Today I am seated in an upscale cafe with teak wood floors, gourmet cold drip and eclectic over‐priced food. Last night I danced until dawn with a mix of young urbanites, entrepreneurs and intellectuals. Earlier in the week I attended a hack‐a‐thon at the Sheraton hotel hosted by MIT and the UN. No this is not Manhattan. I am in Kampala, Uganda, country capital and catalyst for a rapidly changing sub-Saharan Africa.
For many, Africa conjure thoughts of exotic animals, primitive tribal culture, HIV and poverty. Growing up on Long Island’s posh, self‐obsessed North Shore, my perceptions were not so different. Yet the Africa I have seen has many faces. This is a continent of diversity, incredible diversity, not just of ethnicity and language, but also of wellbeing and opportunity.
Awarded a graduate fellowship to work in global health in Uganda for the summer, I have experienced all ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. In rural villages children can’t afford to go to school. Malaria holds its death grip, and doctors solicit bribes for the limited essential medicines and treatment available. In cities a growing middle class attends university, watches the latest Hollywood movies, goes to the mall and develops businesses and nonprofits to address the many needs of a changing African society.
Dubbed the “pearl of Africa” by Winston Churchill, Uganda is abundant with wildlife, scenery and adventure. Yet most westerners who come here rarely lift up the tourist veil and get outside the Land Rover. For those who do, an infectiously attractive culture awaits, one of deep tribal roots mixed with a growing cosmopolitan mindset. East Africa in particular has seen an eclectic string of visitors throughout history including Arabs, Portuguese, Indians and British. All of these influences manifest in Uganda’s unique food and culture: from rolex, a breakfast burrito‐type street food cooked on fried Indian chapati bread, to traditional staples such as Matooke (non‐sweet mashed banana) covered in groundnut (peanut sauce).
And the coffee—it is world class. It grows endemically, and the people have perfected cultivation and preparation of the dark burnished bean after centuries of practice.
Uganda should be considered a top destination for anyone interested in experiencing the new Africa. Travelers with a healthy appetite for adventure and culture will find everything this continent has to offer, and more.