Venturing Down Under

I recently traveled to Australia for a short and expansive trip to several of the continent’s more populated cities (Sydney and Melbourne) as well as several sites that are less populated, yet infamous for natural wonders. While my second or third trip to several of these places, I was struck by the antiquated nature of the buildings, the fashion and the mindsets of Australians. I could not help but gawk at the neck tattoos and the overly muscular, weight obsessed men who seemed to want nothing more than drive their large trucks and brag about how large they were (both the truck and their muscles).

This was especially apparent in Fraser island, a gorgeous island off of fullsizerenderQueensland where I could not help but compare the sand, unpaved roads, to roads I have traveled on in West Africa. While in Fraser, going on these roads seemed to be the epitome of a adventurous vacation get away, a fake land un-developed for the pleasure of these seemingly misogynistic men, in West Africa going on these roads is norm. It is a product of a lack of government funding. The unpaved and sandy roads becomes the reality that people have to deal with- and do so expertly without bragging about their 4 wheel drive.

I was enchanted by Sydney and struck by how suburbs of cities (especially in Brisbane and Melbourne) seemed to resemble California- in the 1990s. Not only the tub tops and the short shorts but the one story strip malls, mini golf and strange architecture of buildings with neon bordering windows and terraces.


Most of the continent is flat, arid and not too visually appealing or all that different from portions of the Midwest. Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania is a spectacular site. The moss ground juxtaposed with grey rock, small lakes, crater lakes, ponds and wombats make every turn you take on the well managed paths of the park a joy. I was utterly astonished by how well labeled, preserved and maintained the paths of the park were. While I did not have time to make it to the mountain’s summit, the wooden stairs and paths going up make the journey a much easier trek. Largely untrue in the US, the Australian government has clearly invested well in preserving its natural treasures, as well as providing universal health care to its citizens.

My final day was passed in Melbourne, an energetic, artsy and colonial city. The parks of the city are decorated with marble statues, old school greenhouses with hydrangeas and  fountains that gives the green grass and nicely cobbled walkways a very 19th century British appeal. The contemporary art pieces seem a strange addition to this formal, colonial style but I found them to be a pleasant and modern surprise.

img_0142Another colonial legacy left by the British is cricket. I had the pleasure of attending a few hours on the second day of a match between Australia and Pakistan that was intended to run nine days. As this long running, infamously boring game is as confusing as it has sounded, I paid little attention to the actual functions of the game but was more curious to observe those in attendance. Seated right above the field, I was astonished at how cheap my ticket was for such a popular event (about 20 dollars USD). Additionally, I was surprised to learn that a weak beer only cost 7 dollars, in comparison to the 15 dollar beer at Dodgers stadium. I quickly learned that the price of the beverage was necessary to keep everyone entertained during the game- and seemed to be the real reason that the crowd was in attendance. While doing the wave and occasionally yelling chants at the players like the crowd does at a sports event in the US, no one really seemed to care how the game went. First this was due to the fact that the game still went on another 7 days, but additionally, most of the young fans surrounding my seat admitted that Australia was not very good. Lastly, they seemed more interested in who was ‘skulling’ a beer, who was getting kicked out of the stands for making a ruckus after drinking and the face paint of someone on the crowd cam.

I left Australia for Hong Kong, recollecting my experiences with Australians in Africa. Most Austrialians I have encountered there were working in or for various mines in West Africa. The majority have been rambunctious, inconsiderate of the Africans who work with or for them and rather uninterested in making sure those living in Africa receive a fair share of the profits from the mines. Simultaneously, they are aware that without their technical and financial support, these natural resources would be left untouched and extracted as the local governments and institutions do not yet have the local capacity to access these resources. Thus, they validate their work because of this necessity.

Mines are similarly growing in Australia, land is plentiful and the continent is said to have more millionaires than anywhere else, it is clear that Australians are finding new frontiers and moving from their island to recolonize spaces and places. I could not help but think that the education, cultural sensitivity and economic priorities of this increasingly powerful continent need to be re-examined, similar to my own home.


Glimpses from the Road

Some people think of each photo before they take it, contemplating the shadows, the light, the profile of the people. As a member of the iphone generation, I just point and shoot. Often from the window of a car as I pass by interesting – or what I see to be typical scenes of daily life.





Sales from the road in Ouagadougou


Typical street food, lots of fried delicious made by a large Moree woman.


Anything can be bought from the street, normally sold by an 8 year old boy who will sprint chasing your car as you throw money out the window and they launch the item into your open lap.


Lunch time sales, soccer balls and toys


No better way to sell gasoline then out of old alcohol bottles next to the city’s water source.

Ugandan Rolex, not its not a watch

Uganda does not have quite the street food scene that flourishes in Senegal and Mali where every corner has someone selling fried dough balls, bananas,  or bad bread. But here, there is chapati and with chapati there is ‘Rolex’. Took me a minute to realize but ‘rolex’ aka ‘rolled eggs’, is essentially an omelette rolled in a chapati to be eaten like a burrito. Stands withIMG_1508.jpg a man preparing and selling this 30 cent, very filling meal.

First, what is chapati? Probably derived from the Indian influence, chapati is flour dough they make and leave over night in small piles to be rolled out with a small wooden rolling pin and then lightly fried on the stove/pan featured below. Chapati alone is also sold everywhere, cheap, filling and efficient. Also bland when eaten alone but I cant complain.

The following is an explanation of the rolex making process. First they make the dough, flour, water, salt the typical that they leave in these little piles over night and until they need to make more chapati.

IMG_3889Next, they roll out the dough with a pin as shown by this gentlemen who is a typical, rolex stand guy.

He then puts oil on the pan to his right, flattens it with his hands and fries it up. Voila!









So the omlette is made right there too. Cut tomoto, onion and if you are lucky some cabbage into a cup.


Pour it on the same pan as the chapati is made on…


Fry it up real good and flip it with your hands or a proper tool…IMG_3147

Next, and the most important. you add the chapati on top of the omlette so it also heats up and gets some extra oily juices. IMG_3149

Roll it all up nice and tight- aka rolled eggs- and back it in a plastic bag to go!!! The cheapest and most filling brunch you can imagine. I will miss it dearly! IMG_1302IMG_3915

“You cant wait for Karamoja to develop”

I have heard stories about the poorest region of Uganda since my arrival. Everyone warned me of the backward ways of the Karamojans, they do not wash their hands, they drink dirty water, they refuse to farm and they walk around half naked!! As I drove with my driver from Oxfam, Matthew, through the north of Uganda from Gulu into Karamoja, he made more and more comments, pointing out the funny hats people wear, how they are bathing next to the road in ponds and how they speak bad English. We starved as he refused to get fooIMG_3420d in the villages we passed through, explaining, ‘you know they are not good. You get it?’. He was subtly referring to the fact that they dont wash their hands after going to the bathroom.

The Karamojans are cattle herders. Therefore I have been constantly comparing them to the Pulaars, who are also the primary cattle herders throughout West Africa.

Similarly, they are known for being stingy (all of their money is in their cattle which means they are rich but they do not like to use it so they eat nothing, buy no medicine and no land).

They are stubborn (it is hard to make them ‘develop’, or change). They only speak their language (refusing to learn English in school and not learning other major languages in Uganda like Luganda or in Senegal, Wolof). They travel around and don’t stay in one place- making it difficult for them to develop, and they are dirty. They bath in the ponds of water next to the road, not hiding their nakedness. I was warned by multiple people that women would walk around topless. I laughed, explaining this was fairly common in West Africa.

A typical herder, walking around with a loose cloth, walking stick and a wooden stool to sit on that is an exact replica of the Dogon stools in Mali. 

When I have been told these things, they are meant to be negative, demonstrating to me how they are ‘bad’. But take these as you will. What I have been told in Uganda is “the Karamojans, their culture is STRONG”. This is something that I have truly missed here in Uganda. A blatant visual of the traditions, the history, a pride of their ethnicity and culture that is more apparent in Mali and Senegal. The Karamojans showed me that this exists in Uganda, but sadly is seen by the rest of the country as a negative, backwards way of living that prevents their development.



While the clothing was very different of the Karamojans vs Pulars. The Karamojan women wear these kilt looking skirts, men a singular cloth that they tie on one shoulder). Additionally, the men in Karamoja wear these adorable small hats. The feather indicates that he is ready to find a mate. As you can see, this young man below was happy to pose for me.

But similarly, women in both places wear a lot of colorful beads and practice facial scaring.

The method of cutting is different. Here they use the spokes of a bike tire, in West Africa primarily a razor and charcoal is used. The top two are from Senegal and Burkina, as you can see the cutting is very small and precise. The bottom is a Karamojan woman, with raised scaring.

Their housing was shockingly similar in terms of the permanent huts. The one below on the bottom left is from Mali, but I saw essentially the exact same structure in Karamoja. For longer term shelters, the Karamojan woman build huts made from sticks and thatch as well as thorn fencing all around the small village to keep out cattle and animals from destroying their shelters. The men are merely responsible for taking care of the cattle, finding water sources and making decisions about when to move next.


It is clear that Karamoja has a long way to go to ‘develop’. Partially, there is almost no business in the region aside from NGOs, government and cattle herding. In the town I stayed in, there were almost no cars without an NGO placard . There were no offices for private businesses. There is no outside investment. And the fields of farm land were few and far between. The soil is farmable, but in comparison to the rest of Uganda where you practically only need to scatter some seeds and watch your crops go, farming here is hard work. Also it is not part of the culture. And like I said, the culture is strong. The Karamojans are known for being stubborn and territorial, not allowing others to farm their land and not wanting to do so themselves. So, like I was told by Matthew “You cant wait for Karamoja to develop”.

Can you find me? Matthew is the one in the white shirt, he was thrilled to have a picture taken with this crew, finding it hilarious. 

Fort Portal

IMG_2991.jpgFort Portal is a destination for tourists and upper class Ugandans alike. Known for Crater Lakes and views of the Rhezori Mountains, it is also a place for great food (I tried crocodile and ate amazing Italian pizza 3 nights in a row) as well as a safe place to go out at night. The expat scene is so large there is a weekly frisbee team, facebook groups, numerous well stocked large supermarkets and a bar that was 50/50 Ugandans vs white people. Most of them know each other, either greeting openly or nodding a sign of recognition. Small enough to walk everywhere and big enough to have many good hotels and restaurants.

The famous crater lakes there are one of the most dense spots in the world, some of the lakes over 400m deep. Created thousands of years ago by now extinct volcanoes, the depth gives them a very deep blue color and makes them very chilly, but didnt stop me from taking a dip after a long hike! Most of them are a short 15 kilometers away from the center of town and easy to get to. I spent the day walking around with a guide, visiting over 8 of them. We started going to the ‘top of the world’ where a wealthy Ugandan bought the top of a hill with a great aerial view of 3 lakes. You pay to get to the top which is now built up with a large hideous bar and the view blocked by small ‘hut like’ rooms for the soon to open hotel.

While it is extremely beautiful, I was disappointed.People whose family has lived there for generations are certainly profiting from the tourists but like any area rich with natural resources, it comes at a cost.The lakes have become a real estate destination. Every piece of land being bought by a wealthy foreigner or Ugandan to build a larger hotel or house. The most expensive luxury hotel is called Ndali Lodge and costs about 500 dollars a night.

The locals no longer see a reason to live on the lakes when they can sell their land for plenty. It is not a great place to farm as the slopes into the lake are steep and there is much erosion. Soon, the views of the lake will be blocked even more by mansions and hotels.


I preferred my visit to the close by Amabere caves and waterfalls as well as 3 separate lakes (featured in the photo above). The caves were a pricy view not an overly thrilling scene, but the story was fascinating. Legends of the previous king who cut off is daughter’s breasts and threw them in the water by mouth of the caves. Now, the caves have ‘breast like’ stalagmites that emit a white fluid as well as many other features of the story. The nearby lake is in the shape of her foot after that was also cut off after she had a son out of wedlock.


As I missed the chance to take a safari, I was able to see many birds and beautiful monkeys. Can you find them?


Another beautiful feature of the Fort Portal area is the tea plantations, all over the landscape they are surreal green, perfectly lined, hedged and stretching on for acres. It is impressive the amount of tea produced in this area, but also sad to know that the workers are getting less than enough to survive (mainly are immigrants for surrounding countries as the locals dont want these horrible paying jobs) while the primarily Indian and Ugandan owners make a massive profit. Similar to plantations in the South, the ‘masters’ live in a huge house on the hill while the workers slave away in the hot sun.



From my experience in West Africa the main carb, or food in general,  is either rice or some sort of boiled corn. In Southern Uganda it is matoke, a small banana like tuber. It is has more flavor than rice and really fills you up. It can be grilled, boiled, fried…. Eaten with peanut sauce, cooked with meat, served plain, served with rice… It is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The possibilities are endless.  I am currently in the North of the country where there is not matoke and the agriculture and plants are more similar to West Africa but with much more variety in food and easier to farm as there is more rain and 2 harvest seasons in the ‘dry north’. But, as you can see it is plentiful.

Above is a market in the South,  close to the trees which are everywhere, meaning matoke is easy to grow. One of those stalks is sold for less than 15,000 shillings here, or about 5 USD.

Most of that is matoke trees 

So from there they are sold to a middle man who brings them to places like Kampala where they are sold for about double the price.


Overall, the produce here is slightly cheaper than in West Africa, especially the bananas and pineapples. One kilo of bananas in Senegal was over a dollar at a banana plantation. Here I got all the fruit featured below for about 3 dollars USD.

Yes, that is 3 DELICIOUS pineapples, the fruit on the bottom left is passionfruit- my new love, and an avocado, bunch of onions and more than 12 bananas.