Thursday, July 19, 2012


Used Clothes For Sale in Owino Market, Kampala,Uganda

I was told by one of my American volunteer colleagues, Sam Tuttleman, that Ugandans think that the used clothes that are found here are from “dead white Americans”.  Sam explained that they think this because only when people die, they reason, would such fine clothes be discarded. 

Now it is true that large quantities of used clothes from organizations such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries are sold to third world countries generally and in particular, Uganda. Apparently, the volume of clothes collected in the United States is too large to be resold locally. According to Sam, there is a movement to reduce the flow of used clothes to Africa because some argue that it undermines the African textile industry.  For more information about this see for example: .

But I wanted to test the veracity of the way Ugandans characterize these garments.  First I checked at the Owino Market in Kampala, the largest open air clothes market in Uganda and one of the biggest in Africa.  Yes, I saw many used American garments and also bundles of used clothes that were unopened. Then I asked one of my co-workers, Jennifer Amejja. “No she chuckled, we Ugandans know this is untrue.  There are so many clothes, how could there by so many dead Americans?  But she added, we think that you Americans give away good clothes when you tire of them.” 

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Medi Ntege 

Yesterday evening in Kampala, the electricity suddenly shut down – a brown-out that I was told to expect.  The electric supply cannot keep up with demand as Kampala, a young city, experiences explosive growth.  The population has jumped from 46,000 in 1959, 775,000 in 1991, and 1.6 Million today. The signs of this expansion can be seen everywhere: jammed roads, slums with makeshift buildings, the green hills yielding to houses, acrid air from diesel exhaust, people crowding the streets and along the roads. 

The greater Kampala transportation network consists of a number of main paved roads that intersect in roundabouts – what we call rotaries – and unpaved and rutted side streets.  The downtown is paved but the sidewalks are narrow and, as a result, pedestrians spill into the streets.  There are very few traffic lights and stop signs, and those that exist seem to be universally ignored. 

I was driven about today by my landlord, Mohammed Ntege, a large friendly fellow with a huge smile.  Medi as he is called drives a 1990’s Toyota sedan fearlessly, negotiating traffic and missing collisions by a hair’s breadth.  The other drivers do the same and, in this organized chaos, traffic moves and no one appears to get hurt.  As a condition of coming to Uganda through American Jewish World Services (AJWS) headquartered in New York City, I had to sign a document agreeing not to drive an automobile or motorcycle while in Uganda.  The organization could have skipped this notice.  I have driven in New York City and Boston and, believe me, there is no way that even an aggressive American driver would be able to function here.

In addition to private cars and specialty buses – city to city and school buses – people move by taxis called private hires, small motorcycles that are called locally boda-bodas and Toyota vans that are called Mutatus or taxis.  In my two days here besides rides with Medi and an AJWS staffer, I’ve been using the local vans and, once, the boda-bodas. Twelve to fourteen people often with parcels pack into the vans that cost 1500 shillings about 60 cents a ride.  The driver is aided by a young man who opens and closes the sliding door, takes fares and organizes the seating.  As I have experienced consistently in Uganda, people take the daily challenges in stride with equanimity. The traffic delays congestion that would cause an American to go into road rage, are born by Kampalans without a frown or raised eyebrow.

The boda-bodas are everywhere, weaving in and out of traffic, sometimes even going in the wrong lane direction.  These traffic gnats were the one thing that caused Medi to complain.  And he warned me, correctly, to be very careful upon exiting his auto to make sure I looked both ways to avoid being hit by a boda-boda.

Of course, all these vehicles require imported gasoline to run.  But Uganda and now Kenya has discovered what looks like major oil fields. This holds both promise and peril for this country.  As Medi said referring to what has happened in countries like Nigeria, “I worry about the curse of oil for Uganda.”  


Irene Kwagume, a Ugandan educator who assisted with the training for volunteers last week, remarked that Americans need to know more about Africa.  In an attempt to present some background information about Uganda where I am working for three months, I have prepared the following multiple choice quiz.  Please give it your best shot and then look at the answers below.  Good luck!

1)      Uganda is located in: a) west Africa, b) south Africa, c) east Africa, d) north Africa.
2)      Uganda achieved its independence from Great Britain on: a) October 9, 1942, b) October 9, 1962, c) October 9, 1982, d) October 9, 2002.
3)      The president of Uganda is: a) Idi Amin b) Yoweri Museveni, c) Mohammar Khadaffi, d) Mikail Gorbachev.
4)      The following countries border Uganda: a) Zimbabwe, Zaire, Botswana; b) Libya, Morocco, Egypt; c) South Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya; d) Burundi, Malawi, Angola
5)      The main exports of Uganda are: a) Rice, maize, tobacco; b) iron ore, teak, copper ore; c) cane sugar, sugar, tobacco; d) coffee, cotton, tea.
6)      Uganda is nearest the a) Indian Ocean, b) Atlantic Ocean, c) Pacific Ocean, d) North Sea
7)      The capital of Uganda is a) Kampala, b) Nairobi, c) Johannesburg, d) Cairo
8)      The population of Uganda is approximately a) 3.5 million, b) 10 million, c) 34 Million, d) 75 Million.
9)      Uganda’s land area is approximately the same as the U.S state of: a) Rhode Island, b) Maine, c) Oregon, d) Texas.
10)   The official language of Uganda is: a) Swahili, b) Bantu, c) English, d) French.
11)   The major religions of Uganda (1% or more of the population)  are: a) Roman Catholic, Church of Uganda (Anglican); b) Muslim, Pentecostal; c) Seventh Day Adventist, traditional; d) a, b, and c.
12)   In 2005 a major discovery of what resource was made in Uganda: a) copper, b) iron, c) petroleum, d) coal.
13)   The picture in this post from Uganda shows: a) ant hill, b) termite hill, c) natural hill, d) African mountain.

Answers: 1) c; 2) b; 3) b; 4) c; 5) d; 6) a; 7) a; 8) c; 9) c; 10) c; 11) d; 12) c; 13) b.