Thursday, 27 March 2014


It's almost been seven months since I left my life in London to spend four months in Kampala. Four months is not a very long time but as fate would have it I ended up not going on my already booked return flight back to London. Instead I am staying in Kampala until late September this year, when I return to London to finish my undergraduate degree in Politics and Development Studies at SOAS. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn't until I decided to stay for a full year that I managed to fully relax in Kampala and claim ownership of the life that I live here.

Being an expat is odd for several reasons. Being Swedish and having lived in the UK for almost six year I am well accustomed to living in a foreign country and thus to some extent being considered a foreigner. The difference between being a foreigner and being an expat is however huge. The differences are also accentuated when living in a poor country. That said, while my life has changed in many small ways since moving to Uganda it is on the whole quite similar to what it was when living in London. I go out for dinner and cocktails with the girls several times a week, I go to the gym (although not as much as I should – much like when living in London), I go swimming at least once a week and whenever I need a new dress I just pop down to the local market to get one. In these ways life is not particularly different at all from when living in London, apart from the fact that it's all so much more accessible due to Kampala being a lot smaller than London.

This is however only one side of my current reality. One of the others include my maid telling me how she provides for most of her extended family on her salary which, by Western standards, is incredibly meagre. The culture of sharing is to me fascinating, coming from a country where we put our children in daycare and our elders in homes. At the same time one could definitely say that the use of daycare and elderly homes is another way of sharing, albeit quite a different one. Most of my Ugandan acquaintances take care of several of their nieces and nephews, whereas in Sweden we tend to use foster families if the biological parents are unfit to provide for their children. Things in Uganda are incredibly different from what they are in Sweden or in the UK, but at the same time not at all. In all three places people pursue the same goals by using different tools, regardless of whether it comes to public transport, childcare or medical services. Definitely in Uganda people make more while using less. My local gym offers daily step classes and, to be honest, I feel much more at home there than I ever did at my local gym in Sweden. Rather than fancy equipment and girls in glossy, expensive sports clothing my Ugandan gym offers wooden step boards in a harshly lit shed(!) without any air condition or fans and everyone is there to have a laugh whilst getting their sweats on. There are few expats there, the gym being incredibly cheap and located in one of Kampala's slums, and to be honest it feels more like being at a Ugandan People's Defence Force base rather than at a gym – not the least since most of the participants are Ugandan men(!) doing insanity aerobics. The smoke and fumes coming from the slum every now and again probably also helps. Point being, however, that also in the slums of one of the world's poorest countries people go to the gym to burn off calories and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Similarly I had my first ever pedicure in one of Kampala's biggest slums. Beauty salons are big in Kampala, and they are not just for the middle class. The local women in the salon gave me an incredibly disapproving look when I told them it was the first time I'd ever had a pedicure. “No wonder you don't have a man”, one of them added after asking me whether I was married. Haha, ouch...

When I went back to Sweden for the holidays people asked me to describe my life in Kampala. It's a perfectly reasonable and legitimate question, one I however struggled answering. Mainly because the life I live here isn't that different, and that might also be the biggest lesson learnt after having spent six months here. I could certainly eat Ugandan food on a daily basis and save loads of money but as a relatively wealthy expat I am able to eat more or less exactly what I eat in Europe. While there is no public transport in the western sense the Ugandans have established a perfectly fine system with boda bodas and matatus which in Kampala works just as well (albeit, it should be added, sometimes at the expense of safety and security). My living arrangement is almost the same as in Europe – I live in a flatshare with three other girls and the main difference from living in Europe is that we have a maid who does our house work five days a week. And our maid has a maid of her own too.

As I have tried to emphasise in previous blog posts, life in Kampala is obviously different from what it is in the villages of Uganda, where people often don't have access to for instance electricity or adequate nutrition. What I find a bit frustrating however, is how people sometimes tend to think that life in Africa couldn't be more different from what it is in Europe. While there are significant freedoms that are limited in a country like Uganda, both for expats and locals, there are also other significant freedoms that I find are a lot more extensive here than they could ever be in Europe.

And that, I believe, is what they call the African bug...

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