Writer, traveler, maker


Travel updates and occasional commentary

Kampala part 2: On the banks of Lake Victoria

I'm finishing this from the airport in Dublin, Ireland, but wanted to finally wrap up my Africa updates before starting Europe.

My first full day in Kampala this past August started at a relaxed pace. After a decent first night's sleep, thanks partly to melatonin, I dressed and made my way from the long, three-story building in which I had a room, to the resort's complimentary breakfast. They served it in an indoor/outdoor restaurant set off the main lobby and reception area.

At some point during my visit, a security scanner appeared in the right half of the always-open double door into the building, but enforcement seemed pretty relaxed. The scanner didn't block the whole doorway and whenever I skirted it to pass through the open half of the doorway, no one said a word.

Once inside, Speke Resort has a spacious lobby with several sitting areas and large wood carvings of people above the long reception desk that ran along most of the right wall. I would later see similar carvings throughout more of the campus -- evidently depicting fishing and other area activities -- but I don't think I managed to photograph any, alas. The pieces were quite nicely done, but very different from what usually passes for  "African" art in the U.S.

The back wall held a series of French doors that opened onto a long patio dining area that ran from the reception desk down toward the restaurant. After turning in my breakfast coupon, I browsed the remains of a buffet. Along with hard-boiled eggs and roasted tomato halves, I found a surprising number of Indian dishes that proved my favorite part of the daily buffet.

Later that day, I learned Uganda has a relatively large Indian population, many of them business owners. Apparently many Indians first came to the region to help build a 19th century railroad project. When the work ended, many people stayed on, establishing families and life as Ugandan citizens. All that changed in 1972, when Idi Amin gave a 90-day expulsion-order notice to all Ugandans of Asian ancestry. About 75,000 people had to leave.

Twenty years later, a new leader, Yoweni Museveni provided a way for those exiled to come back and regain their property. Thus, Uganda's Indian community has relatively recently grown again.

I had occasion to learn some of this in part because of Monday's relaxed schedule. Later that day, I shared a taxi back into the downtown with the unofficial host of our gathering, an influential Nigerian ophthalmologist. Though he passed the reigns to a younger, South African man a few days later, Dr. Hassan has played a long and patient role in helping to midwife leadership and a sustainable organization for sub-Saharan ophthalmologists.

During the conversation at lunch that day and other mealtime conversations the next two days, I gained a somewhat better idea why Dr. Hassan's work to build a local institution matters for doctors and their patients. Here in the U.S., we benefit from a fairly sophisticated training and certification system, which ensures largely safe and consistent medical care.

In other parts of the world, though, different schools within the same country may train doctors differently. In places like Ukraine and Greece, doctors can't even get surgical practice during their many years of medical school. You can't solve those problems without sustained cooperation among doctors.

Due to the mostly indoor nature of my Kampala schedule, I got few photos after Sunday's tour, but the leadership meeting gave me a lot to think about.