Uganda Be Kidding Me: Part 2

This is Part 2 of a series about my trip to Africa. Click here to read Part 1…

“We are $2500 short of budget- What should we do?”

I believe this is where we left off. Pastor Abraham has put the budget deficit for the water safety outreach into the hands of God. When I wake up on Day #2, three more instructors have arrived! Phew. Okay, things are falling into place now. Last night, the loud noise from cars and scooters on the main road outside my window, along with the cockroaches in my bathroom, had me wondering if this was really the journey I had set out for. But now, with more than half of our volunteer team here, my worries are eased.  We will set off on our journey to the islands tomorrow and hopefully there will be students for us to teach.

In the meantime, another instructor and myself make our way to church with Pastor Abraham. He tells us to bring money for the collection since we are visitors. Of course. I grab a few American dollar bills. We get a ride in the Police truck that picked me up from the airport. The church is a large tent in the middle of a bustling neighborhood on a hillside. As we drive through the mud all around, children look up and they smile.  Whether they are sitting on a rock or in the dirt or in a tree, they smile. Big, beautiful smiles. I am instantly in love with every child I see.

During the service, I have about 7 kids in my lap, so I give a few of them dollar bills for the offering. The pastor blesses us and our journey ahead. He tells us that God will provide. As we leave, I see the pastor slip Abraham a donation for the outreach.

In the afternoon, we are taken to a hotel/ guest house with a pool. Pastor Abraham sends his wife and kids, as well as her friend and kids for lessons. He is busy running all over town taking care of last minute details, doing airport pick ups and trying to get life jackets and CPR dummies from the post office, where they are being held until customs gets paid. So, four of us get in the pool to teach. There are a few people in the pool, hanging out with their heads above the water, looking at us with eyes pleading to be taught. They watch us work with our students and copy everything we do. They are so eager to learn. It’s very sweet. Somewhat scary, but sweet. At one point, I grab a man that is pretty much drowning in the deep end, bring him to the side of the pool and tell him he cannot swim so he cannot go there. I can’t stand swimming situations like this that are completely unsafe. But the least I could do for Abraham is teach his family. After all, he is arranging to teach an entire community.

We have a planning meeting with Abraham, the instructors and a few volunteers to go over the agenda for the outreach. This is the first I have seen of any sort of plan. I read it and ask, “So, you’re gonna bring the four of us learn-to-swim teachers 300 kids from 2:00- 4:00 every day?” Abraham proudly answers, “Yes!” This man is an absolute saint. Bless him! While we all applaud his vision, we tell him there is no way that can be done in a safe way. We go through each hour of the day, prioritize, make adjustments and work out a safe plan for teaching the adults and children. This is why we are here- to execute this grand plan! Talking about it gets everyone excited, so we head off to our rooms to get ready for tomorrow. As we leave, Pastor Abraham tells us there is just one more thing to discuss…

“We are $2500 short of budget- What should we do?”

We tell him that there needs to be a cut off point for adults that register for the outreach. “30 people,” we tell him. He says there are 50 adults registered. We are hoping that around 30, but no more than 50 adults show up. I tell them I him I will give him $500 U.S. if, and only if, it is used to rent the pool. I had raised more than enough money to cover the expenses of my trip, so I brought some extra money just in case. In case of what? Well, you never know. In this case, a pool was a necessity. It got us 4 days. Thank you, supporters!

I’m so glad I don’t have to think about raising funds while I am here. I raised money through my non-profit Face in Water so I could participate in this amazing event. My friends and family supported me because they know that I belong here. In fact, most of the instructors gave Pastor Abraham money for our transportation, lodging and food, so we don’t have to worry about anything during the trip. We even gave extra money to offset the cost of food and accommodations for all of the adults. I know he is stressed about this so I hope they figure it out.

Setting out for the Ssese Islands

We wake up on Day #3 and get in the Police van to drive to ferry. At this point, there are seven international volunteers- five women and two men. All of us except the silly Kiwi Water Safety Guru are in our van. He is driving with Abraham to get his CPR mannequins from the post office and to do a radio talk show to gain exposure and hopefully raise some funds. Our van is full of volunteers for the outreach. Abraham is bringing a whole entourage of people to make sure everything runs smoothly. Wow! I still can’t believe how much work has gone into this amazing program.



We stop at the Fire Station on the way. It looks like it hasn’t been operating for years, but people are working there. We take the long way to the ferry so we can stop at the Equator. After hours of bumpy, dusty roads, the break is welcome. We all take our tourist pictures, then start shopping around the street-side shops. There are beautiful handmade masks, clothing, sculptures. Luckily I am a quick shopper, because the men in charge ran over and scurried us back to the van. “Okay, let’s go!”

“Seriously? You are only giving us ten minutes to shop?”


We reluctantly got back on the van. Everyone started chatting a bit more now the ice was broken by taking Equator photos of one another. I sat next to a young lady who told me that her brother drowned ten years ago- he was a competitive swimmer and was just 18 years old. He was at a party at the lake with his best friend. He dove into the lake and never came up. Got stuck in fishing net- and was found two days later by fisherman. Two days later. No 911 emergency call. No search and rescue. No helicopters or SCUBA or drones or first responders. No urgency. No value on life. Remember what I learned when I first arrived…

  • Uganda is #6 in countries with the most drownings, at 5,000+ a year.
  • Men matter. Women don’t and children most definitely do not.
  • Human life is not a priority, so drowning is not seen as a problem. Basically, it is God’s will, the birds will get the body and it’s one less mouth to feed.
  • If you report a drowning, you will be arrested for having something to do with it.

Since I boarded the plane to come to Africa, I have been on high alert. Because I’m American and female and single and blonde. And because 2018 is just a strange time. I am constantly aware of my surroundings- listening to conversations, watching facial expressions and hand gestures. Uganda is not the place to disregard cultural norms and social cues.

I notice that Polly doesn’t seem to have the same awareness.Remember her? She is basically combination of a lot of different personalities and characteristics from the trip. I find out that this is her first international trip. Wow! Respect. This explains a lot. Her reactions to the ‘toilet,’ the food, the wifi reception, and pretty much everything else reminded me of my first international trip. I was 22 and  straight out of college. My whirlwind trip consisted of 6 friends, 13 countries, 1 Eurorail pass, about  20 hostels, multiple mishaps and countless naive assumptions about travelling in a foreign country. Fortunately, my friends had travelled quite a bit and were able to keep me from embarrassing myself too much or coming off as a ‘typical American’.

I want to help Polly. I want to share my Top 10 Travel Tips. But she is a grown woman and needs to experience it for herself, just like I did. She will be fine. She has grown children. She has been preparing for this trip for a year. I mean- it’s Africa. You have to prepare.  It’s a bit overwhelming- taking it all in with all five senses. The chitter chatter of various languages, which is music to my ears. Heat and dust. It’s getting crammed in the bus as the afternoon sun hits us and the people and the luggage suddenly become too much for this small bus.

We get on the ferry to Bugala Island, then drive to Kalangala, where the outreach will be begin tomorrow.When we arrive in Kalangala, there is some confusion about where the international instructors are staying. An expat meets up with us and direct us to his friend’s hotel. In the meantime, others are directing us to another hotel. We don’t really care – we are tired and hungry and just want some place to rest. Abraham directs us to the correct hotel and we get settled in. The employees aren’t exactly friendly, don’t seem to understand what we are saying and definitely do not want to feed us. Since the bus never stopped for us to eat, all of us are pretty hangry at this point.

When you are in Africa, being controlled everywhere you go and not given any food, you start to wonder. Except for Polly.  She is hell-bent on getting Wifi. Then we have the polar opposite of Polly – we will call her Mama for this story. She is a ball of stress – worried, thinking the worst, coming up with corruption and exploitation theories. If I had children, this is how I would be. She is not a fan of Abraham and she is not happy. As we scrounge together the granola bars, trail mix and other “emergency third world country snacks” we’ve brought with us “just in case,” the hotel employees start to put some food together. Maybe we just got off on the wrong foot. They are taking our orders for breakfast and tell us our meals will be ready when we arrive in the morning. Perfect! 

We arrive for breakfast in the morning, excited about the start of the Outreach and filled with anticipation about meeting our students. Our ‘custom’ breakfast orders seem to have been forgotten. 

Unpacking Hope


We spend the first part of the morning unpacking lifejackets, caps, goggles, fins, swim trunks, kickboards and children’s books. The international volunteers came with or sent over all of these materials that we are going to use and teach and leave here with our students so the program can be sustainable.

The Outreach Begins…

All kinds of ‘important’ people begin arriving at the pool- the King’s spokesperson, the President’s spokesperson, the Prince’s spokesperson, the spokesperson’s spokesperson. Everyone is very interested in what we are doing. They applaud us, sing our praises and tell us they wish us success. We thank them and Brother Abraham takes this opportunity to ask…

“We are $2500 short of budget- What should we do?”

The next part of the morning is spent driving around from office to office, meeting with one person or another that supposedly has money to contribute, only to find that there is no money. It seems as if nobody wants to be the one to say NO. I’m not even sure why most of us are there. I guess because we are foreigners, but certainly not because any of us are women. Not one man makes eye contact with any of the women as they speak. They talk to the men. Silly Kiwi points this out. I make a mental note.

The reason I am here is to teach, so I am excited to get back to the pool and see if anyone has shown up. They have. A lot of them. We quickly assess each individual and split them up according to level. I have 37 students that cannot swim. At all. 37 students in the ‘baby pool,’ on their knees, blowing bubbles, putting their faces in the water, trying, overcoming fear. Floating in the water and helping each other. Men and women helping each other. Talk about wanting something so badly. They are scared but motivated. They put their trust in me, listen to me and do what I ask. Perfect students!


Day 1 of the Outreach is a HUGE success! It is extremely long and extremely exhausting. But what a rush! We don’t have kids today, thank goodness. We get on the bus to go to back to the hotel and are informed that a special dinner has been prepared for us. It’s late and we are tired, but we also want to soak up every bit of African culture we can while we are here.

“A friend in South Africa gave me a number to call if anything goes sideways. I give the GPS coordinates and they will have me out of here in an hour.”

The silly Kiwi leans over and tells me this on the way to dinner. So rad. Total badass Chuck Norris/ James Bond stuff right there. Could you imagine? A bunch of swimming and water safety specialists in a situation in Africa where we have to get smuggled out of Uganda? Ha! Pastor Abraham sits down across from us, looks into our eyes and says in a serious tone,

“We are $2500 short of budget- What should we do?”

*This is Part 2 of what I’m guessing will be a 4 or 5 Part series of posts. Tune in next week for Part 3.