peas or lentils. Green vegetables are not very common – you may get cabbage and/or a local form of spinach, depending on the season. Green “leaves” are often considered a famine food, when there is nothing else available. They don’t have sweets or puddings, but you may be given fresh fruit afterwards. Families normally only have one carbohydrate and one protein dish at each meal. But as guests, you will usually be offered a selection of dishes.
  3. You may well be offered ‘sodas’ (fizzy drinks) or tea at any other time. This is often accompanied by roast groundnuts or possibly one of the following:- hard boiled eggs, small bananas, bread, mandazis (little fried ‘cakes’ a bit like doughnuts) or plain biscuits. Milk is always boiled, and served hot with tea. Tea is traditionally made by boiling water and milk (50/50) with tea leaves and sugar, but is now often served with milk and tea separately in thermos flasks.
  4. Because there is no running water, a bowl, piece of soap and a jug of water will be brought round by someone in the family to each person immediately before and after each meal or cup of tea so that you can wash your hands. The water will be poured for you in small amounts. It is customary to cup your right hand in your left hand, holding as much water as possible with which to wash your hands. As the water is very soft, don’t rub on too much soap as you won’t be able to wash it all off! If your mouth is greasy, it is acceptable to wash it with your right hand whilst washing your hands.
  5. Christians always give thanks and pray for the meal to be blessed. This is normally done after hands have been washed and before you help yourself to food. They will often give thanks even for a cup of tea or soda.
  6. It is normal to be invited to serve yourself to food. It is advisable to take only a little at first, so that you don’t end up leaving anything. Meat can be very tough and quite a challenge! You will be expected to help yourself to second helpings – if you want to.
  7. Most Ugandans eat ‘on their laps’, not at a table, and don’t normally use cutlery although guests are usually given cutlery. Even if you are left-handed, you need to eat with your right hand (the left hand is traditionally used for the toilet) and hold your plate with your left hand. It is quite a skill to eat sauces or gravy and rice with one hand! Watch how they do it.
  8. It is normal for the women and children of the family to eat outside, separately.
  9. Alcohol is such a problem in Uganda that no protestant Christian will drink alcohol and might be quite shocked to learn that most Christians in the UK do drink alcohol. Please do not go to a bar and drink alcohol, even on your own, as you will be recognised and talked about.

13. Washing, toilets, etc

  1. Running water in homes is rare, except in big cities like Kampala.
  2. Don’t be wasteful of water – remember that every drop has to be carried (usually by the children and women, unless the family has a bicycle, in which case teenage boys and men may fetch water on their bicycle).
  3. The water is very soft, so use very little soap / shampoo / washing powder, otherwise you will never rinse it out!
  4. Ugandans are meticulous about personal hygiene and ‘bathe’ at least twice a day, morning and evening.
  5. Even if the house has a bath (only in Kampala plus some guest houses in Teso), they will still use a large round plastic bowl placed in the bath for bathing, to save water. Most ‘village’ homes have an open enclosure outside for bathing in. Stand outside the bowl and scoop water over yourself. Rinse outside the bowl so that the water in the bowl remains clean and soap-free. This is especially important if washing your hair. You will usually find there is a special rough stone which can be used for scrubbing the feet. You may find it helpful to have a plastic cup.
  6. You will usually be given a pair of ‘flip-flops’ (“slippers”) for bathing.
  7. I find it convenient to wash my dirty clothes in the water left over from bathing.
  8. Be very discreet about underwear. These are considered such personal items that they are never seen lying about or hung on a line outside. Nor will anyone wash someone else’s underwear. So wash your own, even if someone washes your other clothes for you, and hang them discreetly in your bedroom (or bathroom if you have one).
  9. When visiting people in the villages, you will find toilets are pit latrines set a little way from the house and compound. There is normally a small rectangular or oval hole in the ground which you squat over (not easy if you suffer from arthritis or back problems). Using these toilets without leaving drops etc is quite a skill! Beware of dropping things like mobile phones or wallets down the hole out of your pockets (it happens!). Take a roll of toilet paper or tissues with you as not all families can afford to provide it. You may sometimes experience flies during the day and perhaps cockroaches at night. But they won’t do you any harm!
  10. There are usually women and children at the back of the house who will notice you coming out of the toilet and will fetch a little water and soap for you to wash your hands. If they don’t, it is quite OK to ask for some water.
  11. The Ugandan way of asking to go to the toilet is “Can I help myself” or “Where can I ease myself” and the word used to have a shower or bath is “bathe”. It is considered rude to use the word toilet (as it used to be in the UK)!

14. Communications

  1. Mobile phones – if you take a phone, you will find it cheaper to buy a SIM card in Uganda although you must check your phone is ‘unlocked’ (get it done at home if necessary). I have a spare SIM card for people to borrow. When you buy a SIM card, you must have one or two passport size photos.
  2. It is cheaper to phone UK using a Uganda SIM card than your UK SIM card; nor do you have to pay to receive calls from home.
  3. When phoning home, it is necessary to use three zeros (000) or + before any other country code (eg: 00044 for UK).
  4. It is easy to buy “air time” (on scratch cards) all over Uganda. Take your charger and/or a spare battery.
  5. Many people have mobile phones now. If you are going to use someone’s mobile phone, make sure you buy “air time” for them.
  6. Where there is electricity, you will now find computers. Some are connected to the Internet and so have emails. But the charges for sending emails are relatively high because of the phone charge. It may be possible to borrow a modem “flash stick” to use in the evenings (you should pay for the time used), or you can buy your own for about £25 with airtime for a month’s use.
  7. There is no point trying to use the postal system. It takes 7-14 days to and from England and is not reliable. Packages rarely reach their destination. However, you can use DHL to deliver things to Kampala – fast and reliable but very expensive and difficult for people to collect.

15. Church, worship

  1. The Anglican Church in Uganda (Church of Uganda – COU) is entirely evangelical in theology and practice. Many churches have experienced renewal. One of the world’s most significant revival movements started in Kigezi (SW Uganda) and Rwanda in the 1930s, the effects of which are still felt in places, particularly in the south.
  2. Sadly, the COU is still mostly bound by old Anglican patterns of worship, using traditional English hymns. It has not yet discovered the freedom to develop its own appropriately African liturgy.
  3. Some churches have active youth music groups, who play traditional instruments and write their own songs and choruses. Many people dance when singing these songs. However, some older people think these are not appropriate for worship – an attitude they have sadly inherited from early missionaries.
  4. As visiting guests from abroad, you will be taken to sit up by the communion table/altar and formally welcomed and introduced. Even if there are several of you, each will be expected to say your name and something very brief about yourself and perhaps a message or greeting from your church if appropriate. They are very ‘New Testament’ in the way they bring greetings from one church to another (they also usually start letters with “greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”).
  5. Most people you meet will be Christians, and most will assume you are a Christian as they think everyone in the UK are Christians.
  6. If you agree to preach, remember someone will have to translate everything you say. So keep your sentences short and simple – and your sermon will need to last half the expected time!
  7. Services usually last about 3 hours, with people drifting in during the first hour or so. Sermons tend to be 20-30 minutes long. Children sit still and quiet throughout!
  8. Men usually sit on one side of the church, usually on benches or school desks, while women and children sit on the other side on the floor.
  9. It is quite common for people to be invited to come forward for prayer or to commit themselves to Christ. Prayer ministry sometimes involves deliverance ministry.
  10. Holy Communion is not such a common service as in the UK, partly because many parishes have several churches (up to 14) with only one priest – full-time lay readers are in charge of the churches.
  11. Many people do not have money to give, so they give produce or chickens or goats instead, which is then auctioned at the end of the service. You may join in and buy some produce, but get some help to bid!
  12. In Teso, the collection is counted and the total amount given is usually announced at the end of the service. So think twice before giving a relatively large contribution (ie: over about 5,000/-) in the collection as everyone will know the large increase over the average weekly giving has come from you! If you want to make a significant contribution to a particular church, you could talk to the parish priest/pastor privately and give a donation for something specific such as vernacular Bibles (available in Kampala if not locally) or something towards completing the church building or pastor’s house, or a gift to help the pastor pay his children’s school fees.
  13. People are very much more open to hearing the Gospel than in the UK. It is very acceptable for people to go to a stranger’s home to share the good news – they will always be warmly received and listened to with respect.
  14. Evangelical Christians never drink alcohol or smoke. Please do not offend or confuse people by drinking even the occasional beer or having a surreptitious smoke – someone will notice and it will be talked about.

16. Schools and education

  1. Schools are very different from the UK and will be a shock to the system for anyone visiting from the UK!
  2. The school year starts at the beginning of February and ends at the beginning of December.
  3. Primary education is meant to be free (UPE) but parents still have to pay extra for PTA fees, uniform and scholastic materials which many are unable to pay and so children drop out. Attending school is not compulsory.
  4. P1 – P7 are the 7 classes in Primary School. Some are boarding schools; many have some boarders, especially from P5 – P7.
  5. Children start to learn English in the first year of primary school and are taught in English from about P4 or P5.
  6. PLE is the Primary Leaving Examination (like our old 11+ or SATS). 4 is the best possible score (ie: 1 in each of four main subjects); 12 or below is Division 1 and is outstanding, especially in Teso; 13 – 18 is very good; 19 –22 is quite good. A score of less than 30 is usually needed to go on to secondary school although the best schools set their own limits such as better than 20 (or even better than 8!). The four PLE subjects are English, Science, Maths and SST (Humanities).
  7. It is now possible to get ‘free’ secondary education in a few of the poorer rural schools, but the majority of secondary schools are still fee-paying.
  8. S1 – S4 are the four years in secondary school leading to the UCE exams (Uganda Certificate of Education, like the old UK ‘O’ level exams or GCSEs). Subject grades D1 and D2 are equivalent to an A; C3 & C4 to a B, 5 & 6 to a C. They are given an aggregate which is the sum of the grades for their 8 best The lower the aggregate, the better, 8 being the best possible score (ie: 1 in each subject). 32 or below is a Division 1 certificate.
  9. S5 – S6 are the two years equivalent to years 12 and 13 in the UK (the Sixth Form) which end with taking ‘A’ level exams. Many students take 4 ‘A’ levels which qualify them to go on to university or other tertiary courses. Unlike PLE and ‘O’ levels, the higher the points gained at ‘A’ level, the better: 25 is the maximum possible if they take 4 subjects (ie: 6 points x4) plus 1 point for General Paper, or 19 if they take 3 subjects. To have any hope of a government scholarship for university, they need more than 20 points (or even more for some subjects).
  10. Except in towns, all secondary schools are boarding schools or have at least some boarding facilities, often in the form of a hostel, because most children live too far away to walk. However, it is not uncommon for children to walk for up to two hours each way to school.

17. Problems in schools

  1. Poor teacher training and low standards of teaching.
  2. Little in-service training and development of teachers.
  3. Salaries are often not paid for several months, so teachers look for other incomes.
  4. Teachers often work in more than one school and often do not turn up for all lessons.
  5. Lack of resources (books and equipment etc) generally, especially for practical subjects. Even teachers lack books for their own preparation.
  6. Learning by rote and from notes taken in class; little or no interactive or participative learning or personal research.
  7. Overcrowded classes – from 50 to 200.
  8. Sleep deprivation due to compulsory prep (homework) until 10.00pm or 10.30pm and starting again as early as 3.00am in some schools (5.00am is the latest!). In most schools, they average only 4-5 hours of sleep every night, even at weekends. Teachers believe: “The harder you work, the better you achieve.”
  9. Classes, tests, exams and compulsory prep even on Saturdays and Sundays
  10. Holiday tuition – an extra two weeks of school attendance during the holidays for those in S3 and upwards although this has been banned.
  11. There is little or no encouragement given, as teachers fear this leads to complacency.
  12. Beating is very frequent in all schools – although it has been banned by the government, little has changed. Children are beaten for the slightest misdemeanours, including failing tests, getting a Maths sum wrong, falling asleep in prep, wearing slightly worn shoes, making too much noise, forgetting a book in the dormitory. It is not unusual for a whole class or dormitory to be beaten – or even the whole school! They are beaten anywhere on the body with sticks, but usually on the legs or buttocks or even the head. The experience of witnessing beatings in schools can be very distressing for people visiting from the UK.
  13. Bullying (by teachers and students) is considered normal.
  14. Poor diet in schools – beans and posho (made out of maize flour) twice a day every day (with occasional meat and rice at weekends) and no fresh vegetables or fruit.
  15. Little or no time for rest and relaxation.
  16. 80% of girls, especially in the rural areas where there is great poverty, drop out of school. One of the main reasons is because they have no sanitary pads to use during menstruation – they cannot afford to buy pads, which are imported.
  17. Post Traumatic Stress and clinical depression is quite common but not recognised and treated – it seriously affects the children’s physical health and academic achievements.

If you are going to be teaching or involved in schools or colleges, look at the Edirisa website. Click on to go straight to the Creative Guides pages to view a Video (, Workbook and Handbook. This will reveal so much to you about education in Uganda and the problems. If you want to know more, email Perhaps you can use the material with some of the teachers you will work with.

18. Language

  1. It is very much appreciated if you try to master a few basic words of greetings and thanks. There are two very different languages in Teso – Ateso and Kumam. Ateso is by far the most common.
  2. English is the common language throughout Uganda. It is taught right from the beginning of primary school. Those who have been to secondary school speak very good English although they may struggle more with writing English.
  3. However, the Ugandan English accent is very different from our English accent. This means that Ugandans find it very hard to understand our English. So speak slowly and carefully. If someone hasn’t understood, say it again in a different Likewise, you may find it very hard at first to understand their accent. They find an American accent even harder to understand.
  4. There is no word for “please” in Ugandan languages. It is important to remember this as it means that Ugandans do not automatically use “please” in English and so can often appear brusque or even rude when asking for something. Don’t be surprised if they just say what feels like a blunt “yes” or “no” instead of “yes please” or “no thank you”.
  5. Whereas English English has changed a lot in the last century, Ugandan English is still quite ‘old-fashioned’ and they often use words and phrases differently. If you look them up in the dictionary, you will find that their use or meaning of a word is often one of the older definitions. This can lead to misunderstandings. For instance, an ‘orphan’ to a Ugandan means a child who has lost either one or both parents (which is technically quite correct), whereas we assume an orphan has lost both parents. Being called a “total orphan” means they have lost both parents.
  6. Ugandans often speak to each other using a curious mixture of English and vernacular, even in the same sentence!

20. Miscellaneous

  1. Punctuality is not a very African concept! You may find people joke about this, and may even refer to “African time” and “English time”. There is no point getting annoyed if someone turns up late or a service starts late. I was once asked to preach at a wedding due to start at 10.00 – it started at 2.00!
  2. Likewise, forward planning is not so common. This may mean that materials required for practical projects are not bought until actually needed, which may cause delays.
  3. It can be frustrating when trying to organise things well in advance as they are not used to doing this.
  4. Maintenance is also not a Ugandan concept, partly because there is no word for maintenance in African languages. And maintenance is difficult when nobody ever has enough for even the basics and has to live hand-to-mouth. So things often break down unnecessarily. However, they are very resourceful and competent in mending and making things from scrap etc.
  5. Dogs and cats are almost never treated as pets or welcomed inside the house – they are kept to do a job (ie: guarding, catching vermin). You may be quite shocked to see them being treated harshly and not fed well. Never try to stroke a dog in case it bites you out of fear.
  6. Nearly every family keeps chickens and goats; they may also keep turkeys, cows or pigs.
  7. With a hot climate, doors open all day and all sorts of gaps in houses, you are bound to see more insects and other creatures than you would in your own home, especially at night. You will get far more pleasure from unusual creatures, such as fireflies, brilliant butterflies and chameleons, than any problems. The only harmful insects are mosquitoes and safari ants (which have a nasty bite, but are very rare in Teso). Mice and bats are not common inside houses, although you may hear them, along with lizards, rustling in the roof at night. Geckos are little, almost transparent, lizards which run up walls in houses and greatly benefit people as they eat mosquitoes. Snakes are extremely rare. Cockroaches are not very nice, but not particularly harmful. So keep your bags done up at all times and tuck your mosquito net in well at night and you will have no problems – you can then ignore what is going on in the room outside the safety of your net!
  8. It is often very dark inside houses, even during the day. This is because they have small windows, which are often kept shut. This keeps the houses cooler and mosquitoes out.
  9. Only houses in towns have electricity – but due to shortage of electricity, there is a power ‘sharing’ scheme throughout Uganda which means even Kampala sometimes has no electricity. Houses in Kampala have running water, as may a few ‘posh’ houses and guest houses in Soroti.
  10. Cooking is done on wood fires or small charcoal stoves. Clothes are all washed by hand. Guests are not normally expected, or even allowed, to help with household tasks.
  11. Children and women always sit on the floor on mats (although English women will be given chairs to sit on). This may seem sexist, but most women actually find sitting on chairs very uncomfortable because they are so used to sitting on the floor. If women do sit on chairs, they never cross their legs.
  12. Most rural people do not have beds to sleep on. They may have a mattress on the floor, but children usually sleep on mats or sacks in ‘village’ homes.
  13. Try not to walk on mats with your shoes on.
  14. Ugandan pillows are usually very uncomfortable – very thick and hard.

21. Photography

  1. Several points are worth noting, to do with technique, sensitivity about taking photos and equipment.
  2. It is worth using fill-in flash when photographing Ugandans, especially out of doors, or over-expose the photo. If you don’t, the camera will adjust to the very bright conditions and the faces will therefore come out very black with no detail.
  3. Take with you plenty of spare batteries, chargers and memory cards. Batteries often have a shorter life than expected, especially if you are using a lot of flash. It is usually possible to re-charge batteries for digital cameras (take a spare in case you can’t re-charge them) and mobile phones. Consider taking a battery pack (portable charger/power bank) and/or a charger which can be plugged into a car cigarette lighter.
  4. Videos: Videos struggle if you have shadow and bright African sunlight in the same scene – try to have one or the other in each shot. Avoid panning or zooming whilst filming – it is better to take short ‘still’ shots (3-5 seconds each) – think of it more as a slide show. Keep it short and snappy – people back home get bored if they have to watch more than about 30 minutes, which is the normal length of a TV documentary – this could include as many as 360 short shots! You could talk naturally, or ask people questions about what they are doing, whilst filming, to provide a commentary.
  5. Be very sensitive about taking photos and videos, and always check first if the people mind. Be careful about taking photos of groups in the distance, such as markets or street scenes or loaded vehicles, assuming they won’t notice or won’t mind – unless you have a friend in the foreground. In some parts of East Africa (eg: Ankole), it is not acceptable to take photos of cattle – again, check before you take a photo. Don’t be tempted by what would make an interesting photo. There have been several potentially nasty incidents, eg: when someone took photos of a pick-up truck piled high with goods and people, and another of people crowding round a minibus selling things. Never take photos when police or soldiers are around, or of ‘sensitive’ buildings. If in doubt, don’t take a photo, or ask someone. Don’t photograph the bridge over the river Nile at Jinja or Karuma Falls.
  6. Be very careful of cameras and other valuables. Make sure your insurance covers each camera item.

21. Culture shock

How do people react to living in different cultures?  Various different stages have been recognised which it might be helpful to be aware of.  The most usual stages and sequence are:-

  1. Enthusiastic response (sometimes called the ‘tourist phase’!)
  2. Doubt and reservation
  3. Resentment and criticism
  4. Home-sickness
  5. Adjustment
  6. Accommodation and evaluation

As with stages in the bereavement process, different people may experience the stages in a different sequence or two at the same time or may miss out one stage.  Some events, like sickness, could alter the sequence, perhaps suddenly making one feel desperately home-sick. If you are in Uganda only for a short time, it is very unlikely you will experience the later stages – in fact, some may never move beyond the first, enthusiastic stage. But if you do find yourself having reservations or feeling quite critical, it might help to recognise it as possibly being part of the culture shock.

Ways of dealing with culture shock:

  1. Be honest – admit it to other ‘foreigners’ if there are any around
  2. Don’t deny your feelings
  3. Don’t deny your own culture and what is good in it
  4. Look for what is good and positive in the Ugandan culture
  5. Be active and out-going – this is more helpful than withdrawal


22. Travelling to Uganda and around the country

  1. It is essential to get adequate TRAVEL INSURANCE as soon as you book your flights. If you are going to be doing any building work or other potentially “dangerous” occupations, tell them as it may mean you need to pay a higher premium to be covered. If you want to do anything like abseiling, zip-lining or white water rafting, check that the policy will cover you.
  2. There are no longer any direct flights to Entebbe.
  3. If you have access to the internet, it is advisable to go on the website of the airline you are travelling with to complete the Advance Passenger Information (API) as far in advance as you like – go into the “Manage my booking” section.
  4. 24 hours before flying (or whenever your airline allows it), check-in online. This secures your place on the flight if you should be delayed for any reason when travelling to the airport. You can also ‘move’ yourself and choose any seat. If you want to see out of the window, move to one of the rows near the back to avoid being over the wing. Print off your boarding pass. When you go to the airport, you will then only need to check in your luggage. If you are arriving in Uganda early in the morning, it is better to sit on the right side of the plane to get good views, because of the sun. Perhaps arrange for someone at home to check in online for your return flight (I would have missed a flight once if Roger hadn’t done this for me at home).
  5. VISAS are necessary but can be bought at Entebbe airport on arrival or processed online ( in advance. Check the cost online (currently $50 USD) and have it available on arrival (unless you have an e-visa). NB: The date of issue of the $50 note must not be older than 2006. Your passport must have at least 6 months before the expiry date.
  6. Checked-in Luggage: Allowances vary with different airlines – check on your e-ticket. If your luggage is not very secure, or you are taking boxes or a rucksack, it is advisable to get it shrink-wrapped at the airport before you check it in. It costs about £10 per item of luggage at Heathrow, much less at Entebbe.
  7. Hand luggage: Allowances vary. Make sure that you have no sharp objects (such as penknives, scissors, needles etc) in hand luggage – they will be confiscated at the airport. Any liquids, pastes, creams, sprays etc can be taken in your hand luggage provided they are less than 100ml and in a clear, sealable plastic bag.
  8. On the plane, you may be given a landing card to complete. If so, it is easier to do this before you get off, so have a pen and your passport handy. You can give your reason for visiting as holiday or visiting friends.
  9. Drink plenty of water whilst travelling, whether in the plane or a vehicle, and exercise whilst sitting, especially your legs.
  10. It takes 1-2 hours (depending on time of day and traffic) to drive from Entebbe to Kampala, the capital, and about 6-8 hours from Kampala to Soroti. If arriving after dark, I always book into a guest house in Entebbe.
  11. Most main roads between all the largest towns/regions are now tarmac although they often have very large potholes or the edges are badly eroded, making the road narrow and driving very rough. All other roads are murram (hard-packed orange-coloured soil and stones, which are graded from time to time). Minor roads into the ‘bush’ are ‘dirt’ tracks – one often ends up driving along footpaths to get to homes. Murram and ‘dirt’ roads can have deep holes and gullies; they can be very dusty, with deep layers of sand, in the dry season, throwing up clouds of thick, choking dust every time a vehicle passes. The rainy season brings different problems, such as skidding and getting stuck in deep mud! Travelling is not for the faint-hearted, especially using public transport!
  12. Dust gets into everything, including your hair and well zipped bags and cases! If you wear contact lenses, take glasses with you as well, especially for travelling, because of the dust.
  13. When travelling with a group, it is best to hire a 4×4 minibus from Kampala with a driver for about £100 a day. Without a driver costs about £80 a day. Diesel costs about 65p per litre and minibuses do about 7km to a litre. The journey from Entebbe to Soroti therefore costs about £25-£30 in diesel.
  14. Do not attempt to drive in Uganda (especially Kampala) unless you are very familiar with the country, the roads and their ways of driving. It is very different and very hazardous.
  15. If you are involved in a road accident, do not stop, for fear of being mobbed, but proceed to the nearest police station to report it and get help. If you come across a road accident, it is OK to stop to see if you can help.
  16. There are occasional ‘road-blocks’ – a sign is placed in the middle of the road, without any warning on approach, telling vehicles to stop, and a small group of uniformed police will be sitting at the roadside in shade! These are nothing to be alarmed about. They are there either to collect taxes or, more often, to check on ‘taxis’ (especially overloading) and lorries. It is necessary to slow down, but cars are usually waved on.
  17. Public transport is cheap but hazardous, with little regard for road worthiness, speed or overloading. There are buses and ‘taxis’ (minibuses which stop wherever someone wants to get on or off) connecting all towns and trading centres. When travelling on these, don’t accept anything to eat or drink offered by other passengers – there have been rare cases of them being drugged.
  18. Local transport (for shorter distances) is on “border-borders” (“boda-boda”) which are bicycle ‘taxis’ or, increasingly, small motorbikes. Passengers sit on the back (men sitting astride, women ‘side-saddle’). Ask someone local how much it should cost and agree the price before setting off.


23. Suggested Reading

  1. Guide to Uganda by Philip Briggs, pub: Bradt (8th edition 2016), ISBN
    978-1784770228 – the best guide book! Look on the internet if you want a different one.
  2. Maps – various maps are available through the internet.
  3. A Traveller’s Guide to Uganda and Selling Uganda, plus other information, from Uganda High Commission, 58-59 Trafalgar Sq, London WC2N 5DX, tel: 0171 839 5783
  4. Uganda: Operational Plan 2011-2016 and other publications and information produced by DFID (UK Government) are available online – see: and

There is a range of very good books which you can buy in Uganda (including in the Duty Free shops in the Departure area), such as:-

  1. Teso War (1986-1992) – Causes and Consequences by Justin Epelu-Opio, Fountain Publishers (Kampala, 2009)
  2. Uganda since Independence – a Story of Unfulfilled Hopes by Phares Mutibwa, Fountain Publishers (Kampala, 1992)
  3. From Chaos to Order – the Politics of Constitution-Making in Uganda Eds: HB Hansen & M Twaddle, Fountain Publishers, ISBN 9970-02-044-7 & 085255-393-5
  4. Northern Uganda in National Politics AGG Gingyera-Pinyewa, Fountain, 1992
  5. Peoples & Cultures of Uganda R Nzita & M Mbaga-Niwampa, Fountain, ISBN 9970020315
  6. Various ‘O’ and ‘A’ level school text books on the history and geography of Uganda and East Africa.

 Essential reading if you are going to Uganda with the expectation of sharing something of your faith or preaching is: Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan, pub: SCM Press, 1978. Although it is about evangelising the Masai people in Tanzania, it is relevant to Christians in any situation. It is an inspiring account of one man’s missionary work, but it also challenges us to think through what is the core of the Gospel and what is actually part of our culture.



HAND LUGGAGE  Check online with the airline you are flying with for restrictions

  • Passport, tickets, boarding card, yellow fever certificate
  • Take photocopies of your passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, driving licence etc and 2 certified passport photos. Take photos of your luggage and its contents and write a list of contents in case it gets lost
  • Money etc in purse/wallet/travel belt including $50 USD (2006 or newer) for visa
  • Copy of passport, holiday insurance policy, vaccination certificates, important information, 2 passport photos
  • Air cushion/neck cushion
  • Change of clothes (it is not unknown for main luggage to go missing)
  • Sweater of some sort
  • Wear heaviest shoes if possible
  • Basic toiletries (eg: brush/comb, travel wipes, shaver, toothbrush & paste – but no sharp items) NB: any liquids or pastes must be less than 100ml, taken out and put in a clear plastic bag and shown separately when you pass through security into the Departure area. (It is better to put things like shampoo etc into your main luggage)
  • Something to read and/or puzzles, etc
  • Spare glasses / contact lense
  • Camera, Phone, IPad etc
  • Pen/pencil
  • Tissues
  • Any medicines you might need on the journey, including anti-malarials and prescribed medicines
  • Something for travel sickness if necessary (tablets or wrist bands)

MAIN LUGGAGE  Check on your e-ticket what is allowed as it varies

  • Pillow (if important for you to sleep well – pillows in Uganda are huge & solid)
  • Mosquito net (preferably double wedge-shaped)
  • 1 or 2 sets cool nightwear
  • 1 set warmer nightwear or joggers
  • 1 pair strong shoes / boots / trainers (especially important if doing building work)
  • 1 pair casual shoes / trainers / sandals / decent shoes
  • Sweater or other warm garment / shawlCagoul or similar
  • Umbrella (for rain and sun protection)
  • Underwear and socks (preferably cotton)
  • 1 or 2 smart shirts + tie / smart dresses
  • 1 pr decent trousers
  • Casual shirts / T-shirts / dresses / skirts
  • Casual &/or work trousers
  • Towel (these are usually provided, so a small one is sufficient)
  • Sun hat of some sort
  • Sun glasses
  • Toilet paper (1-2 rolls)
  • Tissues (and/or handkerchiefs and/or wet wipes)
  • Toiletries etc, mirror
  • Torch and/or small solar lamps
  • Clothes pegs (a few)
  • String, safety pins, other useful items
  • Notebook / diary / clip board (if wanted)
  • Nail scissors, penknife etc
  • Coat hangers (3-4)
  • Small container of washing powder/liquid
  • Dried food/drinks etc suitable for sharing, eating on journeys, snack lunches or if recovering from gastritis etc (eg: soups, Oxos, sweet / savoury biscuits, packet drinks, Complan, marmite, chocolate, cereal bars, sweets, dried fruit)
  • Insect repellents – eg: spray, roll-on, wrist bands, vapouriser, coils
  • Sun protection creams, moisturising cream
  • Anti-bacterial sanitiser (handwash/spray/gel/wipes)
  • Photos / post cards of family, home, school, church, town etc to show people
  • Basic medical kit (eg: your own prescribed regular or occasional medicines such as: paracetamol, sting ointment, antihistamine tablets, anti-diarrhoea, plasters, anti-malarials, anything else you might need)
  • Book or Kindle
  • IPod/MP3 Player/IPad/tablet if wanted
  • Spare batteries/chargers for all electrical items

Perhaps consider getting a small solar charger or a portable battery pack charger and a small backpack or similar if you are not using one for your hand luggage.

I find it helpful, especially when packing and unpacking quite often to move from place to place, to pack clothes etc in individual grip-seal polythene bags. It’s also useful to have spare polythene bags for putting dirty/wet clothes and shoes in and for giving gifts away in.

 The above list will not take up all your luggage allowance. Fill the rest with gifts and communal supplies to be shared out (if going with a group). It means you will have plenty of room for bringing back souvenirs, fruit etc!

Communal supplies 

Share out amongst the group or add to your own list if you are going alone

  • Bank of 4 sockets with surge protector can be very useful if there is only one socket available.
  • Sewing needles, thread etc
  • Stationery items eg: sellotape, bluetack, scissors, ordinary paper, glue, stapler, envelopes, various pens, highlighters, pencils etc
  • Sink & bath plugs
  • Calculator
  • Maps; animal, bird, flower & travel books
  • Cards, games, puzzles etc
  • Shoe cleaning kit
  • Portable tape recorder + blank tapes (for recording)
  • Binoculars

When taking a group, I take an extensive medical kit with antibiotics and various other drugs, dressings and ointments for wounds & burns, syringes, needles etc.


  1. For children: stationery and geometry items, calculators, revision books in maths and sciences, simple toys and games (eg: see BrainBox and GreenBoardEducation websites for various Maths Snap cards & games), simple jigsaw puzzles, soap bubbles, balloons, balls, frisbees, coloured crayons, pens, colouring & dot to dot books, mini packets of Smarties and raisins, clothes (look in charity shops), glow sticks & bracelets, glow bouncy balls.
  2. For adults: needles, sewing thread and other sewing accessories, scissors, penknives, soap, stationery, ties, headscarves, handkerchiefs (for men and women), kitchen items, tea towels, head torches, cheap solar lamps ( – search for: Solar Desk Lamp, 4 Leds Rechargeable Reading Lamp, Collapsible Energy Saving Indoor Bedside LED Lamp, Flexible Gooseneck Table Lamp, with USB Cable), Bible reading notes, calendars, clothes (look in charity shops).
  3. Many people in the UK are now getting rid of old cameras as they move on to better digital cameras. You might like to collect old cameras as gifts – but make sure they are in good working order. These can be used as money making initiatives.
  4. Old laptop computers are also very much appreciated, providing they are working properly. Please check them first to make sure they really are working, that all data is removed, that they have basic software and the necessary connecting cables and a reasonable battery life.

We have been given cameras and laptops in the past which don’t work properly – this just causes so much frustration, disappointment and wasted time!

26. Bringing back fruit, vegetables and other foods into the UK

Many people bring back some fruit at least when they visit Uganda, but usually assume they are doing it illegally! However, the UK is more flexible about bringing in food than most other countries in the world. The following is a summary from the HM Revenue and Customs website on 30th December 2016:

  • You can’t bring meat, meat products, milk, dairy products or potatoes back.
  • You can bring up to 2kg (combined total) of restricted fruits which include guavas, passion fruit & citrus fruits and restricted vegetables (except potatoes) into the UK.
  • You can bring unlimited amounts of other non-restricted fruits and veg (eg: pineapple, bananas, avocados, matoke, groundnuts).
  • You can bring up to 2kg of honey.

For full details, see: for all allowances and restrictions

For fruit and vegetables, see: )

Check for updates and any changes on these websites.

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